“Miss, we’ve found a Chinese man who has a factory. He says he can make all our products; we just need to take him some fabric on Saturday morning!”
Oh dear God, the colour drained from my face as I visualised my Young Enterprise girls venturing onto some dodgy deserted industrial estate only to be accosted by a sinister bloke masquerading as a factory owner.
I could imagine the newspaper headlines: “Rogue NQT sends vulnerable teenage girls to their doom in seedy industrial estate horror!!!”
The first and most obvious solution that sprang to mind was to accompany the pupils to the factory myself on the Saturday morning. As an NQT I clearly do not spend enough of my weekend doing school work and it would be possible to formalise the visit as a last-minute school trip. Unfortunately, however, I was already booked to supervise a maths enrichment class that day.
The thought occurred to me that, being aged 16 and 17, the girls could possibly “go it alone”. After attempting to contact the member of leadership team responsible for trips to clarify our policy and failing due to their being in a meeting, the only thing left to do was to advise the girls not to go for safety reasons.
In making that decision, I wonder, did I stifle my pupils’ independence, trample on their initiative and restrict their freedom?
As an NQT I think this sort of call can be difficult to make, especially when the girls are in 6th form as it is a grey area; by law they are old enough to live independently, gamble with the national lottery and raise their own children.
To what extent could I and should I control what they do in their own time? Many girls of their age are no longer in education and are facing the dire prospect of finding employment in a sunken, lifeless economy.
The jobs market, we are frequently told, is a hostile and scary place (us teachers are lucky enough to have hitched aboard one of the few unsinkable ships!).
As Lord Alan Sugar has taught us, it is the young people with the initiative and drive to set up their own businesses who, despite the inevitable visits to seedy industrial estates in search of legitimate manufacturing links, will be the ones who succeed and prosper.
Why was I worried about a group of my pupils visiting what was almost certainly a reputable business man willing to manufacture their product, when I am well aware that there are much younger pupils I teach who regularly roam the streets after dark, but I do not lose any sleep over it? Maybe if we teachers were to really think deeply about some of the challenges our pupils face as a daily reality, we would completely lose our heads. We keep a distance to protect ourselves and remain professional.
It is only when the reality of the big bad world that our youngsters face is thrust into our stream of vision and we have to make a judgement call that the worry kicks in.
Luckily for us NQTs, there will always be someone in the school who we can refer to for guidance. I managed to track down a senior member of staff and discuss the issue of 6th form pupils roaming south London unaccompanied on the weekend. I am going to have a further chat with the head of 6th form to clarify other such grey areas.
In the meantime, please spare a thought for the poor man in the warehouse who has potentially lost business because some dithering NQT was double-booked for Saturday enrichment activities.
Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.