There’s been a huge hype in the news and online this week about the letter that has been sent home from a London school, requesting that the children do not dress up as footballers, pop starts or famous you tubers for their ‘My World of Work Day’ as these are ‘great ambitions, but so hard to achieve’. Instead they would like the children to ‘think of their Plan B options for future jobs’.
This has really set me thinking.
When I was at primary school, we didn’t have a My World of Work Day, but whenever we did projects / creative writing about what we’d like to be when we grow up, I would always say teacher. This evolved and grew as I went through secondary school and realised that my passion and skillset was in the arts and that I would like to teach dance and one day own my own school. Throughout primary school my train of thought was encouraged: role play of classrooms and pretending to be ‘Miss Jordan’ were recurrent themes in the playground and at home. Admittedly I never understood what you had to do to become teacher, but I was always helping my friends and loved nothing more than being around younger children and showing them how to do things (some call it bossiness, I call it leadership!).
When I was in secondary school, we were taken to the Careers Department, where the “Careers Advisor” would listen to what you wanted to do and tell you which university to apply to. The problem I had, is that you don’t need to go to university to become a qualified, respected and brilliant dance teacher. That doesn’t sound like a problem, does it? But trust me it is a huge problem when your school only takes notice of future careers that mean you attend the best Uni that you can get into. I found this narrow-mindendness as frustrating at the time as I am finding thinking about the school who has asked the children to come as their ‘Plan B’. I didn’t have a Plan B. Nor was the job I was aspiring to unattainable or in anyway not respectable. I had worked hard throughout my teens to qualify when I was only 18 as a dance teacher. I had started reading up on business models and their implantation and making business plans. None of this affected how hard I studied at school – but it was my dream and I was most certainly going to make it happen, with or without their support.
Talking of this Plan B, do children really see ‘Footballer’ as their Plan A and then devise a back up plan for if it doesn’t work? No. Not in my experience. Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and they will give you one solid and confident answer. Often a highly bemusing one that you will remind them of repeatedly when they are older. In a world where schools are no longer making sports days competitive so as not to alienate the less sporty children, why is it OK to make children think of a Plan B career and then action it in their role play, as, implicitly, their Plan A will fail or be unattainable.
So why has this news lit a fire inside me that has made me want to share my opinion on it so much?
Who are we to stop children dreaming!
Soon enough they will go to secondary school and learn that they must match their job to their skill set. They will be encouraged to study subjects that are within their achievable academic reach, to apply for college places/apprenticeships/university places that are for every day jobs that we all have to do. There is a time and a place for this, granted, but I do not believe that it needs to start in primary school.
I love the idea that our children are learning about so many different job roles. I understand from my friends with school aged children that parents from all different fields of work go into schools and talk to the children about what they do. This is how we open our children’s eyes to the many roles that are out there and help them understand the paths that must be taken to reach the dizzying heights of grown-up employment. None of this was done when I was at school, and I naively entered year seven thinking everyone was a doctor, nurse, dentist, teacher, policeman, fireman, banker…. you get the gist. Educating our children by introducing them to real-life people in a whole variety of roles is vitally important and will enable them to make a much more informed decision as they grow up, based on a more in depth understanding of the world around them.
However, does this mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to dress up as a footballer, pop-star or youtuber?
In my opinion, it does not.
Children are only young once and they say that youth is wasted on the young – so why are we trying to take this away? We should embrace their wonderful imaginations, allow them to dress up as whoever they aspire to be (a friend of mine told me today that her little boy dressed up as King Elizabeth for his equivalent day at school- the sky’s the limit when you’re 5!). We all know, from experience, that this doesn’t mean that they will all go on to be the next big football star, sign the biggest record deal of the century or make their millions from a youtube channel. But in the same vein, how many of the children who dress up as doctors, firemen and vets will go on to do those jobs. As adults we know that every career choice requires such a specialised skill set and uniquely achieved qualifications that only people who want to go into these areas of work will make it and I’m not just talking about the careers I’ve mentioned. Amongst my friends I can name a pathologist, risk manager, shipping lawyer, auditor, accountant, life coach, paediatrician, personal trainer and hedge fund manager. Did any of us even know these roles existed in primary school and would we really have dressed up as them when our imaginations were so free that we truly believed we could train to be the tooth fairy if that’s what our heart desired?
I say let them be little.
There’s plenty of time to grow up and take informed choices later.