For the past two years I have been a HEAPS Mentor to two students in Coventry. The HEAPS programme is coordinated by Teach First and seeks to support students – many of whom come from more disadvantaged backgrounds, to get places in the most prestigious universities.
Having successfully secured places at Warwick and Birmingham respectively through an amazing amount of hard work and perseverance on their parts, I chatted with Aneesa and Janzaib before my departure about the notion of ambitions, and what they felt was needed to help students to achieve them.
‘I didn’t have a real ambition at that age (of 16). If you think too far in the future you get stressed. Self-motivation was key for me. As long as I worked hard I was happy. There is a risk though if you state an ambition. If you say an ambition you have to accept you might not get it but it shouldn’t stop you trying to go for it.’
‘School doesn’t always show you the range of options. At 16 I was only really focused on getting to Uni. I hope to get more awareness of the opportunities when I am at Uni. Schools could do more – but they mostly focus on education.
I don’t think schools should expose people to things they will never get to do. Students need to understand the ‘risk’ and not have false hope. But it is tricky to balance how much schools should tell people when it isn’t an option for them. Certainly no one asks the question about your ambitions repeatedly. And if you really think it’s (your ambition) unlikely maybe you shouldn’t waste energy on it. But it is you that needs to decide this. It will be you that puts the effort in and so you should get to decide.
I want to be a maths teacher – I think it is good as it has purpose. To get where I am the mentoring, my family and school have all helped. But school isn’t 1:1 – it is not always specific – there is not enough time to talk to you individually.’