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.