January 2017

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Future First has worked with Vyners School in Uxbridge for two years. The school is now supported by a network of over 300 former students who have returned to school for careers networking events, alumni business lunches and to speak about their pathways in assemblies.

The students started their UCAS process last September. One Year 13 student had decided to apply to university in New York to study History. She knew she would have to do an interview to gain entry, and so the school turned to the alumni network to set up a mock interview. They connected the student with an alumnus living in San Francisco, who carried out a mock interview over Skype. The student wrote a note to thank the alumnus:
“In the middle of winter, as the nights draw closer, our world view often contracts to no more than the burning fire in our living rooms. However, this week I dipped my toes into the warm Arabian seas, the sands of the Sahara and the Gulf of Mexico, all made possible by our Vyners Alumnus, Graduating in 1966, who has lived and worked in Europe, South America and the Middle East. I was fortunate enough to have a mock interview with him, over Skype, from his current home in the US. I’ve been looking at Universities in America and his real-life experiences of the US offered me great insights into living and working across the pond. I can testify that our growing alumni network is a great resource that can provide opportunities and insights for all of us.”

Future First began working with the Harris Federation in 2015. We’re helping them to grow an alumni network to inspire students from across the Harris network to aim high for university.

Over 200 Year 12 students from across the Harris Federation recently took part in a ‘Preparing for University’ session. The event saw more than 200 high attaining students from across 14 different schools attend, as well as 10 alumni in various careers and university courses. Students heard from alumni about their university experience and how they made their subject and institution choices. They also discussed myths about Russell group universities, such as the number of private school students there.

Students then broke into groups to take part in ‘university style seminars’, each relating to the degree subject of the alumni. Alumni coached students through reading exercises and answered questions ranging from specific course details to surviving financially away from home.

The session received fantastic feedback from students, alumni and teachers. Harris now plan to make it an annual event for incoming sixth formers.

Back to School Week is on the road. We’ll be visiting different parts of the country to connect thousands of people with their old schools. In six weeks’ time, we’re launching ‘Back to School Week Birmingham’. And we’d like our schools, alumni, partners and supporters to get involved.

Future First already works in over 10% of schools and colleges across the country. Our goal is for every state school and college to be supported by a thriving alumni network so they can realise the benefits of that in all aspects of school life.

Back to School Week has been a major success in the past. The campaign aims to connect thousands of alumni with their old schools so they can inspire current students as career and education role models. Over the past four years, we have seen over 6,000 alumni sign up to ‘go back and give back’. Over 500 careers workshops have taken place up and down the country. We’ve seen ex-Labour leader, Ed Miliband, build campaigns with Year 7s at his school in Camden, and High Court Judge, Wendy Joseph, host students from her old school in Cardiff at the Old Bailey. Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, went back for a tour of his school. Political journalist, Fiona Bruce, returned to speak to students about her pathway since school, and Radio 1 DJ, Scott Mills, returned to speak to Year 9 students about apprenticeships and stamina in the face of rejection. We’ve also seen a whole host of lawyers, engineers, plumbers, doctors, students, apprentices, scientists, physicians, drivers and dancers, to name a few, join the movement and go back and give back.

This year, we’re taking a different approach. We’ll be targeting different regions to highlight the important role alumni can play in young people’s lives. We’re kick starting with Back to School Week Birmingham on 13 March.

We’ve got lots of exciting plans in the pipeline, including school workshops, forums, social media and some special guests. Watch this space!

If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact us at info@futurefirst.org.uk.

Future First Executive Chair, Christine Gilbert, discusses the social mobility problem in the UK and how we plan to tackle social inequality this year.

Two important reports published by the Social Mobility Commission at the end of 2016 highlighted the scale and the seriousness of the social mobility problem facing this country. They presented a depressing picture. There is a widening geographical divide between big cities with too many towns and counties being left behind economically and ‘hollowed-out’ socially.

The end of year gloom was made bleaker still last week by an Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) report showing younger people who already have higher incomes are much more likely to have received or to expect to receive an inheritance than previous generations. In other words, a young person’s future wealth is linked ever more strongly to the wealth of their parents.

When a problem seems so large and intractable, tackling it can feel impossible. But a new year can be used not only to bring hope and optimism for a more positive future but renewed energy to change things for the better.

Thinking and planning for a better future is exactly what Future First is all about. We know the social mobility challenge is huge but our work with hundreds of schools up and down the country is positive and invigorating. Last year, 180,000 alumni signed up to support their former schools and we can see the impact of their work on individuals and groups. We expect to increase this number in 2017.

Alumni come with different experiences of life after school and their personal stories highlight success but also the difficulties they had on the way. They offer insights and connections. Success in the world of work suddenly becomes real and within the grasp of current students. Their expectations about what students from their school can achieve are given a boost.

Our schools continue to find all sorts of inventive ways to use their alumni, from skyping a former student in Canada as part of a geography lesson to asking leavers to take a selfie outside their university to share with current students. And the feedback is terrific. 85% of students we’ve reached feel more motivated to work hard because of engaging with alumni. Every single teacher we’ve worked with on an event said they would recommend Future First to others.

Last year saw us focus our efforts in different parts of the country where the need is greatest. The South West was identified as a particularly poor area for engaging with employers. So, with funding from the Careers and Enterprise Company, we began working with 40 schools in the region to help them build thriving alumni communities.

This coming year, we’ll be driving forward more regional plans to combat mounting social inequality. Low levels of social mobility mean that a growing number of people feel they are losing out and life is unfair.

We shall also continue to work with schools to better understand their needs. A major initiative at the end of last year was the launch of our interactive digital toolkit. At the click of a button, each of our member schools can now access guidance, tips, templates and practical ideas so they can build a thriving alumni community. And we will be designing more tailored alumni programmes, targeted at helping the most disadvantaged students.

This year will be important in extending our reach, our activities and our impact so that more young people benefit from the many advantages contact with alumni can bring. We know this cannot combat all the evils of social mobility but it can make a significant difference to the lives of many young people.

So we are looking forward to helping schools and colleges make even more of a difference in 2017. In true Future First style, we believe the future can be what you make of it.