Home is where the help is when it comes to education

The look on his face was priceless. “It’s long hours,” I said, “you work late nights and plenty of weekends and you don’t have a social life. Oh, and the pay’s not great.”

Well, there’s no point in sugar-coating it, now is there?

I’m not quite sure what he was expecting, but the lad in question was only 12 and has a few years yet before he has to start fretting about career options.

Thus, I figured the truth wouldn’t do any lasting damage.

Fair play to him, because at his age I was too busy playing Dungeons & Dragons to give much thought to what I wanted to do when I left school.

Although I do remember attending a careers evening with my mum and dad a picking up all sorts of glossy brochures – none of which aided me on the path to full-time employment.

I also recall visiting The Sentinel’s man (who shall remain nameless) that night at Holden Lane High and coming away thinking that he was dull and he had put me off newspapers for life.

In my defence, I did tell all the students at Painsley Catholic College in Cheadle that journalism was one of the best jobs in the world, that no two days were the same and that you get to meet some fascinating people in my line of work.

Thus my mantra won’t have put too many of them off following in my footsteps.

In two hours I was visited by 32 pupils, aged 12 to 15, and their parents.

Happily, there was always a queue. Meanwhile several solicitors, architects and accountants had fallen asleep against their impressive display boards.

Indeed, apart from Staffordshire Police (who seemed to be cheating by giving away freebies), The Sentinel’s table was possibly the most popular – which just goes to show that the lure of a career in the media is still as strong as ever in this age of soundbites and overnight celebrity.

Hopefully, I disabused all my visitors of the notion that media work entails chasing Cheryl Cole around 24/7 or writing just the one showbiz exclusive each week.

In doing so I filled their heads full of the joys of learning 100 words-per-minute shorthand and covering court cases before tempting them with what I consider to be the unique selling points of the job.

You see, I am acutely aware of the fact that, unlike when I was ‘choosing my options’ back in the mid-1980s, the students of today have very long academic lives ahead of them.

A much higher percentage of them will go to university than in my day when only the cream of the crop went off to enjoy cap and gown land.

This also means most of them will be saddled with a huge tuition fees debt before they’ve even earned a bean.

That simply can’t be right – especially when youngsters north of the border are being given the same opportunities for free. The joys of devolution, eh?

Talking to Painsley’s pupils was strangely humbling and I felt privileged to be there.

They all came across as polite, articulate and confident – a credit to their school.

But the thing that struck me most, as a bloke with two young daughters and as a school governor myself, was that every one of them was accompanied by a parent or guardian.

I was very fortunate to have supportive parents and remember my mum spending countless nights reading with me and helping me with my homework.

Now she’s doing it all over again with my daughters and exhibiting the same patience she showed with me.

As for my career choice, well that was down to my elderly next-door-neighbour, Joan Harding, who – while helping me revise for an English exam one evening – suggested I play to my strengths and find a job that involved writing.

She also gave me my first shorthand book – Pitman’s, of course – none of this newfangled Teeline business.

Which all goes to show that you can receive great advice and have the best teachers in the world but you can’t beat having help at home.

So thanks, mum… and thanks Mrs Harding.

We all know who deserves the real credit for anything I achieve.