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Work experience.

I swear that these are the two words that strike the most dread into the hearts of many middle-class parents. They certainly do to me. Soon after this term started, a letter arrived from Cost Centre #2’s school, telling us that two weeks’ “work experience” was a mandatory part of this current school year, to be undertaken after our son sits his GCSEs next summer.

I really object to this. Although the school tells us that it is the child’s own responsibility to secure suitable “work experience”, we all know that most parents will be left to beg favours left, right and centre. I have told CC#2 right upfront that I will do no such thing. He is not welcome in our office (I totally disapprove of family members in the workplace) and I am not going to ask anyone else to have him in theirs. Indeed, now that I have read the paperwork, I am certainly not going to, even if in a moment of weakness I had been of half a mind to beg a favour from somewhere and inflict my 16-year-old on some unsuspecting workplace. (Have you ever had a 16-year-old in your office? I have, twice, and I am unlikely ever to rush to do so again.) Any companies willing to receive my son and his peers must fill in a health and safety form, and possibly even be subjected to a visit by the school in advance to make sure that they are suitably set up. The 16-year-old will be enough of an imposition, let alone incurring a health and safety visit.

Why does he have to do “work experience”, anyway? It is surely not to get a taste of any career. How much of a taste can you get from hanging around someone’s office and making coffee for two weeks? Is it to get a sense of what it is like to go out to work? CC#2 has worked for some months now in the pub next door. He has to show up on time, appropriately dressed, do any number of menial tasks, and then at the end of his allotted hours he receives payment for his work. That seems to be as good an experience of work as he is ever going to get.

In 2009 I sent him to work on an estate in Lincolnshire, unpaid, for a week. That really was experience of work. He helped to take delivery of multiple boxes of live pheasants, unpack them, install their feeding and drinking arrangements, mend fences and eliminate predatory vermin. And into the bargain he also learnt how to skin rabbits, pluck pigeons and cook game. This required him to work outdoors each day from 7am until it got dark.

Experience of proper work, in companies that understand how to manage teenage employees, is a different matter altogether. I am heavily involved with a charity called Career Academies UK, which delivers, through schools and colleges, an enhanced 16+ level 3 programme including the provision of mentors and a six-week period of paid work experience after the first year of sixth form. Because we understand that managing 17-year-olds and finding them useful things to do is not easy if you have not done it before, we run training sessions for the companies involved to enable them both to be prepared to receive the young people, and to get the most out of them when they arrive. Someone from my office attends this training each year, and each year we take a Career Academy intern. It is good management experience for our younger staff, who would not usually get the chance to manage someone at such an early stage of their career.

I would much prefer CC#2 to wait until he is 17 to do his “work experience” stint, but his school thinks differently. This seems madness to me, but as I have washed my hands of the matter I am leaving it up to him. Finding employment, as many people know, can be very hard work. Let him experience that kind of work as well.


Mrs Moneypenny will be appearing in the ‘Brits off Broadway’ season in New York, November 30 to December 5. Proceeds will benefit the White Ribbon Alliance. For tickets visit www.59e59.org

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