Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Member of Labour’s Shadow Education team in the House of Lords
A couple of months ago I received a letter in the post that set a challenge. ‘You can stand your ground in the House of Lords, but can you captivate a class of teenagers?’ The letter was from Teach First, the highly respected charity that recruits top ability graduates to teach in schools with low socio-economic backgrounds and help raise their aspirations.
As one of Labour’s Education Spokespersons in the Lords it was a difficult challenge to resist. The result found me standing in front of 25 year 7 pupils at Bethnal Green Academy with a mission to persuade them that government and politics were interesting.
I needn’t have worried. The pupils were up and away with the subject before I’d had time to unveil my carefully worked out teaching plan. Had I met the Queen? Could I be sacked? What did I enjoy about the Lords? What happened when Lords became too old to attend? Which was more important – The Lords or the Commons? They were curious, buzzing and engaged.
They finally settled down to the group task I’d prepared which was to propose a new law which would improve the lives of young people in the area and make the case to the class as to why their law should be supported. They had some really well argued proposals: anti gang measures, increased London living allowance, young people’s MP’s, measures to get rid of bad teachers, and ideas for improving education.
At the end of the hour’s lesson I was completely drained and they were still debating the finer points of their new laws as they left the room. I didn’t need persuading that teachers are an exceptional breed, and I have seen some fantastic lessons being taught by Teach First teachers in the past, but this was a good reminder of just how tough a teaching job can be.
But my overriding reflection on the day is just how lively and capable the next generation of young people are, and how important it is to nurture their ambitions and aspirations so that there is no longer a link between low family income and poor educational attainment.