26 September 2017

Bodmin College, Cornwall, tells its story

by Jess Black

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.”