Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has revealed to students that her first job was on a farm picking strawberries and driving a tractor, while visiting a Yorkshire academy for the Speakers for Schools charity – and giving her full support to i’s Back to School week campaign.
The Labour MP, appearing at Airdale Academy in Castleford, backed initiatives to give pupils advice on careers, saying: “I did not have a clue what I wanted to do when I was at my comprehensive. I was always interested in politics but did not think I would end up as an MP.”
Ms Cooper was one of many politicians visiting classrooms for Speakers for Schools today, with Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also supporting the scheme run by BBC journalist Robert Peston.
It was the first time she had taken part in the Speakers for Schools campaign, which acts as a go-between between the state sector and high-profile figures such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
She added: “I hope it gives young people the message that there are all kinds of things they can do. Everyone has great career opportunities in life and it is all about giving them bid ideas so they can have fantastic futures.”
Speaking about Back to School week’s own efforts to inspire, Ms Cooper said: “I think the campaign being supported by the i is brilliant. Never underestimate how much it helps to have a bit of advice.”
Future First, backed by the Independent and i, aims to encourage former pupils to return to their old schools and become role models for those choosing their careers.
The aim is to mimic the “old boys’ network” from which children in private sector education have long benefited.
It was when the local sitting MP announced his retirement that Ms Cooper decided to take a shot at politics – but she said it was a “real surprise” to be selected as the Labour candidate in 1997.
Now she is determined to inspire others to follow their dreams and not be daunted by fears of failure.
“You get to do a fantastic range of things as an MP but I would never have got the opportunity unless I had had a go,” she told her audience of 12 to 18-year-olds.
There has been criticism of the number of secondary pupils being hot-housed for university when many might be better choosing more vocational courses.
But Ms Cooper said it was good that young people were being given options of university careers in areas where they had been denied in the past.
Head teacher Michaela Blackledge added: “Some students - not all of them - do not have role models in their own families so the idea of having someone coming back to help them in their choices is really important.”
Report by Mark Branagan
A blog on the visit by Megan Bolderson, a 14-year-old student at Airdale Academy
Today our local MP (and also Shadow Home Secretary!), Yvette Cooper, came to visit my school in Castleford to speak about her career in politics and pass on her tips for career success. The visit was arranged by Speakers for Schools, which is a charity that sets up state schools with inspirational leaders like Yvette.
It was great for us to have the chance to hear Yvette talk about her life and what it is like to work in the Houses of Parliament. She told us about how important it is for us to really research all our options before we choose the job or university subject for us, and to seek advice from as many people as we can.
During the visit we also had the chance to ask Yvette questions about anything we liked, which was an amazing opportunity to get the advice from one of Britain’s most powerful politicians. Yvette talked about how important it is for students like us to be heard, and her answers to our questions were incredibly useful.
Having a visit from someone as important in the local community as Yvette is a great way of inspiring pupils, most of whom won’t have had the chance to speak to an MP before. However, the best thing about having a speaker like Yvette visit our school was that she taught us that if we work hard we really can do anything we want.
Report by Megan Bolderson
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