On 26th April, Justin Webb – veteran BBC journalist and presenter of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 – visited The Leigh Academy to speak to Post-16 students about his career as a journalist, as well as sharing some valuable lessons for life. The visit was arranged by Speakers for Schools, the national charity that matches inspirational guest speakers with state schools. The academy had previously hosted visits from Sir Stephen Laws, the top civil servant who had created the Student Loan Scheme, and Professor April McMahon from the University of Kent. Visiting speakers usually present for 30 minutes and then take questions from students for 30 minutes but Justin kindly and generously gave significantly more time to our assembled Post-16 students.
Justin had joined the BBC as a trainee journalist, straight from university, but he was able to explain to students that the BBC no longer requires a degree from their trainee journalists, often preferring to talent-spot trainees from school leavers at age 18. He emphasised that the BBC look for writing ability and a demonstrable interest in current events, as well as the creative and technological skills required in the digital age of journalism. He spoke at length about his experiences, covering conflicts and wars across the globe, events in Washington DC during his lengthy stint as the BBC’s US correspondent and his most recent deployment, anchoring the Today Programme, which is the most-listened-to news programme on UK radio. He told a rapt audience about what it was like to report in active war zones, to meet world leaders like President Obama and to face off on a daily basis with members of the UK government in his radio studio. It was a sign of how well-received his talk was that, as soon as the floor opened up for questions, hands flew up with questions about journalism as a career, as well as his specific career journey. When his hour was up, well over thirty students chose to stay to speak to him one to one and he kindly stayed to speak to everyone, including Year 12 student, Louise Manley (pictured below with Justin), who aspires to become a war correspondent one day.
Speakers for Schools visits such as this form a vital link between students and the real world of work or university study and prove inspirational and informative. Justin’s visit set a new standard, however, and will remain with the 240 students he spoke to for a long while to come. We thank him for his time, his enthusiasm and his ongoing contact with the academy.