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Laura Underwood

Photograph credit: Laurie Lewis

Barrister Alexandra Wilson has thrown her support behind Future First’s mission to build alumni networks in state schools across the country.

The black female lawyer hit the news headlines last month when she revealed that she had been mistaken for the defendant three times in one day.

Yet her determination to succeed and overcome prejudice is summed up in her defiant message: “I’m 24. I’m mixed-race. I’m from Essex. I’m not posh. I worked hard and NEVER listened when people said the Bar wasn’t for people like me. THIS is what a barrister looks like.”

Announcing her support for Future First, Alexandra said: “Providing relatable role models for all students is so important. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see. I’m pleased to support Future First’s mission to build alumni networks in state schools, and hope my story inspires young people to aim high.”

As well as being a barrister, Alexandra is also a published author and the founder of Black Women in Law.

Responding to Alexandra’s support, Future First’s Chief Executive, Lorraine Langham, said: “We are so delighted that Alexandra is supporting our effort to ensure that no young person’s start in life determines their future.

“Her story should be an inspiration for every young person, especially those who feel barriers block the way of them pursuing the career of their dreams.

“Role models are vital for young people to show them a future that can be theirs.”

One of Future First’s longstanding partners, law firm Taylor Wessing, has produced a video by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees, offering advice to young people on how to pursue a legal career.

Lorraine Langham, Chief Executive Officer at Future First, said: “This video provides fantastic advice and guidance to any young person interested in pursuing a legal career, but especially those from BAME communities.

“By using their staff as relatable role models, Taylor Wessing is showing that a good legal career is very much open to everyone with the right aptitude who is prepared to work hard.”

Future First works with a diverse range of employers to help thousands of students to experience life in the workplace. Taylor Wessing has worked with the charity for several years to offer insight days and mentoring programmes to students from all walks of life so the option of a career in law is opened up to them.

Written by Lorraine Langham, CEO of Future First

We all want a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable society, yet so much evidence shows we are heading the wrong way, or just not moving fast enough.

Sam Cooke wrote that ‘a change is gonna come’ in support of the American civil rights protests back in 1963. Yet here we are, in 2020, witnessing legitimate protests about the deep inequalities and injustices still embedded in our societies. The Black Lives Matter movement gives voice to many issues that need to be tackled – racism, equal respect, human rights and freedom – not just in America, but here in the UK.

Education raises aspirations and transforms lives. It is the key to creating a more just society. Not only does it nurture and develop individuals to reach their potential, it also develops young people as good citizens, prepared to play their role in building communities and creating a better world. Education shapes young people’s values, the way they see themselves and the world around them. Education sits at the forefront of breaking down the barriers established by racism and many schools do wonderful work, including tackling stereotypes and dealing with unconscious bias. Unesco writes about empowering students for just societies, equipping learners to become ‘champions of peace and justice’. Surely this is what we want?

At Future First, we believe that children ‘can’t be what they can’t see’. They need relatable role models to show them a world of opportunities, whatever their background, race or faith. We work tirelessly to provide state school pupils with a network that can inspire and support them – in schools and the classroom – but also beyond education, with pathways to employment, further or higher education and opportunities for work.

Alumni help equip young people with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and uncertain world. It is a world of climate change, pandemics and the on-going struggle for equality and human rights for all – but also a world of opportunity that must be for everyone. Alumni inspire young people with their stories of success and how they have overcome barriers to reach their goals and realise their dreams. Alumni help students to build confidence, resilience and the motivation to study hard.

The recently published NFER report highlights the falling diversity of school governors and concludes that white ethnic groups are statistically over represented. Alumni can make excellent governors and our work can be valuable to schools in encouraging more diverse talent to step forward.

Future First is celebrating the diversity of state schools and their alumni. We want to showcase some of their stories and successes in a wide array of roles.

If you are Black and went to state school, please share your photos and stories with us (via Twitter @FutureFirstOrg or email us at info@futurefirst.org.uk) so we can celebrate your achievements and share them with schools to inspire current students.

After making it past the original goal of £10,000 for its crowdfunding initiative, Future First has now smashed through its stretch target of £18,000 – with a few days still left on the campaign.

The new milestone was reached thanks to a generous £1,495 donation from Future First volunteer Rahul Moodgal ahead of the fundraising push coming to an end on Monday (12 October).

The success of the crowdfunding campaign, the first to ever be attempted by the charity, means thousands more pupils in state schools will benefit from Future First’s work to develop thriving alumni networks.

Among those to benefit will be students at four schools in Lincolnshire, thanks to South Holland District Council’s decision to support the initiative.

Future First Chief Executive, Lorraine Langham, said: “I am so grateful to Rahul for his generous donation and to everyone else who has supported this campaign. We will make sure that every pound makes a difference to state school pupils.

“Of course, there are still a few days to go, so there’s still time to donate and help us extend our reach and impact to more students in more schools.

“Our work is more important than ever right now, given the anxiety many young people will be feeling due to the pandemic. Unless we take action, the gap between young people from privileged backgrounds and those whose start in life has been more challenging will continue to get wider.

“Alumni networks can play a vital role in the education ecosystem, giving young people in state schools extra support and encouragement. They offer pupils an insight into a future that could be theirs, providing them with confidence, motivation and inspiration to push on and succeed.”

You can donate here until 12 October, 1.30pm.

Two medical students have returned to their West London state school to celebrate its win in a national award sponsored by alumni charity, Future First.

Villiers High School has just won a silver award in the ‘Making a Difference’ category of the National Teaching Awards, which Future First has proudly sponsored for a number of years.

A former head boy, Danyal Aftab, and former head girl, Svenja D’Costa, both returned to celebrate the win.

Danyal, who is now studying BioMedicine, told local media: “I’m so proud that I went to Villiers. I know that hasn’t always been the case for pupils but in the last few years the school has really changed its reputation and become a school you can say you are proud to attend.”

Svenja, who is studying medicine, added: “Our teachers always want to know how we are doing and what we are up to. It’s a brilliant school and I love coming back.”

Future First’s Chief Executive, Lorraine Langham, said: “As a charity committed to seeing strong alumni networks working across every school in the country I’m so delighted to hear that Danyal and Svenja returned to celebrate this fantastic award with their old school.

“We know that meeting past students can make a significant difference to pupils.

“Alumni show them a world of opportunity and a future that could be theirs. They inspire pupils with their stories and give them the confidence and motivation needed to succeed.”

Future First already works with hundreds of state schools to link young people with alumni and employers, but there are many more schools that do not benefit from the opportunity.

The charity is currently crowdfunding to raise money to set up even more alumni programmes in schools. There’s still time to support the effort so we can ensure no young person’s start in life determines their future.

Written by Joy Upchurch, Programme Director at Future First

On 5 October 2020, Future First signed the employer pledge and became a Time to Change employer, committed to promoting good mental health in the workplace and breaking down mental health stigma.

As Programme Director at Future First, I’m proud to be spearheading the Time to Change action plan and showing our dedication to tackling mental health stigma. The support from Time to Change has been invaluable, and I’m excited to embed new ideas and activities into our organisational culture. I’m hopeful this will create an environment at Future First that breaks down barriers through increasing awareness of mental health issues, and supporting colleagues to feel comfortable talking about their own mental health.

I’ve suffered with anxiety since I was a teenager and I didn’t open up about it for a long time – it took me a while to realise that what I was experiencing was anxiety, due to the lack of information and open conversation. Even once I had that awareness, my anxiety was associated with feelings of fear and shame so I tried to ignore it – we often see it as the easier option to hide the truth, but in actual fact this reinforces those feelings of shame. This badly affected my experiences at university and previous jobs, not because they were ‘unsupportive’, but because there were no structures or processes in place to open the lines of communication around mental health.

Last year, I went through a period of increased anxiety and frustration at the fact I hadn’t been able to start managing it earlier in my life, which led me to research ways I could raise awareness and support people experiencing similar things, particularly young people. I did a few courses and my passion grew – I wanted to tackle the stigma I’d experienced and create opportunities for people to be open about their mental health. After training as a Mental Health First Aider and bringing that experience to Future First, I discovered the Time to Change pledge and saw the opportunity to develop those structures and processes that had been missing from my previous roles.

Lorraine, Chief Executive, commented on the importance of the Time to Change pledge:

“Many people suffer from mental health problems at some time in their life. It’s time we talked more openly about it. Future First is proud to take the Time to Change pledge as we want to be an employer that models good practice and creates a supportive environment in which our staff can succeed and thrive”.

Edina, Time to Change champion, talks about why she became a champion:

“Having struggled with anxiety for a number of years, I wanted to help normalise something that so many deal with every day. As I went into my teens, I felt the creep of anxiety edging in. Will I be successful? Will I get the grades? Am I good enough? How do I get to where I want to go? These are all good questions that every teenager faces but I was putting far more pressure on myself than necessary, as I was the only one of my siblings expected to go to university and go on to a high-flying career.

As I have gotten older, I have learnt how to manage my anxiety to the best of my ability and have a very good doctor who has helped but things got worse before they got better. I decided to become a Time to Change Champion as I want to make talking about mental health normal, my own experiences with my mental and those of others in my family mean I have an understanding of what coping in the workplace with a mental health condition can be like. I would like to see a world where people with mental health conditions are able to thrive. I am fortunate to work for Future First, an organisation that values the wellbeing of its staff and is working to make it an even better environment.”

Naomi, Time to Change champion, commented on her experience:

“I’ve seen the damaging effects of mental health stigma on children I’ve taught as well as friends and family. It can be difficult to navigate conversations about mental health and know how to support others, but it is so important for us all to make efforts to reduce the stigma. On a personal level, I’ve experienced different levels of support at different workplaces which has really affected my mental health at times of increased stress and anxiety. It makes a real difference when you know how to access support within work, and that you won’t be discriminated against or your experiences minimised. It’s great that Future First are signing the pledge to be a supportive employer which will make a practical difference to employees and send a message against stigma.” 

Education charity’s Chair signs commitment to promote good mental health in the workplace and break down mental health stigma.

Future First has today signed the national Time to Change pledge and thrown its support behind the fight to break down the barriers around mental health in the workplace and increase awareness about the issue.

Signing the commitment to embed the pledge into the charity’s organisational culture, Future First’s Chair, Christine Gilbert, said: “I’m delighted to sign the Time to Change pledge as a public declaration of how Future First wants to step up to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination.  We are deeply committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our staff and the wider community with which we work.”

Lorraine, Future First’s Chief Executive, added: “Many people suffer from mental health problems at some time in their life. It’s time we talked more openly about it.

“Future First is proud to take the Time to Change pledge as we want to be an employer that models good practice and creates a supportive environment in which our staff can succeed and thrive.”

Time to Change is a campaign run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. It aims to improve public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems and reduce the amount of discrimination they suffer in their personal relationships, social lives and at work.

Future First works with hundreds of state schools and colleges across the country to link young people with alumni and employers. The charity’s vision is for a world where a young person’s start in life does not limit their future. The importance of good mental health is central to this work, with the programmes the charity runs in schools focused on building confidence, motivation and inspiration among students.

Lord Gary Porter, Leader of South Holland District Council in Lincolnshire, has voiced his support of Future First’s crowdfunder through an article in Local Government First magazine.

Lord Porter, who began his career as a builder, speaks of the importance of providing young people with a network of former student role models, providing a diversity of opportunity to aspire to.

Future First’s crowdfunder is gathering pace as it enters its final week, and has already exceeded its original £10,000 target. The funds will be used to build and activate former student communities in even more state schools in the UK.

Gold Medalist and climate activist Etienne Stott has backed Future First’s crowdfunding campaign to set up an alumni programme in every state school and college in the country.

The campaign is all about getting relatable role models to inspire state school pupils and show them a world of opportunities.

The Olympic champion won gold at the London 2012 Olympics in the men’s canoe slalom. He has been campaigning for the protection of the planet ever since his retirement from professional sports in 2016.

The backing from Etienne Stott is fantastic news for Future First’s crowdfunding campaign as it enters its final week. The crowdfunder is aiming to support more state schools to establish alumni programmes, so today’s pupils can be motivated and inspired to go on and succeed.

District council and charity Future First team up so former pupils can return and inspire today’s students to success.

University Academy, Holbeach and Thomas Cowley High School in Donington have become the first schools in the region to sign up to an exciting new initiative aimed at inspiring and helping local pupils to succeed.

South Holland District Council has teamed up with national education charity Future First to launch a crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising funds for alumni networks in schools across the region, and the two schools are the first to sign on the dotted line. The charity specialises in recruiting past pupils to act as mentors and inspirational speakers, to help with career choices and provide links to employers and universities, to bring learning to life, fundraise for schools or help with homework.

The council has invited all South Holland secondary schools to join the initiative.

University Academy’s Principal, Sheila Paige, said: “I’m delighted we will now be working with Future First and South Holland District Council to develop a thriving alumni network. The confidence, learning and support former pupils can bring to current students will be invaluable and will make the transition from school to higher education or work so much easier.”

Thomas Cowley High’s Headteacher, Ian Dawson, said: “It’s so important to us that our pupils believe in themselves so they have the confidence to strive for success when they leave Thomas Cowley. Working with Future First will help us to do even more to prepare them for life after school and make that transition as easy as possible.”

Lord Porter, Leader of South Holland District Council, said: “If I can make it into the House of Lords after a career as a builder there’s no limit to what every child, in every school, can achieve.

“This has been a very difficult year for pupils across South Holland and the wider region, especially those who’ve taken exams, so it’s vital they have the opportunity to hear from people who’ve left their school and made a success of their lives.

“It’s something private schools do extremely well and it’s vital children in our state schools have the same opportunity.

Future First, which is committed to making sure a young person’s start in life does not limit their future, already works with hundreds of state schools and colleges across the country to link young people with alumni and employers.

The charity’s Chief Executive, Lorraine Langham, said: “We can’t wait to start working with the teams at University Academy and Thomas Cowley to harness the power of alumni so we can help current pupils on the road to success.

“It’s also fantastic to be working with Lord Porter and South Holland District Council on this exciting crowfunding initiative which will allow us to build alumni networks in more Lincolnshire schools.

“Alumni show young people a world of opportunity and a future that could be theirs. We want to give Lincolnshire’s current crop of students hope for the future and the confidence and motivation they need to succeed.

“We’d love everyone out there, whatever their connection with South Holland and Lincolnshire, to sign up to support their former school or donate to our crowdfunding campaign. We know that meeting past students can make a significant difference.

“It would be wonderful for as many young people as possible, whatever their circumstances, to have the reassurance that comes from hearing what it took for  someone who sat in the very same classroom to make a success of their lives.”                                                     

For further information or to arrange interviews with Sheila Paige, Ian Dawson, Lord Porter or Lorraine Langham please contact Paul Marinko at paul.marinko@futurefirst.org.uk or on 07779 029 569.

Note to editors:

Future First crowdfunder link – https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/future-first-crowdfunder

Future First’s vision is a world where a young person’s start in life does not limit their future. Our mission is to see every state school and college in the UK supported by a thriving and engaged alumni community, which improves students’ motivation, confidence and life chances.


Guest blog post by Laura Wareing, PhD Design Researcher at Lancaster University

Earlier this year, Future First collaborated with PhD Design Researcher Laura Wareing, on a programme called Transformation North West.  In this guest blog post, Laura provides an overview of the project and reveals how it was adapted following the Covid-19 crisis.

The project ‘Design Future First’ allowed us to explore how design can engage young people when discussing their future prospects, the support they might need and ideas for how students can get involved in the way alumni support is delivered in their schools.

The work also fed into PhD research looking at the role that co-design can play in supporting young people living in deprived parts of North West England as they consider their futures.  We selected three schools to engage with, where pupils were accessing both the alumni programme but also areas where young people face more barriers to reach their full potential.  The schools were based in Blackpool and Stoke-on-Trent.

My research focused on the use of a co-design to draw groups of people together, reflect on the challenges they face and work together to imagine alternative and improved approaches.  Young people benefitting from the alumni programme are experts in their own lived experience and therefore can play a valuable role in shaping how the programme might be delivered.  The process can empower young people, boost confidence and creativity.

To achieve this, we invited Year 10 groups from each school to take part in creative and interactive workshops at their school. The activities were as follows:

Activity 1 – Future Journey

Part 1: Students describe themselves, what they are good at and where they live.

Part 2: They then imagine what they would like to do in the future, describing the sorts of skills they might have and where they might live.

Part 3: They visualise the journey between now and the future, highlighting steps they might take, where these steps might take place, where something might get in the way and where they might like support.

Activity 2 – Improve a Meeting with a Former Student

Students describe the experience they had when meeting a former student and then come up with ideas to make the experience better.

Activity 3 – Be Part of Future First

Students look at how Future First operates and discuss and generate ideas for how to improve it and actively involve more young people.

To conclude the workshop, each participant was asked to record privately what they had gained from the workshop, how they would like to be personally involved going forward and rate how well listened and involved they felt during the workshop.

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown interrupted our workshops and therefore the original plan had to adapted to work online in a one-hour timeslot. More information about the online workshop with pupils in Stoke-on-Trent can be found here.

Despite the setbacks and challenges, the design of the workshop helped us to really get to know the pupils, their hope for the future, the barriers they worried about facing and the targeted support they might need.  The tools used in the workshops made the invisible visible and made plans and ideas easier to articulate and share.  What was particularly striking was that the workshop was highly inclusive; everyone was able to make a valuable contribution. All of the pupils who attended said that they had learnt more about future jobs, that they wanted to be more involved in the programme delivery in school and that they felt highly involved and listened to in the workshop. Some said they felt motivated to work harder at school and one pupil said the workshop had made him do the most thinking he had ever done in school!

Among the ideas from young people about how to improve the experience of meeting alumni were:

  • Meeting in smaller groups so that everyone could feel more comfortable
  • Having more conversation and feedback around helping young people connect what they enjoy to future job possibilities
  • A need for more detail on the specific journey the alumni took to get where they are now
  • More support around mental health and wellbeing.

The project was a strong first step for Future First into the area of co-design.  We really only managed to scratch the surface of what is possible in a co-design process to support young people to generate fresh, new ideas that can benefit them at a transitional point in their lives.

A full report on the project can be found here.

If anyone has any questions, I can be contacted at l.e.wareing@lancaster.ac.uk or on Twitter @_LauraWareing.  Find out more about Transformation North West here.

I’d like to thank Future First for collaborating with me on this project.

Laura Wareing

Young people deserve to have their voices heard and never more so than now as they bear the brunt of a bleak labour market and an uncertain future. We are supporting Youth Futures Foundation to shine a spotlight on the challenges faced by young people looking for a job in these difficult times.

If you are aged between 16 to 24 years old and happy to speak about your experience of looking for a job, we’d love your support. Volunteers will be asked to take part in an interview with a journalist from a local television or radio station or a newspaper. All volunteers will be fully supported and prepared to ensure you feel comfortable and have a positive experience talking to the media. You do not have to be experts on youth employment, only to be content to share your experience of making the transition into work.

If you are happy to share some of the difficulties you are facing, or perhaps have gone on to overcome, then please get in touch with Jayne at jayne.phenton@youthfuturesfoundation.org. This is an opportunity for your voice to be heard by a range of decision makers and key representatives.

Children and families “face being locked into disadvantage for generations” according to a new report published by the Social Mobility Commission.

The report, the first of its kind in the UK, paints a bleak picture for young people growing up in specific areas across England often associated with low wages and deprivation. Children from these areas are less likely to achieve social mobility and a better life for themselves compared to their more affluent peers.

In response to the report, Future First’s CEO, Lorraine Langham said: “I echo the thoughts of Steven Cooper from the commission – this data depicts the deeply entrenched workings of a society that has not fully embraced social mobility and holds onto its class differences. The report highlights, more than ever, the need for the kind of work that Future First undertakes. The structures we help to put in place around UK schools connect young people with the wider world of work, training and opportunity. Having contact with people who have gone on to progress in their life and careers helps to build the confidence, resilience and aspirations that stay with school children long after they have left the education system. We believe that these are essential ingredients for success’’.

Only one in eight children from a low-income background is likely to become a high earner as an adult, reinforcing the commission’s findings that this could mean children are locked into a cycle of disadvantage for generations. Aiming to break this deadlock, we work to bring former pupils into their schools, as relatable role models, advisers and mentors for students.

Lorraine continues: “Access to relatable role models broadens students’ horizons – helping them imagine a world beyond their own front door. Private schools have always had these networks and leverage them very effectively – we want to ensure all students, no matter their background, can harness the same opportunities. Instilling aspiration in young people is absolutely crucial in the battle against social deadlock. Quite simply, Britain has a deep social mobility problem and Future First is working to change this.”

If you would like to find out more about Future First’s work, or how to access an alumni community, please contact us on info@futurefirst.org.uk or telephone 020 72398933.

Nancy Scott, a local government partner at leading public sector recruiters GatenbySanderson has put her support behind our crowdfunding campaign with an article in specialist magazine The MJ.

In the article, Ms Scott spells out the huge benefit for local government from getting involved with Future First’s work to inspire and motivate students to succeed.

She writes: “Never has there been a more opportune moment for this wonderful charity’s work to be celebrated and promoted.

“Its work to develop alumni programmes and introduce employers into schools is so important at a time when many students will be struggling to believe they can succeed in a world of such uncertainty.”

She goes on to argue that councils should get involved with Future First’s work so they can help harness the talent of young people to rebuild local economies and also spread the word to students about the innovative work done by modern local government.

Future Me Online Mentoring connected students at 14 secondary schools across the UK with alumni mentors to provide advice about their future pathways through online messaging. 

Our findings show that by the end of the programme students who participated had an increased understanding of the pathways available to them, as well as the skills required to achieve them and the practical steps they need to take. Many students created action plans and used spreadsheets to make detailed plans for their next steps. As a result, their confidence also increased with students now feeling more positive about their futures.

Since the project has ended a number of volunteers and students have been in touch to offer thanks and personal testimony. This programme highlights the potential of online mentoring as a tool which allows volunteers to engage flexibly, and students to access support remotely. There is significant potential to expand on this to provide support to greater numbers of students, perhaps through a blended learning approach now the majority have returned to school. We are looking into ways to make this a reality.

To read the full report, click the image below.

Inspirational poet, playwright and broadcaster Lemn Sissay has backed Future First’s crowdfunding campaign to set up an alumni programme in every state school and college in the country.

The campaign is all about getting relatable role models to inspire state school pupils and show them a world of opportunities. Lemn Sissay couldn’t fit that bill more.

He was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics, has been the chancellor of the University of Manchester since 2015 and is now on the Booker Prize judging panel.

His words sum up exactly what Future First’s alumni programmes are all about: “Reach for the top of the tree and you may get to the first branch but reach for the stars and you’ll get to the top of the tree. My primary aim is to inspire and be inspired.”

Congratulations to all the ‘Making a Difference’ Silver Award winners in the Pearson National Teaching Awards for this year.

For several years, Future First has been honoured to sponsor the two categories for the award and this year nine schools have come out winners in highly competitive fields. You can read more about the winners here.

Lorraine Langham, Chief Executive of Future First, said: “Making a difference is what our work at Future First is all about. That’s why we sponsored the Making a Difference awards. All the winners have shown just what can be done and our heartfelt congratulations go to all concerned.

“A young person’s start in life should not limit their future and through our alumni programmes with schools, students can be motivated and inspired to make the difference themselves and transform their own lives.”

Later this year, one of the winners in each category will be chosen as the winners of the coveted gold awards.



NFER research released this month reveals that learning loss among BAME and disadvantaged young people during school closures was significantly higher than among their wealthier peers. Lorraine Langham, Future First’s CEO, responds:

“The NFER research shines a vital light on the widening gap at the heart of our education system.

While the government grapples with the thorny issue of delaying next year’s school exams it is worth remembering that extra time alone will not see us narrowing the gap between pupils from privileged backgrounds and those facing more disadvantaged circumstances.

If ministers decide to push back the date of next year’s GCSEs and A-levels it is essential that all pupils, especially the most disadvantaged, are inspired and motivated to make a success of their lives. That is why Future First has recently launched a crowdfunding appeal aimed at setting up an alumni programme in every state school and college in the country.

Private schools consistently harness the power of alumni networks to give their pupils even more belief and opportunity to succeed, while the vast majority of state school pupils miss out – despite the many inspiring role models that could be available.

Time – they say – is a healer, but in this case it will not be nearly enough to adequately to address the gaping inequalities that already exist within our education system and have been exacerbated by the current crisis.”

For more information about our crowdfunder or our work with schools and young people, email info@futurefirst.org.uk or phone 020 72398933.

Our crowdfunding appeal has already registered tub-thumping support, with star TV comedy act Dick & Dom throwing their weight behind the campaign.

Dick got behind our Twitter hashtag #IWentToStateSchool, posting: “I went to Tapton School and then Norton College to study media… I now push my mate Dom round in a bathtub!”

The backing of the comedy duo, who have found fame with their BBC children’s TV shows, is fantastic news for Future First’s crowdfunding campaign. The crowdfunder is aiming to create an alumni programme in every state school across the country so today’s pupils can be motivated and inspired to go on and succeed.

Future First’s Chief Executive, Lorraine Langham, said: “I’m so delighted that Dick & Dom are supporting our campaign.

“Alumni show children a world of opportunity and a future that could be theirs. Dick & Dom are living proof that the most wonderful careers are available to young people no matter what their circumstances.

“This crowdfunding campaign is so important, the more people we can get to sign up and support it, the more current students can learn from those who have left their school and found success. We know that meeting past students can make a significant difference.”

Future First was delighted and honoured to have been chosen as charity of the year for this year’s MJ Awards. The awards, hosted by The MJ, on Friday 2 October 2020, celebrated the best in local government services.

In this year of increased uncertainty for pupils, we launched a crowdfunding campaign aimed at setting up more alumni programmes in state schools, to increase pupils’ confidence, motivation and resilience. Normally, there would have been a raffle at a glittering MJ dinner awards event, but this year, attendees were asked to support Future First’s campaign virtually. Over £2,000 was pledged on the day of the event, almost enough to fund a whole school network, extending our reach and impact to hundreds of pupils.

We would like to thank everyone who donated on the day – and before the event – exceeding our highest hopes for the crowdfunder, which was our first ever. There’s still time to donate with one week left – and we have almost funded 7 networks benefitting thousands of young people, including those who are most disadvantaged.

Future First works to support state schools and colleges develop alumni programmes so current pupils can benefit from the life experiences of former students, as relatable role models. Only one in eight children from a low-income background is currently likely to become a high earner and our research shows that nearly half of pupils from the poorest backgrounds don’t know anyone in a job they would like to do. Meeting former students helps to change this, boosting young people’s confidence and motivation, and helping to transform their life chances.

If I can make it into the House of Lords after a career as a builder there’s no limit to what children in our schools today can achieve.

The message that every child should have the opportunity to succeed, no matter what their start in life, is central to charity Future First’s philosophy and at the heart of their new crowdfunding effort to help set up alumni networks in every state school in the country.

The support I needed to succeed didn’t come when I was at schools but much later when I entered politics. Politicians get support from their peer group all the time and that is especially true of the Local Government Association (LGA). I want to see all young people have the chance to build their lives on that kind of support.

So I’m delighted to be supporting Future First’s effort at such a crucial time, when the confidence and resilience of our young people is likely to have been knocked by the chaos of the coronavirus crisis. There’s never been a more important time to give our young people the reassurance they have every chance of pursuing their dreams.

As many of us who went to state school will know, it’s very easy to think the odds are stacked against you – that all the best careers out there are only open to young people lucky enough to go to independent schools.

In truth, the reason so many young people do well – whether in the independent sector or the state sector – is down to belief. They know other people – just like them – have left their school and gone on to achieve great things. That sense of belief gives them the confidence to go out and succeed for themselves and the resilience to persevere when the chips are down.

This sense of belief isn’t just an instinct. The more privileged your upbringing, the stronger your network. Thirty-five percent of disadvantaged young people don’t know anyone in a job they want to do. And my guess is that this will get worse before things get better.

It’s frankly a scandal that so many young people just don’t know that there is a world of opportunity out there. We know that our schools are struggling to work day-to-day at the moment. Many haven’t got the time or resource available to set up alumni networks from scratch. That’s where Future First can step in.

The charity is already working with hundreds of state schools and colleges across the country, establishing alumni networks and links with local employers for existing pupils, but there are many more schools where this opportunity still doesn’t exist.

South Holland DC and Future First are piloting the crowdfunder to see if the community can help build these networks. If successful, then it will be rolled out nationally so every child in every school will be able to benefit from the experience of former pupils who have left before them and gone on to pursue successful careers.

We know that meeting past students can make a significant difference. It gives the students of today another reason to learn and persevere when the going gets tough.

But creating these networks in every school won’t just be good news for pupils – it will be good news for councils too, because these pupils will be the local workers of the future. And with a successful workforce comes economic growth and prosperity.

So, I’m also delighted that Future First has been named as the official charity for this year’s MJ Awards. It’s a cause every council leader and every council chief executive in the country should get behind. We owe it to our young people and we owe it to our communities.

Please visit Future First’s crowdfunder appeal (https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/future-first-crowdfunder) to make a donation, sign up as an alumni or just send a message of hope to students.

Lord Gary Porter of Spalding  is a former chairman of the Local Government Association and leader of South Holland DC

Original article: mj.co.uk

Take part in our crowdfunding campaign or sign up to our national alumni network now.

"Remember that every application form you fill out, or interview or assessment centre you attend, is good experience. Whenever you leave an interview, try to remember the questions they asked you and take some time considering how you could have answered them better".

Jessica Tagg, former student of Beaumont Leys Secondary School and Wyggeston & Queen Elizabeth I College, Leicester

If you have been to a law firm open day, assessment centre, or completed a vacation scheme, you might have noticed the striking number of public and private school students compared to state school students. Admittedly, some firms are much better than others, but this is a problem affecting the whole legal industry.

I was a state school student in Leicester, before studying Law with Australian Law at the University of Nottingham. After graduating in 2015, I took a year out and worked at my old school. I recently completed the Legal Practice Course and I am now eagerly waiting to start my job as a Trainee Solicitor at a City firm in London.

While I can only ever speak from my own experiences in applying for vacation schemes and training contracts, these five tips should give you something to consider during the application process.

  1. Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness can mean many different things, but primarily it is about understanding how business works, what external factors might be currently affecting the business sector, and the knock-on effect this has for the legal industry.

If this isn’t the kind of thing you chat to friends and family about, you might be feeling a bit daunted by the phrase ‘commercial awareness’. The best thing to do is start small: jumping straight into the Financial Times can be terrifying. Start by finding out which areas of business interest you, and read around this area using free and easily accessible news sites, such as BBC News. For example, I started by reading about cybercrime, which was a big issue when I was writing applications, but also something I found very interesting: the more I read about cybercrime, the more I started to realise how it impacted on business, and what changes the business sector was having to make to combat this threat. Once you feel more comfortable with the area, ask your university library if they have a subscription to the Financial Times, or if they distribute issues for free on campus, to get a deeper insight into the commercial world. The Economist is a useful source too, since it produces articles on commercial themes, rather than trying to produce constant up-to-date news.

  1. University careers service

Make the most of the opportunities that your university careers service offers. Many universities will provide mock interview sessions, mock assessment days and application help, which will result in you getting useful feedback from people who know what they are talking about: I got some useful feedback on my presentation skills which really helped me during assessment days. But bear in mind that the careers service is likely to be generic and may not be able to provide you with the most law-focused advice. So, try speaking to friends on your course who have also submitted applications and attended interview/assessment days to find out about their experiences.

  1. Open days

Attend as many firm open days as you can! Each open day will teach you a bit more about the legal industry and so they are a really useful way of getting an insight if you don’t have legal work experience or a vacation scheme on your CV. Take a notepad along with you and make a note of things you learn throughout the day – this can then be referred to during any future applications. For example, on an application form, I would always take up a box dedicated to work experience and title it “open days”, then list all the open days I had attended and a sentence or two about what I learned from them. Firms will often reimburse travel expenses for their open days, and if they don’t offer this outright, don’t be afraid to ask!

  1. Ask for feedback

If you are unsuccessful at an interview or assessment centre, the firm should always offer you feedback. If they do not, be sure to ask the graduate recruitment team for some. This feedback is the best insight you can get into your performance, and it’s open to all, so don’t waste this opportunity. Whatever your feedback, remember that you can always work on your performance, and it is better to know your weaknesses ahead of your next interview or assessment centre. Remember, every firm is looking for a different type of candidate, so what one firm considers a deal-breaker may not be as important to the next firm.

  1. Use the social mobility networks that are open to you

If your school is a Future First member, ask your teachers to check if any former students signed up to the network work in law. They can contact that student on your behalf to ask if they can mentor you or offer any advice. And you can never have too much of a good thing: there are plenty of networks offering slightly different focuses, so join as many as you can! A legally-focused network that I would particularly recommend joining is Aspiring Solicitors. The founder, Chris White, does an excellent job of personally answering your questions about applications, reading your applications before you send them off and organising insight days at law firms across the City.


Remember that every application form you fill out, or interview or assessment centre you attend, is good experience. Whenever you leave an interview, try to remember the questions they asked you and take some time considering how you could have answered them better – this will help you in the future if you ever get asked the same question in another interview.

Finally, good luck and don’t give up!

As part of our South West scheme, school staff were offered the chance to follow SSAT’s Lead Practitioner scheme. As the project comes to a close, two school leads tells us why they chose to do the training and how it will improve their practice.



Jackie Druiff, Coombeshead High School:

“I decided to do the Lead Practitioner (LP) accreditation because it was a free opportunity to pursue some extra professional development and to review and reflect on my practice- it was an opportunity not to be missed.

I haven’t really had any similar opportunities in school.  Most development programmes are geared towards wider school development priorities, so this was a valuable new experience for me.

The whole process will definitely help me as a practitioner, much more so than I originally thought when I set out to do it. At first I thought it was a bit of a paper exercise, but in reality it’s actually really good because I was forced to reflect on what I do as a practitioner, how I do it and the effect of what I do on my colleagues and students. Particularly in the current climate where everyone is really stretched, it’s good to take a moment and reflect on your work.

It’s also nice to have someone external to the school looking at my practice.

I know the whole process will encourage me to reflect in the future. Has it changed my practice? Probably. I think to myself, ‘OK, if you had to evidence this, what would you use?’ or ‘what’s the evidence/need for implementing this initiative, and how can I measure the impact?’


Jacqui Maxfield, Crispin Academy:

“I decided to do the LP accreditation because it looked really useful. I’ve learnt a lot, but it was far more challenging than I originally thought. I haven’t done anything like this since university.

It’s been brilliant to think about the impact I’m making and also really useful for the wider school. I’ve looked at the work I’ve been doing this year with alumni and my wider work on raising aspirations.

I’m currently trying to become a senior leader in school and the process has really helped me to pursue that. I talked about the accreditation when I interviewed for SLT and I think it was a key reason for me being successful. It shows that I go above and beyond and think about the impact I’m making in school.

I’m still thinking about impact, even though I’ve finished the whole process. I think I’ll continue to think about the impact I’m making in my role day-to-day.”

St Dominic's sixth form has worked with Future First for three years now. The school uses alumni to show students that there are so many ways of being successful, whether that's through academic success or not. "Alumni show our students and their parents that it's not always about being a doctor, it's more about giving students 'a chance to be who they are'.

“St. Dominic’s is a Catholic Sixth Form College in Harrow. We have around 1200 students aged between 16 and 18 and around 100 members of staff. The college is very diverse.

We decided to start working with our alumni about five years ago. The Principal at the time believed that it would be good to use this initiative to support student development and enrichment. We paired up with Future First because their ethos really resonated with us, particularly around the power of role models and the impact former students can have widening young people’s horizons. Through Future First, we are now able to keep in touch with our alumni and create some sense of community by sharing college news with them and requesting their help and support throughout the academic year.

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 along to the event and we are usually joined by about 13 alumni, all from different backgrounds.

Our students find it so helpful especially because they are hearing from those who were once in their seats. We have always been keen on sharing the fact that it’s not just about going to university. So every year, 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. They do listen, particularly because they are hearing from people they can relate to – who have lived in the same area and gone to the college before them. Hearing from alumni about their future choices means more to them than hearing from teachers, so that’s another big reason for using our alumni network.

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”.

Felpham Community College, Bognor Regis, involved alumni in a 24 hour radio broadcast to raise awareness around mental health services in schools. Seven alumni got behind the campaign, including mental health specialists from the NHS and local council, a journalist, and those who had been affected by mental health problems whilst at school.

The media department at Felpham Community College, Bognor Regis, ran a 24 hour radio broadcast to raise awareness around mental health issues in schools. Seven former students returned over the 24 hours to take part in the broadcast, some of whom had struggled with mental health whilst they were at school, whilst others specialised in mental health at the local council and in the NHS.

BBC Radio Sussex covered the broadcast and it was mentioned in the local newspaper: the journalist that wrote the piece was another former student! Although the broadcast’s aim was to raise awareness, the school managed to raise £1,600 for MIND UK and Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

2016/17 has been an incredible year for Future First. We have worked with over 100,000 students, building their confidence, motivation and skills. This year, we’ve seen even more innovation and unique ways of involving alumni in school life. Here are some of the highlights.

This year, Future First has worked with over 100,000 students. From chefs in maths lessons to research scientists mentoring Year 9s, we’ve seen some truly creative ways of involving alumni in school life.

At Felpham Community College, Bognor Regis, a former student who owns his own bubble business enlisted the help of sixth formers to create his show reel. The media students will take on this real world learning project in the autumn.

A Year 10 from Highworth Grammar School in Kent did a work experience placement with a former student at the BBC. With further help, she has since secured an internship at ITV.

At Helston Community College in Cornwall, a local farmer supported the teaching of a Year 8 geography class on agriculture, technology and the challenges of business in farming.

Dave Hones, a computer programmer, did a Google Hangout with ICT students at St Ives School, Cornwall, explaining how his work appeared on the International Space Station.

In Somerset, a paraplegic alumnus mentored a student with disabilities at his old school, Chilton Trinity. He shared how he had overcome barriers in his life, building the confidence in the student so that he could too.

And it’s been a terrific year for Future First’s activities too.

We ran our first Careers and Enterprise Company project in the South West and held an alumni engagement conference in Cornwall. For the first time, practitioners and senior leaders came together to do training on engaging an alumni community, volunteer management, using alumni in the classroom and more.

We were successful in securing a place on the Careers and Enterprise Company’s rate cards for schools in the government’s six Opportunity Areas.

We ran two successful Back to School Week campaigns. In Back to School Week South West and Birmingham, we brought back more than 300 alumni to help over 2,000 students. The campaigns were a success. It was great to see Julie Walters showing her support in Birmingam. Have a look at the coverage of Hele’s School in Plymouth on BBC Spotlight.

We’ve seen a whole host of inspirational posters. Sadly, we can’t show them all. So here are just some of our favourites…

"By putting aside their self-doubts and aiming high, state school students can help shape that change. And through involvement in alumni networks, successful state school students can go right back to where they came from, demonstrating to others like them what’s possible".

Jonathon Andrews, former student of Darrick Wood School, Bromley

My school years were not unusual. I attended a state primary, then a comprehensive, and never received any tutoring throughout my education. My school experience is somewhat less usual, however, among trainee lawyers at city firms.

I really enjoyed my years at my comprehensive school. It gave me an opportunity to mix with people of all abilities, and to respect difference, and has left me with the overarching ethos of treating all with equal courtesy, whatever their position. It wanted all students to achieve the best they could, and teaching was rigorous – which, as an enthusiastic learner, meant I was able to excel.

Yet during my teenage years, one refrain I heard far too often from fellow students when discussing careers was “I can’t get there – I didn’t go to private school, I didn’t go to Oxbridge”. It was a viewpoint I never subscribed to- Instead, I took the view that while it probably was easier for people from certain backgrounds to succeed, that was no reason not to put all my effort into doing as well as I could.

I was very lucky to be taken on by a disability consultancy, which resulted in me being invited to meetings with graduate recruiters of large companies across the city. One of these firms was Reed Smith, a leading city law firm with specialisms in media and shipping, both areas that interested me.

Reed Smith had just finished a comprehensive overhaul of their recruitment programme the year I applied. This was to ensure all parts of the process were objective and merit-based, leaving less opportunity for bias of any kind.

I’m now trustee of a charity which runs schools in the state sector and I visit schools across the country. I’ve been asked back to address my old state school…to make it clear to students that they shouldn’t write off their chances simply because of what school they go to. Instead, they should take every opportunity offered, assess their abilities by their talents and capabilities, not background and, as long as they’re willing to put the work in, aim high.

Going to my local comprehensive hasn’t stopped me becoming a lawyer; in fact, growing up with people from all walks of life and social backgrounds has helped me learn how to get on with a wide range of people, and to understand and empathise with those not like myself. Nobody is denying that structural barriers exist, least of all myself. But with firms putting in effort to tackle them because they recognise they’re unhelpful, change is on the way.

By putting aside their self-doubts and aiming high, state school students can help shape that change. And through involvement in alumni networks, successful state school students can go right back to where they came from, demonstrating to others like them what’s possible.

A friend of mine once made the quip that ‘if you can see it, you can be it’, and it summed up exactly what I’d been trying to put into words about the importance of alumni networks. Students might have great drive, ability and passion but think a certain career is unrealistic for them, even if it isn’t, if they feel they wouldn’t be able to achieve what’s needed, or wouldn’t be accepted by that profession if they did.

Alumni networks have been tried and tested across the best private schools, and proved to work brilliantly in providing networking and linking students up with opportunities that suit their ambitions. There’s no reason why their benefits shouldn’t be extended to the state sector. And they provide benefits to the former students who go back and give back too – we’re reminded where we came from, allowing us to stay grounded, and listen to different views, opinions and perspectives from those we might deal with at work, allowing us to work better.

Responding to Reality Check: A report on university applicants’ attitudes and perceptions, produced by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Unite Students on 04 07 2017 which says more can be done to prepare young people for higher education, Christine Gilbert, our Executive Chair, and former Ofsted Chief Inspector, said:

“There can be a significant gap between the reality of life at university and in higher education and the expectations of students about to embark on studies there. Working alongside teachers and careers staff in schools, alumni have a crucial role to play in informing young people about what to expect from student life.

Many Future First alumni returning to schools and colleges to talk to current students are themselves now in further education. They’re well placed to inform sixth formers about all aspects of becoming a student, from academic needs to managing finances including tuition fees, budgets and rent as well as the social aspects of becoming a student.

Future First endorses the report’s call for universities, policymakers, schools and accommodation providers to work together to prepare young people to make the challenging transition with confidence.”

Future First will receive funding from the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) to help students see a world beyond their own in the government’s first six Opportunity Areas.

Future First has been successful in a second round of funding from the CEC. The Company made £1million available to boost social mobility in the first six Opportunity Areas: Blackpool, Oldham, Derby, Scarborough, Norwich, and West Somerset.

Our programme has been chosen to appear on a rate card of tried and tested models, from which schools and colleges will choose their preferred initiatives.

The CEC is investing £5million in careers and enterprise programmes across the country to help 160,000 young people make connections with the world of work.

The government-backed CEC is funding organisations which ensure that the best careers and enterprise programmes reach the students who need them the most.

The investment will support Future First, along with 49 other organisations, to deliver tried and tested programmes which focus on work experience, enterprise education, volunteering and/or transition skills development.

“Good careers advice is vital in inspiring and helping young people to make smart, informed choices about their futures – whether that’s going off to university, starting an apprenticeship or kick starting a career. The Careers & Enterprise Company has reached out to thousands of young people to give them advice and support to ensure there are no limits to their potential. It’s great to see the programmes continue to take shape across the country and positively impact young lives.”

Rt Hon Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education

“I am delighted we have been able to invest £5million to scale up proven careers and enterprise programmes in areas of need, focusing on careers and enterprise cold spots. I am grateful to the Education Endowment Foundation and Bank of America Merrill Lynch for their significant contribution to help build the evidence base. “Our first fund has delivered ahead of schedule to provide careers and enterprise support to more than 250,000 young people including 170,000 new STEM encounters with business. It has also engaged 3,000 new employers working with young people for the first time. “The best research shows that young people who have 4 or more encounters with the world of work while in education are 86% less likely to be NEET - not in education, employment or training - and on average will go on to earn 18% more than their peers who did not have such opportunities. So we know this funding is making a real difference to employment outcomes for young people and the future of our economy.”

Claudia Harris, Chief Executive of the Careers and Enterprise Company

“We are delighted that the CEC has once again chosen to fund Future First's work in building alumni communities in state schools. We know that among every alumni community is a host of inspiring role models, who can boost the confidence, motivation and life chances of students. Alumni are unique because of their connection with current students. The young people in these six areas will truly benefit from working with former students, who will show them what's possible and open their eyes up to a world beyond their own."

Christine Gilbert, Executive Chair of Future First and a former Ofsted Chief Inspector

Future First is pioneering a three year project that will see alumni support a group of students in need from Year 9 through to Year 11. The students have been specially chosen because their schools believe that they will benefit the most from this opportunity. Former students will work with the group in a series of bespoke Future First workshops to raise their aspirations and help them overcome barriers to achieving their potential.

The Employability Skills Project, funded by Rothschild & Co through their UK Charitable Giving Programme, is taking place at schools in Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall and Newcastle. The project will see these students benefit from the support of former students with similar experiences to them, throughout a crucial stage in their education.

Session one’s theme was ‘knowledge and inspiration’ and focused on students getting to know alumni and gaining an insight into the different careers available to them.

Neale-Wade Academy (Cambridgeshire)

Who was there?

  • Lillian, Director and founder of The People Academy, left Neale-Wade Academy in 1980
  • Shane, Hygiene Manager, left in 2004

Students were amazed to hear about Lilian’s journey and the barriers she has overcome to build a successful career.

She told students: ‘I left here with nothing. I didn’t work hard and I had to study until I was 40 to get the qualifications I could have got at 21. When I was at school all I knew was that I wanted to leave.’

Lillian left school with five O levels and her first job was in a job centre. She did her first degree in her mid-thirties. Now she is studying for her second degree whilst working with organisations across the world to help them develop people’s potential.

Shane left Neale-Wade in 2004 and students were surprised to hear that he was taught by many of the same teachers as them. He told the class that he wanted to be a storyboard artist when he was in Year 9. Now he’s working as a hygiene manager in a beetroot factory- a career he had no idea existed when he was at school. He emphasised the fact that the students’ interests will help them develop their ambitions and told them ‘as you get older, you figure out what you like and get some direction.’

‘I left here with nothing. I didn’t work hard and I had to study until I was 40 to get the qualifications I could have at 21…’

Shane and Lillian worked with pupils on a series of activities to help them broaden their knowledge about all the different career options available to them, many of which they’d never heard before. The group chatted about some of the new jobs they had discovered. One student said she thought she’d enjoy being a copywriter and another said he would like to research what being a recruitment manager involves.

At the end of the session one student told the group he had realised that ‘hard work is way more important than luck or natural talent.’


Final advice from alumni

‘Make sure you take opportunities when they’re put in front of you, they might not come round again.’ (Lillian)

‘Remember, careers are about fulfilment and enjoyment, not just hard work’ (Shane)

Orchard School Bristol

Who was there?

  • Lannah, Production Manager, left Orchard School Bristol in 2006
  • Mark, Martial Arts Business Owner, left in 2003
  • Bethany, Oversees Volunteer and recent graduate, left in 2012

All three former students talked openly about the difficulties they faced at school and in their personal lives.

The most recent leaver of the three, Bethany, was able to give students with responsibilities and issues at home someone to relate to. She told them all about how she had overcome these problems which had once been a threat to her education. She had really started to fall behind when a teacher, who is still at the school, spoke to her and managed to encourage her to turn things around. She told students it’s important to ‘be honest with your teachers, they’re not the enemy’. Bethany was the first person in her family to go to university and now she is about to start a year teaching in Costa Rica and plans to carry on teaching when she returns.

Alumni introduce themselves with a game of ‘guess the career’

Mark told students how he also struggled at school because of issues in his personal life but as he got older he started to realise his future ‘wouldn’t be bright’ if he carried on like he was. He said it was ‘the biggest wakeup call of [his] life’. It was only after he’d left school that he started to ‘knuckle down and focus’, meaning he had to study hard for a long time to do an access course which eventually led to him doing a law degree.

‘Feeling like you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can’t do it.’

Lannah explained that she never saw herself as someone ‘academic’. She didn’t realise she was capable of success until she did a secretarial course and finished top of her class. She told students it took her years to start building a career, partly because she had to overcome obstacles she had put in her way. She said it’s important to realise ‘feeling like you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can’t do it.’

Final advice from alumni

‘Be kind to yourself, don’t allow what other people think to affect you. Believe in yourself, don’t get distracted by other things.’ (Lannah)

‘Step away from the normal environment you’re in and get focused. No one can hold you back other than yourself.’ (Mark)

‘Just because other people in your class say they aren’t revising doesn’t mean that’s true and doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Make sure you try really hard in Year 10 otherwise you’ll have to work twice as hard in Year 11.’ (Bethany)

In the coming weeks alumni will work with these groups of students across two more sessions, helping them develop strong verbal communication skills. At the end of the year the students will do a mock interview in a work setting before starting to work with alumni again in Year 10.

Responding to the Social Mobility Employer Index published by The Times on 21 06 2017 which highlights how firms are tackling social mobility and diversifying their intake, Christine Gilbert, our Executive Chair and former Ofsted Chief Inspector, said:

“Future First welcomes the Social Mobility Employer Index and the work firms are doing to address equality and diversity in the workplace.

Schools also have much to contribute to this agenda and we see some excellent work in the schools working with Future First.

No young person should feel they cannot access a job of their choice because of their background or lack of contacts. We see many schools linking state school students with former students in a range of jobs. This is really valuable in broadening students’ horizons and proving to them that ‘people like me’ can succeed.

Alumni  play a vital role in improving students’ confidence  and motivation,  increasing their awareness of the post-16 opportunities open to them and in building their employability skills.”

“Hearing the feedback and thank you messages from the young people who spend Christmas with us makes it all worthwhile.”

I have been volunteering with The Topé Project for the last five years. The project is named for Topé, a 23-year-old care leaver who took his own life in 2010. His death had a profound impact on the young people who knew him, and this group came together to look out for and support one another. We are a youth-led project run entirely by volunteers, aiming to combat loneliness amongst young care leavers.

I got involved when a youth adviser where I used to work asked for help to set up the first big event. Since then I have helped organise a Christmas Day event each year for young people who have been in care and don’t have families to spend Christmas with.

Getting everything organised for the big day can be quite stressful! But all the hard work comes together and it is a great feeling when the day is a success. Hearing the feedback and thank you messages from the young people who spend Christmas with us makes it all worthwhile.

It is also a privilege to work with the other volunteers. They are the most amazing bunch of people and totally embody the project’s message of positivity and love.


“It was lovely to be able give something back to my local community.”

I spent two weeks volunteering at the Fulham Community Partnership Trust which works with individuals, communities and organisations to helps improve opportunity for all residents. This small organisation has now merged with The Community and Voluntary Sector Association (Hammersmith & Fulham) to form a new community development agency called Sobus.

I got involved in the Fulham Community Partnership Trust after talking to friends and neighbours about local volunteering opportunities. I helped out with various administrative and customer service tasks which was great as it allowed me to develop my skill set.

It was fantastic experience for me as I am interested in working in administration in the charity sector. I also live in Fulham so it was lovely to be able give something back to my local community.

Jess, one of our Alumni Assistants, talks about her summer volunteering at The Gorilla Organization.

“I’m passionate about conservation and an animal lover so it was really rewarding, especially as it’s a small charity that relies on volunteers to keep going.”

I spent a summer volunteering at The Gorilla Organization head office in London. The Gorilla Organization works to save the world’s last remaining gorillas from extinction through community-led conservation in Rwanda, Uganda and The Congo.

 I was helping out in the run up to The Great Gorilla Run, the charity’s flagship fundraising event, which sees runners complete an 8km course around London dressed as Gorillas. Some days I would promote the event on social media, others I would chat to runners about fundraising ideas.

 I got involved with The Gorilla Organization through Do-it.org which is a great place to look for all sorts of volunteering opportunities.

I’m passionate about conservation and an animal lover so it was really rewarding, especially as it is a small charity that relies on volunteers to keep going. It was also an opportunity to meet interesting people and get an insight into the variety of pioneering not-for profit work that is going on across the world.


Future First Alumni Programme Officer, Joy, tells us about her volunteering experience with Oxfam.

I have been volunteering with Oxfam for four years. I have helped out at various UK music festivals, campaigning to raise awareness about Oxfam’s work and encouraging festival-goers get involved.

I have also helped out with the Oxjam Music Festival, an annual event that takes place across the UK, managing teams of volunteers across the South West and Wales.

“Volunteering is really rewarding, especially when you can see that the work you are doing makes a real difference.”

I’ve always looked for volunteering opportunities with charities that work on causes I am passionate about, and that will give me valuable skills and experiences. I initially got involved with Oxfam when I saw the Oxjam role advertised on their website.  Through that experience I started to become involved with the charity in other ways.

Volunteering is really rewarding, especially when you can see that the work you are doing makes a real difference. It’s also a great way to try new things, gain skills and meet new people, whilst contributing to the amazing work of your chosen charity.

Alumni Programme Officer, Amy, tells us about volunteering with KEEN London.

“I love working with young people and wanted to give my skills and time to a meaningful cause.”

I have been volunteering since I was 16. When I moved to London after university, I wanted to continue giving something back. I love working with young people and wanted to give my skills and time to a meaningful cause.

I started volunteering with KEEN London nearly three years ago. Every other Saturday I provide one to one support to children and young adults with learning, behavioural and physical disabilities, during two-hour long sports and games sessions.

Children and young people with disabilities often face barriers to leisure activities. KEEN aims to eliminate these barriers by providing a fun and supportive environment for all participants regardless of their level of need.

I absolutely love volunteering. It is hugely rewarding to see what these children are capable of with a little encouragement. It is also great to spend time with like-minded people doing something fun.

Today marks the start of Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) – a celebration of the difference volunteers make to their communities across the country.

200,000 state school alumni have signed up to support their old schools through Future First so we regularly witness the difference volunteers can make to their local communities.

Our staff members are passionate about the value of volunteering and most of us are volunteers ourselves so across the week we will be telling our volunteer stories.

Today we hear from Katie, our London & South East Regional Lead, about her volunteering experience at Volunteer Centre Hackney.


"Elderly people have so much to share. They were alive in the most amazing of times when everything was new – music, art, technology, houses, work – the world was a completely different place and I’ve found it fascinating to hear their stories."

I recently came to the end of a befriending programme with Volunteer Centre Hackney. The programme pairs volunteers with local people who are struggling with social isolation in the community.

I was paired with an elderly couple who have lived in Hackney for 60 years. I would go and visit them once a week and we would talk about Hackney and London and how it has changed over the years. We would also chat about their life in Jamaica before coming to the UK, their children, their previous jobs, their life now and they would ask about me and my life. Sometimes I would bring over magazines and newspapers that we would read together whilst eating cake and drinking tea. Sometimes we would play games, although usually not for long – as they would rather we listen to the radio than concentrate on cards most of the time!

I originally started volunteering to gain new experiences and make better use of my time. But with befriending, it was much more to do with my Nan and how lonely she became living in London after my Grandad died.

Elderly people have so much to share. They were alive in the most amazing of times when everything was new – music, art, technology, houses, work – the world was a completely different place and I’ve found it fascinating to hear their stories.

You also don’t realise the impact you can make in just an hour a week- it can break up their day and they really look forward to it.

Volunteering makes me feel grateful, humble and energised. It’s also incredibly eye-opening. There are so many charitable initiatives making a real difference to people’s lives. I’d urge anyone to give it a try.




As part of The Nobel School’s Year 10 enterprise day, 40 students with little exposure to people in a variety of jobs were selected to take part in an employability skills session.

Five former students, from a CEO to a Paralympic gold medalist turned rowing coach, helped students develop key skills for the future.

The morning kicked off with some inspirational stories, as alumni described their journeys since leaving school. One former student started her career on a Young Enterprise scheme and went on to open her own tie-dye t-shirt business. She described how university was ‘alien’ to her family so she didn’t go straight away. Now she is studying for her Masters. She told students: “You can choose your own path if you want to. Be proud of yourself, channel your own positivity and let that drive all the other things you do.

Alumni worked with students on a series of activities to identify important life skills, such as effective communication, organisation and the ability to stick to deadlines. After the session, one student told us: ”I’ve realised that we are learning these skills in every single subject at school”.

Students got a taste of team work, problem solving and planning when, led by alumni, they were tasked with building a tower out of drinking straws.

Afterwards, 94% of participating students said they were more confident or much more confident about being successful in the future. One student said the session had taught them to “never give up and focus on [their] aspirations”.

We’re nearing the end of our Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) funded project in the South West. 40 schools and colleges now have active alumni communities and we’ve seen such innovative activities across the South West.

Paul Reddick, headteacher of Crispin High School in Devon, wrote to his alumni to thank them for their support:

During a line management meeting looking at the alumni programme with Mrs Maxfield, I was full of enthusiasm about writing a short piece for our registered alumni. A few weeks later I find myself thinking ‘what will the alumni want to hear about from me?’ This is the first time I have written one of these pieces so I am not totally sure what to say. I will start off with the most important thing and say a large ‘thank you’ to everyone who has signed up for the alumni project. The last I heard we had the third largest number of alumni (337) of the schools that Future First is working with in the South West.

Mrs Maxfield has done a fantastic job getting alumni signed up and involved and we have received excellent feedback from those who have taken part in a variety of ventures so far. I realise some of you have travelled a considerable distance from mid-Somerset while others have stayed closer to home in classrooms, science labs, the ICT office and even the Headteacher’s PA’s office at Crispin. So far we have heard about the career paths alumni have taken, had alumni working with students in school and we have just started to have students going out and visiting alumni in the world of work.

I know sometimes ex-students think that schools are only interested in them if they have discovered a cure for a tropical disease, played in the Premier League or starred in a highly rated television show. As far as I am concerned nothing could be further from the truth. I am more interested in hearing from the nurses, mechanics and florists amongst you than someone who had a walk on part in Hollyoaks in 2003 (but if you did do the latter, well done, and we would like to hear from you).

We are always happy to hear of any suggestions about how we can move the programme forward and we always like to listen to hear about how our alumni are faring.

So have a good summer and thank you for your continuing interest in Crispin – it is greatly appreciated.”

Two years ago, a mentor and mentee from St James School in Devon were recognised at the Brightside Awards. Kaydee and her mentor Ali won awards for best industry mentor and mentee of the year – a fantastic testament to the supportive relationship they developed over the year.

E-mentoring allows alumni to play a regular, motivational role in a student’s life, even if they live far from the school.

This year, we’ve nominated another terrific pair from Tiverton High School, North Devon. The Tiverton e-mentoring programme targeted high-achieving Year 10 boys who are in receipt of pupil premium. Alex has been nominated for mentee of the year, while both Alex and his mentor, Pete, are up for pairing of the year.

Throughout the project, Alex asked mature and pertinent questions to find out as much as he could about the options available to him. Pete provided thorough and considered answers to Alex’s questions and went the extra mile when he felt he was unable to provide suitable answers. When Alex told Pete he was thinking of applying to Oxford or Cambridge, Pete collected questions from him to send to a friend who had studied at Oxford.

By end of the project, Alex had chosen three university courses: Engineering at Imperial College London, Engineering Science at Oxford and Engineering at Cambridge. Pete supported Alex’s high aspirations and gave him encouragement and tips on how to get there.

We’re hoping to share good news after the awards in June. Watch this space!

Regent High School recently ran a leadership training session for Sixth Form student leaders. Three alumni coached students through activities focussed on leadership qualities and characteristics. Mohammed, a deputy manager, Olawele, a sports journalist, Shakur, a brand and content management lead and Mohamed, a paralegal, had very different views about what makes a good leader. This sparked a lively debate with students discussing the type of leader they would like to be in school and in their future career.

Alumni coached students through a ‘picture of me’ activity, in which they identified their own interests, skills and strengths. They then worked in small group to build towers from straws, before alumni fed back on their teamwork and leadership skills.

At the end of the session, every single one of the students told us that meeting alumni had made them more confident about their future.



Helston Community College in Cornwall invited two alumni apprentices to speak to Year 12 Construction students in a session designed to boost motivation. Elliot Childs and Jack Noy talked to students about the realities of carrying out an apprenticeship.

The session was one of a series of events taking place for Future First’s Back to School Week South West.

Elliot Childs is an apprentice staff plumber at Coastline Housing and Jack Noy is an apprentice agricultural contractor. Both former students told students they had chosen the apprenticeship route because they could earn money while learning. Elliot explained the realities of the job, saying that although his apprenticeship is hard work, it’s also very rewarding. He also told students that he sometimes wondered whether he had chosen the right route but that perseverance and hard work allows him to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.

After the session, we asked Elliot why he feels it’s important to ‘go back, give back’:

I really want the students to learn that hard work leads to success. I hope I’ve helped them understand what life after school can bring. Helping students helps me. It’s great to reflect on my own journey and how I’ve developed as a person since I was at school.  It’s a real confidence boost too- getting up and talking on front of so many people!”

We’re delighted to announce the schools taking part in our Employability Skills project, supported by the Rothschild & Co. Charitable Giving Programme. The project will enable students in four schools to develop their written and oral communication skills, supported by alumni role models. The young people will work with alumni from similar backgrounds over three years to improve their self- belief and develop their skills.

The successful schools are in Cornwall, Bristol, Newcastle and Cambridgeshire.

The first year will focus on developing students’ verbal communication skills, and years two and three will look at written communication.  In both year one and year three, students will do a mock interview, held offsite in a real workplace environment.

Alumni will coach students through activities that build self-awareness, confidence and drive, and increase their understanding of the options open to them in the future. We know that alumni can have a powerful influence on the aspirations and confidence of young people- 85% of students say that alumni events help them to understand that “people like me” can be successful. Future First staff will train and support alumni to fulfill this role in each session.

We’re excited to share an update on the first sessions in the Autumn term.



On 2 May 2017, Future First Senior Communications Officer, Anna Darling, will run a webinar for schools thinking about becoming a Future First member. Schools will have the opportunity to ask questions about what membership involves, time commitment, cost, what we offer and hear interesting examples from other schools. The webinar will be recorded and posted on our website shortly after the live stream.

If you are a school or college and interested in watching live, please sign up here. If you know if a school that might be interested, please spread the world by sharing the sign up form.


Future First has been on the road. Our recent Back to School Weeks in Birmingham and the South West celebrated the inspiring role models that go back and give back every day. 28 alumni events took place across two weeks and over 3000 students took part. National treasure, Julie Walters, joined over 200 alumni in showing support for the campaign.



March began with Back to School Week South West. From apprentices, CEOs, and engineers to business owners, financial advisers and farmers, the week saw 36 alumni go back, give back in 26 events across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.

Every former student had a unique story to tell.

Claire Stocker left Penair School, Cornwall, in 1985 and has been a nurse for 20 years. She told students she had good memories of the school but she didn’t always fit in… “I want to reassure students that there is a future after school. I was diagnosed with dyslexia and I found lessons difficult. I’ve had to find a way to communicate well through my job as a nurse.” Claire told students to pursue interests outside of their career, having written several books including ‘The History of Truro’ herself.

At Chilton Trinity School in Somerset, trainee GP, Claire Macadeem, told students to find a job that makes them happy and not to worry if they change their mind about future plans. At Churston Ferrers School, Police Community Support Officer, Beccy Pearce, told students to keep asking questions: “take advice, ask for advice, and use it to make your own decisions”.

The following week, we headed to the Midlands for Back to School Week Birmingham. Backed by national treasure, Julie Walters, we visited schools across Birmingham showcasing the incredible ways in which alumni are inspiring and motivating today’s students. An eclectic range of alumni, from forensic scientists and family support workers to CEOs and undergraduate students, headed back to their old schools to take part in the event.

The alumni stories from Birmingham were no less inspiring than those in the South West.

At Kings Norton Girls’ School Suzanne Swingler told students that she had qualified as a nurse despite being diagnosed with dyslexia after leaving school. Samantha Peckham became a mum at 16 and now sits on the Women in Transport Board. After going back to speak to students at her old school she told her story on BBC Radio West Midlands, News Now, Europe Breaking News, Pressreader.com and in local press, including The Birmingham Press.

At Holyhead School, Abdul Sohal, who works in IT at Land Rover, told students: “my job hadn’t even been invented when I was at school.” Students heard how his success has been driven by strong communication skills and the ability to build a strong rapport with people from all walks of life.

The alumni stories were different but their message to students was the same: “We sat in the same seats as you and walked the same corridors as you. Now we are successful and you can be too.”

Next up is Back to School Week Norfolk, 2-7 July– we’re excited to share inspiring stories from the region in the summer.

Future First's Director of Programmes, Chloe Halpin, recently joined a panel of women from the charity sector to celebrate International Women's Day at Taylor Wessing. Watch the video below to hear Chloe speak about the power of female role models for young people.

It’s a wrap! Back to School Week Birmingham 2017 is over and we are reflecting on what an inspiring week it’s been.

Backed by national treasure, Julie Walters, we have been on the road showcasing the benefits alumni communities can bring to state schools in Birmingham.

Where we went

Click on the location points to see some snapshots of alumni events in action!

The alumni we met

An eclectic range of former students, from forensic scientists to family support workers and CEOs to undergraduates, went back to their old schools to #gobackgiveback.

Every former student had a unique story to tell. At Holyhead School Abdul Sohal, who works in IT at Land Rover, explained ”my job hadn’t even been invented when I was at school.” Students heard how this former student’s success has been driven by strong communication skills and the ability to build a strong rapport with people from all walks of life.

At Kings Norton Girls’ School Suzanne Swingler inspired students with her story of qualifying to become a nurse, despite being diagnosed with dyslexia after leaving school.

Each alumni journey was different but their message to students was the same: ”We sat in the same seats as you, walked the same corridors as you. Now we are successful and you can be too.”

Our top 3 Back to School Week Birmingham moments:

3 – Superstar support on Twitter.

Music icon and Birmingham local Laura Mvula was one of the many people who got behind us on Twitter this week.

2 – The one and only Julie Walters gets behind the Back to School Week Birmingham campaign

Julie told the press: “I wish there had been something like Future First when I was at school. I’d urge everyone to sign up to support their former state school.”

We are honoured to have the support of this national treasure and star of social mobility themed film, Educating Rita.

1 – Samantha’s story

We consistently witness the transformative effect of introducing students to alumni role models. That’s why seeing Samantha’s story inspiring the nation is our number one highlight from the week.

Kings Norton Girls’ School alumna Samantha Peckham became a mum at 16 and now sits on the Women in Transport Board. After going back to speak to students at her old school she told her story on BBC Radio West Midlands, News Now, Europe Breaking News, Pressreader.com and in local press, including The Birmingham Press!


A huge thank you to all the schools, students and alumni who supported Back to School Week Birmingham 2017.

Watch this space for an exciting announcement about our next big campaign…

Back to School Week Birmingham kicked off this week with a session at Kings Norton Girls’ school.

It focused on the dazzling range of career and education options open to young people today. Thirty Year 9 students – who are currently choosing their GCSE options – filed into the school’s learning hub to hear from eight very talented but very different alumni.

Ranging from a forensic scientist, a purchasing manager and a nurse to an animation expert and a CEO of her own lifestyle and wellbeing company, every former student had something valuable to share.

Some had overcome difficult barriers to get to where they are today. Samantha Peckham became a mum at 16. She now works for Highways UK and sits on the Women in Transport Board. You can hear her story on BBC West Midlands radio. Susanne Swingler was only diagnosed with dyslexia after leaving school. Now she is a qualified nurse and keen to impart some of her hard-earned wisdom to younger students.

While working with the alumni, the students were encouraged to start exploring their own ambitions, skills and strengths. The discussions started off shyly but encouraged by the alumni, the room erupted into an energetic buzz.

Before the session started the students were asked if they felt confident talking to others about themselves and their strengths. One student raised her hand.  When asked the same question at the end of the workshop a tangle of arms went up. Three quarters of the class finished with a sense of self-belief that had been awakened by the alumni role models.

One student summed up the impact of the session nicely: “It built my confidence and self-esteem.”

See what Kings Norton Girls’ Headteacher, Ms Fox, has to say about the importance of alumni.

Oasis Academy Brightstowe in Bristol recently launched an alumni mentoring scheme with its Year 11 students. The focus of the scheme is exam success, so alumni have been encouraged to discuss mock exam results and how to improve on them, and exam technique, including managing pressure.

Oasis Academy Brightstowe in Bristol recently launched an alumni mentoring scheme with their Year 11 students. The focus of the scheme is exam success, so alumni have been encouraged to discuss mock exam results and how to improve on them, and exam technique, including managing exam pressure.

Alumni mentors were matched with mentees based on their skill set. An engineer is mentoring four students interested in engineering, while a PE undergraduate is mentoring students interested in pursuing studies or careers in sport. Each former student mentors up to four students. This small group approach is designed to make students feel comfortable, as they are supported by their peers when engaging with the alumni.

Students are finding it really useful and have even requested more sessions like these.