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?
26 October 2017
St Dominic’s Sixth Form College, Harrow, tells its story
Angela Inglese, Assistant Principal:
“St. Dominic’s Sixth Form College is a Catholic Sixth Form College in Harrow. We have approximately 1200 students aged between 16 and 18 and around 100 members of staff. The college is very diverse. We are very popular in the local area so the rest of our intake is from a range of ethnic backgrounds. We are very proud to have been named The Sunday Times’ Sixth Form College of the Year for 2017.
We decided to start working with our alumni about five years ago. We signed up to Future First because their ethos really resonated with us, particularly around the power of role models and the impact former students can have broadening young people’s horizons. Through Future First, we are now able to keep in touch with our alumni and create a sense of community by sharing college news with them and requesting for their help and support throughout the academic year. We want to continue using our alumni to inspire students, especially those who are interested in careers that we don’t currently offer much support on.
A large number of our career talks by alumni over the years have been to show our students that there are so many ways of being successful. Often in society, the focus is on academic success and we’ve been really fortunate to have a bank of wonderful alumni who can show our students and their parents that it’s not always about being a doctor, it’s more about giving them a chance to be who they are.
Since we joined Future First, every year, in the spring term, we invite our alumni back for an alumni panel and careers event. A few months before the event is due to take place, our Careers Team get together and decide which careers and courses we want to focus on, generally picking something from each department in the college. We invite all our Year 12 students and their parents to the event and we are usually joined by about 13 alumni, all from different backgrounds.
This event is run like a panel, with the Future First facilitators asking our alumni open-ended questions about the importance of working hard to get into university, work or apprenticeship schemes, or what the expectations are when they get there, and what university and work life is all about. We finish off with a break out session, enabling students to speak to each former student in more detail about their journey after leaving college. Our alumni also share any advice they have to give. It’s great fun!
The most noticeable impact our alumni have is helping students understand the importance of their UCAS application. The whole point of this event is for students to understand what is on offer, what kinds of things they are interested in and whether they could then do that as a career and if so, how to get there.
Our students find it so helpful especially because they are hearing from those who were once in their seats. At St. Dominic’s, we have always been keen on sharing the fact that it’s not just about going to university. So every year for this event, we welcome former students who have applied for apprenticeships so that students who are keen on other pathways can also benefit from this event.
It’s great that former students like to come back and visit us! At this year’s alumni event, I was privileged to meet a student who I taught 10 years ago. She’s now a politics lecturer and has just written her first book about how people express political ideas using graffiti.
I’ve had several conversations with students since the event and they have often pointed out things that alumni said. Hearing from alumni about their future choices means more to them than hearing from teachers.
One student had her heart set on medicine but having spoken to alumni who are pharmacists she now feels that pharmacy sounds much more achievable and is definitely a career she can use her skills to flourish.
The pressure to get good grades is very attractive for some students. But anxiety as a result of pressure is so common. To be able to find out something like this not only takes some of the pressure off but gives students a focus, boosting their motivation and their self-belief.”
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.”