Digby, the biggest GOAT in the world

Well I’m on the train on the way to London, after a mad dash to Temple Meads. I’ve been at an event at the Watershed this morning, to celebrate the work of Ablaze (A Business Learning Action Zone in Education) an education charity established by the local business community to help raise educational standards and, just as importantly if not more so, raise aspirations amongst young people and their parents. I say parents: I was told at this event that one of the secondary schools in my area did a survey of parents, and only 3% expected their child to go on to university, which is quite shocking, but is no doubt a hangover from the parents’ schooldays when less than 5% did. (And a lot less than 5% from state schools; it must have been about 1% from mine). I’d be intrigued to know how the schools across Bristol compare, and particularly to see whether schools with a higher ratio of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds have parents with higher aspirations; I bet they do. Anyway, Ablaze is doing some excellent work, sending reading mentors into schools and inviting schools to visit places of work. More here.

The most surprising thing about this morning, however, was the speech by Digby, the biggest GOAT in the world. (I have a feeling some people won’t get either the reference to Goats or to Digby the biggest dog in the world. Oh well.)

I’ve seen Digby before on Question Time, I’ve never met him in person and didn’t introduce myself to him today. (He was talking to someone far more important). Let’s just say I probably shared the view of the average Labour Party member when it came to the issue of Gordon giving him a job in Government. I now know why he did. It was an inspirational speech, from someone who clearly is hugely passionate about the issue, of raising aspirations and supporting the ambitions of working class kids. And not in a patronising way either. I suppose I’ve just assumed someone called Sir Digby Jones was a bastion of the establishment, bit of a toff, with a name like Digby… got to be a toff thing, surely? But he’s actually from a very modest background and hasn’t forgotten it. OK, he’s living a posh lifestyle now, I’m sure, but he still gets what it’s like not to have everything handed to you on a plate.

We also had personal testimonies from some of those involved in the mentoring programme, an again it was quite eye-opening: the senior solicitor, for example, who got quite emotional talking about his upbringing on what we’d call a ‘rough’ estate, and the woman who’d gone to a school which didn’t suit her, left without much in the way of qualifications, demoralised and lacking in confidence, but in the end got it together and is now a teacher of some 18 years standing.

As an aside, I do wish the solicitor had somehow hung onto his original accent; it’s one thing telling young people that if you can do it, then they can do it, but the best role models are people who look a bit like you and sound a bit like you. Not that you’d want a 60-something lawyer going into a school dressed in a hoodie, but you know what I mean.

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