The Ministry of Defence and Department of Education have announced that Bert Matthews, Head of Sixth Form and Careers Officer at Barnet High Academy, will be awarded the Victoria Cross for ‘gallantry in the face of the enemy’.
As Matthews and his team await next week’s A Level results, a spokesperson for the Government said that ‘an acknowledgement of the sacrifice and dedication of all Careers Officers in the UK is long overdue’ and that he was to be given the award for his service above and beyond the call of duty in 2016 when one of his students only got a C and two D’s and had to go into Clearing.
Matthews describes the situation as a ‘perfect storm’ of parental expectation and student disappointment, resulting in him spending 7 straight hours ‘pinned down’ on the UCAS hotline and taking hostile fire from both parent and student before he was able to secure a place for them on the foundation course in Social Care at the University of Northumberland.
Matthews says that what kept him going was not only his sense of duty but the fear of the young person losing their life and having to settle for a place at the University of Salford to do Media Studies. Matthews, who is himself a graduate of the Media Studies course at Salford, says this is why he ended up having to become a Careers Officer instead of his first job preference as a Tram Driver for Manchester Metrolink. He says the psychological and emotional scars still remain and he couldn’t, in all good conscience, allow someone else to suffer the same tragedy.
Matthews, who spent a period in rehabilitation after the event at the military’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, says that his conduct was ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ and ‘what any dedicated Careers Officer would do’. He also spoke about how, now that TA reserves were being increasingly used to fill recruitment gaps in the full-time army, it was inevitable that Careers Officers would soon have to take on front line duties and he himself had serious concerns how well a working knowledge of the GNVQ vocational qualification route would help if he ever had to diffuse an IED device in Afghanistan.