The school report of Theo Paphitis, Version 16.4

TP in school blazer.jpg

When I was having a spring clean of my garage recently, I discovered a box of old school papers and a few school reports that I hadn’t seen for about forty-five years. What I found and read made me think of the old saying that the pen is mightier than the sword, and how choosing our language when talking to others is such an important thing. A brilliant teacher can change your life forever, but one who writes you off prematurely can have one hell of an impact too.

In January 1976 my report card, with my name spelt wrong, was a pretty standard report card - a bit of a mixed bag, such as encouraging me not to take my foot off the accelerator. However, the comments by the Head of House in the summary was the back-handed kicker that became its focus for me: “A splendid person with fine qualities but unfortunately there are no examinations in this field.” How to inspire the school leaver! Luckily, I was ambitious and keen to find my niche so put this to the back of my mind and was chomping at the bit to get out into the world of work and earn money, having grown up with very little. But, what a thing to say to a young person with the world at their feet. I’m not a trained teacher, but to write off someone’s likelihood of success due to lack of academic nouse seemed a bit harsh, even back then.

I had forgotten about this life-damning line, obviously pushed it to the back of my mind, and it was a bitter-sweet rediscovery. A sign of the times? Perhaps, but a reminder to us all that it’s sometimes pure luck as to who marks your score card at school. Teachers are so important in our lives and a great one can give you the confidence you need and it’s a shame that mine in this case was so short sighted in the opportunities she saw out there for me.

We shouldn’t write off those who are not academic and are clearly bringing something very different to the table. Words can be a powerful tool for good or for bad in widening peoples’ horizons or crushing their butterflies, and we need to be mindful of that. It’s also a reminder to look after and nurture those brilliant teachers who see through academic performance and the potential in any area, whatever that may be.

I recently met a fantastic young teacher, Talia, as part of a BBC Learning short film series on teachers and talked to her about the pressures she was working under and the effect that had on her. We must support our brilliant teachers and ensure that those who can change a life through encouragement and recognising students’ strengths is so important to us all, and the reverse is a very dangerous place to be.

If there had been an exam in being a ‘splendid person with fine qualities’, just think...I could have made it!

Theo Paphitis, Version 59.8