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Submitted by on July 4, 2012 – 4:02 pmNo Comment

“What do you eat?’ asked the young girl sat opposite me, without even a thought that this may be an odd question to ask someone who was meant to be explaining what they do for a living.

“The same as you,” I replied, thinking I’d dealt with this particular conundrum well. But she wasn’t finished. “How do you know what I eat?” she replied. And she was right. Kids often are, in a matter-of-fact way.

It was one of many lovely exchanges I had with the pupils of St Mary’s Primary School in Moss Side during their enterprise day recently.

Teachers invited people from all sorts of jobs to come in and chat to the kids about what they do, via a question and answer session which resembled an interview situation, except the conversation was far more interesting than most such scenarios involving adults.

The children had prepared well and planned their line of questioning in advance. Remarkably many of them have only been in England for two years, having fled from unthinkably desperate situations in other countries. Many of them had seen family members killed, or raped, right in front of their young eyes.

Yet, they speak fluently in two languages and their writing is truly breathtaking for those of such tender years, and that is not even taking into account the various obstacles they face in their often-chaotic home-lives. They get no favours either – they have to get up to speed with the national curriculum in line with all other pupils, whatever their disadvantages may have been.

“Has anyone died in your job?” was a common question and all-to-sad to hear. It reflected the experiences of many of these children and wasn’t just a representation of a child’s general obsession with death.

But their enthusiasm and creativity was properly inspirational. Not in a famous knob doing a hike across Africa for Children in Need so that the public can pick up the charity tab way, but in a genuinely inspiring and perspective-inducing way.

They thought my salary was immense, which made a nice change. Most adults usually say ‘is that per month?’ when they find out. But these kids thought I was rich. Apart from one who said: “My dad earns more than that.” Which was heartening to hear.

They wanted to know about celebrities. “Have you met Rhianna and Chris Brown?” they eagerly enquired when I said I’d been fortunate to interview a few well-known people. The honest truth was that I did know a Chris Brown, but he is definitely not famous. They hadn’t heard of the people I mentioned and when they heard I’d had the misfortune to converse with royalty a couple of times, they were hugely disappointed I hadn’t met ‘Kate’. Whoever that may be.

Three asked for my autograph, which has to be one of the strangest experiences of my life. It is a sad reflection on the society we live in really, but I embarrassingly signed the paper they gave me with my ‘cheque signature’ as I obviously don’t have an ‘autograph signature’. Apart from one lad who said ‘that’s not your name’, they seemed relatively pleased with my scrawl.

Not as chuffed as they were to learn about the mysterious language of shorthand though. My clever ploy to keep their attention backfired, however, due to the proliferation of difficult to spell names I was asked to translate into said script.

I should have expected it though. Children at the school originate from dozens of countries and it was wonderful to see them living in complete normality with each other, with no notice that they were different to one another in any way whatsoever. They even raise chickens together.

Other workers there to discuss their careers included a community support officer, who was asked at least once if he was ‘a real copper’, artists, a chocolate shop owner (Mr Popular for some reason…) and the secretary of FC United of Manchester (who spent the majority of her time explaining that Rooney doesn’t play for FC. It was also funny to note that even though they are now champions, the young blues were still getting grief from their red classmates).

There was also a former pupil of the school who has gone on to work for the BBC at Media City (he must be the only working class employee at the corporation). His inclusion in the event was particularly poignant for some of the teachers who had taught him and his family at that very school. He was rightly held up as an example of how pupils can achieve anything if they work hard enough.

The children were truly fascinated by all these jobs, but the biggest excitement was saved for when they realised I was married to one of the other ‘job people’. “N-o-o-o… w-a-a-ay…” they shrieked after working out we had the same surname. Interest in our respective careers dropped.

It was a great afternoon and one we all thoroughly enjoyed. I was amazed at how far teaching and school facilities have progressed since I was at primary school. If you believe the right wing press, teachers are all lazy gets, schools are crumbling and pupils are leaving school illiterate. But my experience at St Mary’s proved this to be the complete nonsense we always new it was.

The kids are far better educated, in terms of writing, as well as the subjects they study and the artistic licence they are allowed to use, than we ever were. And this is a school in one of the country’s most deprived areas. The teachers’ and parents’ achievements in nurturing such a great bunch of children, in oft-difficult circumstances, is a lovely flipside to the misery we currently face in Tory Britain.

It was a privilege to take part, in the real sense of the word. Let’s keep our fingers crossed our rulers don’t wreck all the good work done by schools like this with their heartlessness and hatred for those starting life at the bottom.

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