A couple of years ago I went to a parents meeting at my kids school on “how to understand your teenager”. I wasn’t having particularly bad time with the teens, but thought it might be interesting. It was, and the one thing that stuck in my mind, were the words of an impressive young man who worked with youth offenders. He explained that one of the main reasons kids went off the rails, was that they had no aspirations – If children have aspirations, they have a reason to do well at school and therefore life.
This might seem obvious – in fact some of the middle class parents I’ve met over the years seemed to have too many (unrealistic?) aspirations for their children – but that’s another story. As an involved and connected parent it’s easy to see the options for your children and to encourage them to aim high and reach their potential. But what if you are from a background where this hasn’t been encouraged and you don’t have the wherewithal or the desire to point your children in the right direction?
There are many talented kids out there from difficult backgrounds who don’t have anyone looking out for them, encouraging them to do well at school, go to university, or find a job that suits their skills and interests. Secondary school teachers Becca Dean and Charly Young realised this while teaching in a London Secondary school (with a large number of girls from low income or difficult backgrounds) and wanted to create opportunities for girls to be inspired by women who were doing well at work or in education.
Research and their teaching experience showed them that there is a real poverty of aspiration and self-worth amongst girls in both mixed and single-sex schools. The girls they work with face a double disadvantage; 27% fewer get five good GCSEs than wealthier girls (measured by free-school meals) and they are progressing into a world of work where women are still under-represented across a range of professions.
Becca and Charly launched The Girls’ Network on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2013 in their own school and received an amazing response. They aimed to open a world of possibility to girls from the least advantaged backgrounds, empowering them to shape their futures, by offering them mentor-ship from inspirational and motivated women across a range of professions and a wide range of backgrounds, hoping to develop the girls confidence and inspire them to create bright futures.
The scheme was so well received both in their school and from volunteers that Becca and Charly are now rolling it out to schools around the country. They are also in the process of trying to get funding, work with the girls and their mentors and hold down full time teaching jobs.
When I spoke to Becca she was so passionate and positive about the scheme and the effect it could have on young girls lives, I signed up straight away and vowed to help in any way I could. Seeing some of the amazingly committed and hard working teachers and learning mentors at my teenagers old secondary school and the positive effect they have on young peoples lives, convinced me long ago, that schemes like this are vital – now more than ever, as schools loose funding and support staff.
The process is simple – you sign up and let them know how you’d like to get involved and what you do for a living and they team you up with girl who is interested in your area of expertise. The first meeting is at the school with supervision and after that its up to you to arrange the meetings. The idea is to meet once a month to follow up and help your mentor in whatever area she needs it. Some of the partnerships have been so successful that the mentors have agreed to help the girls through university.
I love the idea that it’s women helping women and it would be great to get some fashion people involved – as there simply aren’t enough girls from diverse backgrounds in the creative industries – lets try to do something to change this.
Or if you have any wealthy friends or contacts who might be able to help with funding – please get in touch.