Children need role models, not critics
— Joseph Joubert

The concept of the ‘Role Model’ has been used in many contexts throughout my career in education, as both a pupil and a teacher.  In fact, my earliest memorable experience in education was a school visit from the then up and coming Mancunian boxing athlete “Prince” Naseem Ahmed. I was one child in an assembly hall full of 5-6-year-olds sat listening to his every word as he spoke at Webster Primary School, Moss Side in 1994. I remember being in awe of the soon to be WBO Featherweight world champion. Which, no doubt, has something to do with why I still recall the messages of focus and positive mental attitude he conveyed.

I was classed as an underprivileged child in 1994, and, for such a distant memory, Naseem’s talk left a remarkable impression on my value system. So much so, that I genuinely believe it is an essential piece in the jigsaw of my journey to the position I’m in today. Which led me to explore the question, do we need more positive role models in education for disadvantaged children?

Role models CAN be very useful

Research shows us that the presence of a role model can have a remarkable effect on confidence and attainment over the course of an academic year (Thevenin, Elliot and Bigelow 2016). However, while the potential constructive impact of role models is evident, it is important to note that many factors need to be managed for this to happen. Many disadvantaged young people have a crisis of confidence, which is often caused by their perceived ‘lack’ of something that many of their peers have. It is true that inspiration is a starter for success, yet, for a barrier like low self-esteem to be overcome, the young person must have much more than inspiration on its own. 

Good role models offer a strategy for success

In my experience, a good role model is one that provides inspiration and then backs it up with a plan to achieve their goals. My most significant role models were those that not only motivated me but also taught me a successful way of solving whatever problem it was I was trying to overcome. In education, this is no different, and planning for success is a life skill that many disadvantaged children are neglected from attaining. The more we develop this skill in our pupils, the more adults we will see applying it in the future.

We must increase access to role models in education

Positive role models can have a considerably positive impact on young people, and I believe we must utilise this dynamic more in the education sector. I completely agree with Chief Executive of The Prince's Trust Dame Martina Milburn's notion that ‘we need support from every quarter' to increase opportunities for young people. Gone are the days when there was a void of positive role models for disadvantaged groups of our region. From inspiring Athletes such as Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in the media, to up and coming community workers such as Akiem Mundel of our very own Manchester. I would argue that we are now in an era where positive role models are more readily available than they perhaps once were. Should our current crop of disadvantaged school children not be exposed to this potentially life-changing resource?