Robert Peston, BBC Business Editor, Launches Speakers For Schools
A scheme to bring top speakers into disadvantaged schools in the hope of bridging the divide between private and state is being launched by business journalist Robert Peston.
The BBC business editor wants to "level the playing field" and hopes it will soon become the norm for leaders in their field to talk to the state sector. He is calling for a change of culture to support state schools and colleges, giving their pupils the same opportunity as those attending independent institutions.
Peston told the Huffington Post UK he decided to found the organisation Speakers For Schools after being approached by several private - but never any state - schools.
"I've had several letters from students from Eton, inviting me to come and talk to the college as if they were the ones doing me a favour. If children are that confident, then they don't really need help."
After the success of pilot talks last spring, one given by Baroness Shriti Vadera, an investment banker and former government minister, Peston used his vast network of contacts to recruit other influential figures to speak.
"It's more than just a campaign", the comprehensive-educated journalist insists. "If what I have to say is good enough for schools like Eton and Harrow it is good enough for everyone."
Through his new organisation, Peston hopes to deliver state schools the talks they were previously too busy or too shy to ask for.
"I did a bit of research and found most state schools didn't approach leading figures to visit them as they lacked either the confidence, time or connections. I'm really lucky to have such a huge network of contacts, many of whom have already agreed to give talks at least once a year.
The website was designed by Miura on a pro-bono basis and the non-for profit organisation is being administered by the Education and Employers Taskforce charity, something which Peston is very grateful for as it "keeps costs low".
"What makes talking to disadvantaged schools all the more rewarding is seeing the children being really inspired", he added.
Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls, Ealing was one of the schools which received a pilot talk in July. Christine Sydenham, head teacher at the state school, said the talk had a huge impact on her pupils.
“The girls realise that highly successful people are actually people just like them. They see that for successful people background isn’t the thing that defines them. They’ve had to overcome challenges, work hard, be determined and resilient. If the girls can relate to the challenges that really is inspirational. They realise that their ambitions are achievable – and often that they should be aiming higher.”
It is evident by Peston's enthusiasm that he will whole-heartedly committing to the Speakers for Schools project.
"I'm very excited", he admits. "I just love doing the talks. Over the past few years I have only spoken at state schools because public ones get more than enough [speakers] already.
"The kids are brilliant. They ask incredibly challenging questions. My hope for them is that they can aim high."
Speakers for Schools now has more than 700 people who have agreed to participate in the scheme including politicians, scientists, academics and CEOs. Launch week will see leading figures such as George Alagiah, Google's Philip Schindler, author William Boyd and entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox take to the podium to share their experiences and advice. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Sir Gus O'Donnell are also taking part.