The Education Secretary Justine Greening has revealed she was once turned down for a job in banking because she had not taken a gap year.
She spoke of an interview at Barings Bank, one of the world’s oldest merchant banks until it collapsed in 1995, where she was allegedly told that she was not suitable for the job as she had not travelled to enough exotic countries.
Speaking at the launch of her new social mobility strategy, she recalled how at the time she was “too embarrassed to admit that I simply couldn’t afford one”.
Taking a year out has become so common that it has prompted the mocking term “gap yah”, which arose from a comedy sketch about an upper class student boasting of his travels in far flung countries.
Companies have been criticised for favouring job applicants who have taken gap years, since they are more common among affluent students.
Ms Greening, who went to a comprehensive school in Rotherham before reading Economics at Southampton University, said she had never met a lawyer until she was an adult.
She urged businesses to take on more “rough diamonds” like her and help to “polish them up”.
“After my exams, I looked at going into the City. I remember a final interview with a long-established City bank,” Ms Greening said in a speech at PriceWaterhouseCooper’s London offices on Wednesday, at an event co-hosted with the Sutton Trust.
“I was sat in a wood-panelled office, being quizzed by one of their most senior managers at the firm. He wasn’t very impressed with my extra year of research post-university, doing research that was funded by Ladbrokes, looking at gambling behaviour.
“He looked me in the eye and said he felt I didn’t have enough of the ‘world experience’ that they wanted, and pointed out that I hadn’t had a gap year travelling. That was correct. At the time I was too embarrassed to admit that I simply couldn’t afford one.”
Ms Greening indicated she will press ahead with controversial grammar school plans in the face of stiff opposition. A consultation on expanding selective education closed before Christmas and the responses are being analysed by officials.
The policy has divided Conservatives and angered teaching unions. But Ms Greening insisted education reforms cannot be put “on one side because people feel that there are things we shouldn’t be looking at”.
She also said she does not support a ban on unpaid internships, which was recommended this week by the all party parliamentary group on social mobility.
Ms Greening said her social mobility programme will expand to target more areas where youngsters are failing to achieve their potential.
Doncaster, Bradford, Fenland & East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich, and Stoke will join the six existing “opportunity areas”, including Blackpool and Norwich, in the £72million scheme.
The “opportunity areas” programme focuses on bolstering teacher support and improving schools as well as careers advice, mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities.
A new fund, made up of £1.5million of Department for Education funding and £2million from the Education Endowment Foundation, will be used to create new “research schools” in each area that will share evidence about the best ways of boosting the performance of disadvantaged pupils.
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it is “highly disingenuous” and “misleading in the extreme” for the Education Secretary to suggest that the funding is “new”.
“The £72million will not go far compared with the impacts of the worst funding crisis in decades for all schools and sixth form colleges,” he said.