Like most parents, I always wonder what life will be like for my kids when they grow up.  I try to get them thinking about the things they’re good at and relate those things to jobs or careers which I think they would be happy doing. We talk about why, as much as I’d love them to be, becoming a millionaire professional footballer is statistically unlikely.

Most of all, I want them to grow up feeling like they can do anything they set their minds to. I want them to have ambition. I want them to be the best version of themselves they can be and to grow up understanding how their life as an adult can be rewarding, successful and enjoyable – and does not have to be the nine-to-five-grind that they hear so many adults complaining about.

The job of instilling ambition and drive into young people cannot be done by their parents alone. Their teachers have a huge part to play in that too. My sons spend more time with their teachers on a weekday than they do with me – so I want the same message to be heard at school as is heard at home: that anything is possible.

This is why a recent interaction I had on LinkedIn worried me so much, and got me thinking about the culture and value system that my sons are being exposed to every day. I was browsing LinkedIn on my phone, when I spotted a post by a current Principal of a Primary Academy (Primary School) who is planning her next career move and was asking her connections and the LinkedIn community for advice:

Now I have worked with Schools and Academies for about 12 years and have watched the transition from Local Authorities to MATs with interest. I was a governor at my son’s primary school when we converted to an Academy and have advised many of the big national MATs – both for Microsoft and for Hable. So, my response to this post was based on a reasonable amount of background knowledge and on a genuine desire to help Wendy (who I have never met) with her career planning. I thought to myself: in her position – what would I do?

Then, I commented:

Why do I think that was good advice? Few reasons:

  • I’ve seen other Heads do it and be successful.
  • There is some political uncertainty about the big MATs right now, so a career move into one could be risky (or badly timed).
  • The regional approach seems most likely to be sustained long-term.
  • I think people should be happy in their lives as well as their jobs – hence the suggestion of finding an area she would like to live.

This type of conversation about career planning is the same as I’d have with anyone in any industry – so I was surprised (and at the same time, really not) to get the following comment in reply:

Whoever Andy V is, he is clearly angry about the government policy on Academies (which is a separate debate) but what struck me was his judgement of Wendy for thinking about her “personal career goals” and not mentioning the moral purpose of Education. Apart from being quite insulting to Wendy (who I’m sure cares deeply about educating the nation’s children), this comment waved a huge red flag to me:

If teachers and heads are looked at negatively for being ambitious and career minded – how on earth are they supposed to instil those values into my children?

How are teachers supposed to role model the behaviour of successful, driven individuals when their moral compass is questioned – just for wanting to further their own careers? Furthermore, how can the teaching profession hope to attract top talent out of University or out of Industry, if teachers are now allowed/encouraged to be ambitious and look proactively for career opportunities?

For the record, I know there are some Schools and some Heads who are great at encouraging career progression and pushing their staff to show some ambition. However, there are also many who are not. I also think there may be a different attitude towards ambition in the Independent sector than there is in the State sector (my children go to state school, but I work with lots of private schools). Let’s save that for a future post.

Ambition is Critical. For yourself, your children and the future of the UK – perhaps now, due to Brexit, more than ever. Where are the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders going to come from if we don’t get this right in schools? And how will the Education system be relevant and productive in the modern world if we don’t equip young people with both the right skills AND the right mind-set?

I want my children to grow up with a strong moral compass, but I also I want them to grow up with personal ambition. People should not have to choose. I am genuinely interested in how teachers or school leads are balancing these two things in your schools and would love to hear from people via Twitter, LinkedIn or email.

PS. Wendy – if you read this, I really hope you find a job that makes you happy. And Andy – thanks for making me think, no offence intended.