History & Politics student George Baldock shares his educational journey to Trinity and what happened after his first tweet about Cambridge went viral.
How would you describe your journey through the education system?
Turbulent! I certainly didn’t take the course most people do, and often find myself wishing that I had; it is easy to get wrapped up in daydreaming of life taking a different path. However, I’ve been immensely lucky: attending a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) was, without a doubt, the best thing that could have happened to me and I hope I’ve made a success from a significant fork in the road that tends all too often to have miserable outcomes. That is something that must change.
Thanks to incredible support in my time outside of mainstream education, I got firmly back in the saddle for sixth form and now I’m privileged and lucky to be attending this fantastic University – never would I have managed the journey alone.
You received a lot of media attention and other interest recently. What is your reaction to that?
Bemusement! I must admit, I’m a very private person, so this attention does not gel with that. At the same time, I also recognise how privileged I am to be given this platform to discuss something I am passionate about – a century ago, I’d have to run for President for a pulpit like this!
I am so grateful that the media has taken an interest in a neglected part of the educational system, and I feel some sense of duty to do my bit so that everybody can get the experience I did. There is a depressing twinge to this being a media story; I hope, in a decade or two, a pupil referral unit success story would be glanced over as a relatively normal occurrence. The fact that this is not now the case is my motivation to act.
Beyond all these lofty thoughts of obligation and privilege, there is also a bit of me that really wishes I combed my hair before these photoshoots …
What would you say about the teaching and support you received from your school teachers?
Despite the choppy and unorthodox nature of my education, there were certainly consistent themes; the quality of the teaching and compassion extended towards me at almost every level is one of them. At every single stage, I had the most wonderful teachers who moved the earth to try to help me and ensured stability when that was in short supply – I’m eternally in their debt.
When I made the tweet that went unexpectedly viral on my experiences, it was primarily so I could make a point about how tremendous the teachers are! PRU staff are the most unsung heroes in a profession where almost nobody gets the credit they deserve.
To what extent has your educational experience shaped your ambitions and viewpoints?
I could talk at length about this, but I’ll keep it brief! It is hard to come from my background and not end up imbued with a sense of aspiration and compassion; to go from, by many accounts, a write-off to a Cambridge undergraduate shows just how much can be achieved with support. Not only do I come from an unusual educational background, but as a working-class student, prestigious institutions like this have a facade of unattainability – it doesn’t hold true, though.
I was immensely lucky to have fantastic support from every direction, and I hope in the near future that ceases to be a lottery; everyone, with correct support, can make more of themselves than perhaps they realise.
I’m intensely worried by the trend of education and educators becoming harsher, more rigid and inflexible in the name of higher standards and bizarre political trends. I got to where I am with compassion and self-encouragement. I’m very ambitious to fight for a better deal for PRUs and I feel buoyed to do so because of my experience within them.
Why did you choose Cambridge and Trinity?
The course here for History and Politics, looked fantastic – it allows for the study of a huge variety of topics. I’m almost paralysed by choice! Equally, for a history student, the allure of studying in a city thoroughly steeped in historical significance – here at Trinity, we quite literally eat in the shadow of King Henry VIII – was irresistible. I’m very lucky to be in such a beautiful College, and I must admit the stunning buildings were a significant reason I went for Trinity!
What do you hope will come of being in the public eye (if only for a moment)?
I am an optimist for PRUs – if I wasn’t, I’d sob. Very damaging plans for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) education are being floated; both sides of our political debate often don’t seem to fully grasp what PRUs do. My hope is that people listen and a conversation on the virtues of alternative provision is ignited. I got a message from somebody in politics pledging to raise it with somebody in a position of some power, so I’ve got some hope here!
As well as that, I hope that overdue appreciation for the fantastic work by PRU teachers is finally issued – they’re all heroes, who worked largely through a pandemic and now wrestle with the long shadow that has cast over education. I owe so much to them, and they deserve much more love.
Read and hear more from George: