BBC's Peston joins Tower Hamlets school's debate on whether background is a bar to success
Tower Hamlets students joined leading figures in business to banish worries that social background could prove a stumbling block to success.
BBC business editor Robert Peston brought his Speakers For Schools Question Time-style event to Bishop Challoner Catholic School on Thursday.
Head Girl Pheobe Freddo and Head Boy Adeolu Oshoba were joined by Carphone Warehouse founder Charles Dunstone, young entrepreneur and SB TV founder Jamal Edwards and Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, to answer probing career questions from Year 10 and 11 pupils.
While some were keen to tap into insider knowledge about what makes a stand-out interview candidate, an impressive CV or the importance of work experience, others quizzed the panel, chaired by the BBC correspondent, with issues such as how their place in society or access to connections could affect chances of success.
Head Girl Pheobe argued hard work could overcome any advantages provided by connections.
"There are people who are going to have more connections than me and it's going to make it harder for me," she said.
"But I am not going to limit myself because people are more privileged than I am.
"I will work twice as hard as they will if I have to - if I work hard, I will achieve. Nothing is going to hold me back - background, gender, race."
Charles Dunstone voiced his opinion that ambition, not social background, mattered most.
He said: "Technology has liberated the world so much. Look at the most extraordinary businesses created in the world in the past 20 years like Amazon and Google - they don't come from traditional American establishments, they came from people who had recently immigrated to America.
"They had a great idea and they made it happen.
"The world is as open as it has ever been and it's down to ambition. It has nothing to do with your background."
Helena Morrissey said: "It's about a corroboration of factors that make you who you are. Social background is just a piece of that."
Robert Peston said some of the most inspirational people he interviewed had faced handicaps early on in life.
He said: "It would be naive to say background doesn't count for anything. There are people who have huge advantages but you have to recognise you can make a huge amount with the skills and talents we all have."
The panel was united in its view that fear was the number one obstacle facing young people, while apprenticeships versus higher education were debated at length.
The dozen or so questions followed on from a Speakers for Schools survey which revealed 69 per cent of youngsters were anxious about their future.
Go to speakers4schools.org.
Speaking to The Wharf after the event, Robert Peston said:
"I was really impressed by all the young people and I thought their questions were fantastic.
"Pheobe and Adeolu were brilliant - their answers were inspirational.
"I do believe, that with a bit of confidence, we can all make a lot of ourselves, but none of us can do it on our own.
"We are passionate believers of the impact of learning. If we are encouraging students to make more of themselves that would be something we would regard as hugely positive.
"We are not saying this transforms people's lives but we do think it might just persuade a young person there are greater, better opportunities than they might have thought.
"If we can persuade one or two kids not to give up on themselves, that's not a bad result."