Why we exist
Britain has a deep social mobility problem. This not only limits the contribution that individuals can make to society and the economy but is also fundamentally unfair. Although there are some signs of social progress, there is evidence too that the problem is getting worse with only one in eight children from a low-income background likely to become a high earner as an adult.
At Future First, we believe that things do not have to be this way.
It is a basic injustice that young people’s experience and opportunities are so closely linked to the status of their parents. There is a wealth of evidence showing a serious deficit in the state sector in students’ confidence, knowledge about career pathways and access to role models compared to their private school peers. Too many people from the poorest backgrounds believe that ‘people like me’ don’t succeed in life. Our own research shows that nearly half of students on free school meals don’t know anyone in a job they would like to do.
We know that this affects young people’s perception of their own ability, their expectations of future success, and the extent to which they value their school work. We know those in turn can change students’ motivation and performance in school, as well as their success in life beyond it.
Future First is a national education charity that helps state schools and colleges to build alumni communities. At the core of our work is the drive to ensure that no young person’s future is limited by their background.
Our Mission- What we do
We know that access to relevant and relatable role models can transform a young person’s confidence, motivation and skills and that former students can be ideal role models. Having grown up in the same community and sat in the same classrooms, they can show students that ‘people like me’ do succeed.
Future First began when a group of state school students from Camden went back to their school to be just that. Motivated by their desire to improve the support offered to young people as they consider their futures, they came up with the idea of establishing a thriving alumni community in each school and college. Alumni could then return to share their experiences and offer support as role models, work experience providers, mentors and more.
Private schools and universities have benefited from a strong networks for decades. Our polling shows that alumni of state schools are just as likely to want to go back and share advice with students in their old seats, it’s just that state schools are not as good at asking.
Our mission is to change that.
Future First is working across the UK to ensure that every school and college is supported by a thriving alumni community.
How do schools use their alumni?
06 October 2017
Eastbury Community School, Barking, tells its story
"We like our students to have access to alumni regularly so they can get advice and guidance on how to be successful and learn more about career and education pathways."
Stuart Gander, Head of Careers Education:
“Eastbury Community School is an all through school for three to 19-year-olds and there are roughly 1,850 students (primary school all the way up to sixth form). We are in one of the five most deprived areas of the country, and a large proportion of our students come from ethnic minority groups. We are a specialist maths and computing school and the number of pupil premium students is above the national average. We were recently voted the kindest school in the UK.
We have been working with Future Fist for four years now, with the aim to inspire young people by inviting alumni back for all careers related events at the school. Events include mock interviews, pathway evenings, careers fairs and careers speed networking. We like our students to have access to alumni regularly so they can get advice and guidance on how to be successful and learn more about career and education pathways. We find that students like speaking to alumni and open up a lot more to them as they’ve been exactly where they are. Excitingly, we are now starting to use alumni in the curriculum, bringing them into the classroom, and hope to have more coming back to support teachers in their subject areas!
In December, we hosted our first careers speed networking event. 25 representatives from different job sectors, including six alumni, spoke to small groups of Year 9 and 10 students about their jobs and how they got into them. The aim of the day was to inspire our future workforce about real jobs, develop their communication skills, challenge stereotypes and find out what is required to stand out in an increasingly competitive employment market. This event was a huge success and we look forward to running it again next year.
One Year 9 student said: “It gave us a good idea about options to pick, and an insight into the good and bad points of each job.”
Another said: “The day was really interesting and motivating, it has inspired me to think about my future career.”
Since the event, I’ve noticed a difference in the students, particularly the Year 10s. Three months later we held our mock interview days. For these, the students had to apply for one out of 12 jobs, covering different sectors, including a teacher, marketing executive, biomedical scientist, business analyst and a construction engineer. Leading up to the day, they had to research the company they were applying to, practise interview questions in a role play scenario and write a CV. They found the experience extremely useful because the interview was based on a real world setting. Students were able to experience first-hand what questions they may be asked and what they could do to improve next time.
One of our Year 10 students was interested in pursuing a sports career but didn’t know much about it. She was interviewed by a former student, who is currently at Brighton university completing a degree in teaching to coach. As well as interviewing the student she also gave her the opportunity to ask questions. The student found this very informative and it helped to confirm the route she wants to pursue.”
26 September 2017
Bodmin College, Cornwall, tells its story
Jayne Smith, Raising Aspirations Coordinator:
“Bodmin College is an 11-18 in Cornwall. The area we’re in is the lowest quintile of students who access higher education. It’s an indicator that we have work to do in terms of aspiration raising.
I’m the Raising Aspirations Coordinator at the school. I took on the role because I felt working on this would help the students’ life chances by opening doors for them. Before this, I was the Head of Art at Bodmin College. I kept in touch with ex-students and would ask them back to share portfolios with the sixth formers. Undergrads came in to school to talk about university life and we would take our students to meet them at the arts university degree shows.
The results in the art department were excellent and lots of the students went on to higher education. As a teacher, I really felt the alumni were helping the students, particularly their aspirations to continue with their studies at university. I knew it was to do with role modelling and in my new position I wanted to extend this across the school.
Whilst contacting alumni on social media, I used a spread sheet for contact details. At the time I wanted some kind of portal that I could access and researching it one evening, I came across Future First. The Portal meant that I could put the Future First link out on social media, it was secure and it no longer involved using my personal account. The whole thing was much more professional. The Portal is well laid out; I can click on 40 people and instantly email them an invite to come into college. It has saved so much time that I just didn’t have.
The exciting thing about working with alumni is that there are just so many creative ways you can use them in school. In our first planning meeting, our Alumni Officer came up with many initiatives to explore. It’s been great having an Alumni Officer; it means the programme doesn’t get pushed to the back burner; she gently prompts me when needed and sparks my interest by bringing new ideas.
The alumni events that Future First has run are very good. Having run similar sessions before, I’ve picked up ideas from the Alumni Officers on delivering presentations and facilitating workshops. One event was for C/D borderline Year 10 students which focused on the world of work and the alumni shared their journey from Bodmin College onwards. We then did a second event four months later with the same year group. This time it was for the top set Maths and English students who are definitely capable of university. Many of these students in both groups are the first generation to go to university. The undergraduate alumni tackled the myths about universities and they shared how they chose their A levels. Our current students are about to do their sixth form interviews so we planned the event ahead of that. A few of them actually referenced alumni in their interviews and they were applying the information they had learnt about A level decisions.
One Year 13 student, Phoebe, wants to be a doctor and she’s the first generation in her family to go to university. We linked her with Cassie, who is studying medicine at Exeter University. Cassie comes in and mentors Phoebe and another alumni, Lorna, a medic in Cardiff, has done a mock interview with her. I know it’s been a positive thing for Phoebe; it’s kept her motivation alive. She now has four university interviews, which is great.”
07 September 2017
Highworth Grammar School, Kent, tells its story
Freyja Danielsen, Sixth Form and Careers Manager:
We are a girls’ grammar school in Ashford, Kent and we have a mixed sixth form. At Highworth, as well as motivating students to work hard, we want students enjoy their experiences and want to study here.
A few years ago and after graduating from university myself, we began to realise just how much universities use their alumni and could see how powerful former student stories could be. When we started to re-connect with people it became clear very quickly just how much our alumni were willing to do for us and more importantly, how much they truly wanted to do for us. We think it’s a brilliant concept and had heard that Future First were the best people to partner with to get things going. All the support we have received since then has been amazing. There has been so much guidance on the Core Programme. We’ve learnt how best to do things, when is best to do things, how to communicate with our alumni and been given ideas about how to involve them in school.
Our alumni have returned to Highworth on multiple occasions and it’s wonderful to see how their enthusiasm grows each time. Most people leave Highworth loving the school and now they are able to join this fantastic network of other people who feel the same from across the years.
It’s also having a real impact with our Year 13 leaving students, who for the first time this year actually asked if they could sign up to the network before we promoted it! It’s now become something that students know they will be a part of when they leave school and it’s something they want to do.
Over the past year we have paired a small number of Year 12 students with alumni for work experience placements. We have been extremely lucky that our alumni have been so willing to offer placements and if they can’t offer in-person work experience, they have sent extensive tips for our Year 12s about their careers and sectors.
One of our most transformative work placements has been for Year 12 student Ella, who completed a week shadowing alumna Rebecca, Head of Content and Publishing at the BBC. Ella absolutely loved her time with Rebecca and ended up making further contacts during the week whom she’s currently in conversation with about future placements in radio and television. After just her first day there, Ella emailed me to say how much she was enjoying it and Rebecca emailed to say that Ella was a real pleasure to have at the BBC. Afterwards, Ella applied to do an internship with ITV and Rebecca very kindly supported her with the application.
As the Careers Manager, I am always trying to highlight the importance of work experience and trying to encourage the girls to try different things, as they won’t know if they like a certain job or way of working unless they try it.
Ella has become even more driven since her work placement to get a job in the media industry. Her application to ITV was successful and she’s got an internship lined up, which Rebecca helped her apply for. They still keep in touch, which is great for us to know. This is the fantastic thing about our alumni, they get involved with one small thing or offer to help with one project and then it develops and snowballs and they end up supporting our students and going above and beyond for them. The connection they have can’t be matched by teachers or external people and that’s the best thing about it.
The impact that alumni have on our current students in general is that it completely opens their eyes to what is possible and available to them in later life. Alumni show our students that anything is possible and are the best people to demonstrate what you can achieve after leaving school. Some of our alumni are doing things that we’ve never heard of and that you definitely aren’t aware of when you’re 14 or 15. Students tend to know about more traditional jobs, so being a doctor, a teacher, a vet. They don’t know that you can actually do social media as a job or about the different types of journalism that exist. It’s these more modern careers that aren’t spoken about enough in schools, so in terms of careers our alumni are incredibly key to opening the students’ eyes.
We hope our alumni community continues to grow and are so glad that we have worked with Future First as we love working with them! In only a few years we have seen an overwhelmingly positive impact across the school and a real difference in the students who have interacted with them and been part of the programme.
We are so pro-alumni, we just want to keep trying new things and keep growing our network.