She got 12 grade 9 GCSEs – the highest level you can get – and 100 percent in maths. She could have just sat back, taken the plaudits, the awards and the compliments being showered on her and waited for her golden future to unfold. But she didn’t. Instead her results made her realise how uneven the educational playing field is. At 17 she understands she is where she is not just because of her terrifying intelligence but because she has fantastically loving, supportive parents and because she was lucky enough to go to a school where everything she needed to excel was available to her.
Jessie understands her privilege and even though she’d been voluntarily tutoring primary school kids with their homework before COVID-19 hit – when it did, she didn’t want the work interrupted because she knew how damaging it could be for them.
So in TWO days, she set up an online network called Mentor Jr to tutor (for free) less privileged kids for exams and homework.
Within the first week, she’d upped her network to 40 tutors – all fantastically clever young students like herself – and booked 47 tutoring sessions.
Before COVID-19 she took the time to visit schools and meet teachers and pupils so she could best match them up with their teenage tutors.
And now she’s applying for grants to buy tablets for those children whose parents can’t afford them.
And she’s doing all this while doing her own schoolwork.
I admit to a vested interest here because Jessie is the daughter of two of my closest friends and I adore her.
But even if I didn’t know her, I’d still be writing this because I’m in awe, not just of her brain, but of her capacity at 17 to understand the needs of others less fortunate – especially now.
And I’m wondering why the teaching unions aren’t doing the same.
Jessie knows there are families with no money, no privilege, no resources – none of which is their fault.
But she also knows it WILL impact on their education and their future lives.
She also understands the current school closures will be catastrophic for many disadvantaged primary school kids.
Research tells us that good primary schools affect not just education but social behaviour and intellectual development and that even 14 days away from lessons can harm a child’s chances of succeeding.
Primary schools have been shut for nearly EIGHT weeks now and teaching unions are threatening to keep it that way till September which will irreversibly damage the life chances of those little ones.
So, if Jessie understands how important it is not to disrupt the education of our most disadvantaged children – why don’t the teaching unions?
When I called her to talk about what she calls her “little project” she said: “Carole, I genuinely feel that out of anything I’ve accomplished at school this is the thing that I’m most proud of.”
I just hope the teachers currently refusing to go back to school read Jessie’s story and see that THIS is what real commitment to education is about.
And they must defy their unions in order to fulfil their commitment to educate and nurture future generations.
I’m ridiculously proud of Jessie and her teen army of tutors who are this country’s future – not the self-interested Neanderthals running our trade unions.