Future First at 10

Written by Justin Smith – Chief Executive Officer.

As Future First celebrates its first 10 years, Chief Executive Officer Justin Smith, reflects on our achievements and future.

A world where a young person’s start in life does not limit their future.

It’s a simple aspiration but one in which Britain continues to fall short. Today, it is still the case that young people from lower socio economic backgrounds are more likely to think they will be unsuccessful in life. That ‘people like them’ don’t deserve a rewarding career. That they are doomed to a life of underachievement simply because of the circumstances of their birth. It must not be like that.

For too many state students, their choice of job is limited to what drama they’ve watched on TV or what their family and friends do for a living. Expanding their work horizons, showing them the amazing array of careers to choose from in a world beyond their own is a challenge for all of us, not just the education system, government and business.

Every one of us has a role to play in improving students’ motivation, confidence and life chances. You don’t need to be a high flier or have a story that Steven Spielberg wants to film to be an alumnus. We all have skills and talents to offer, from the recent school leaver now in higher education, through those on the middle rungs of the career ladder to the experienced professional with years of working life behind them.

As Future First marks its 10th birthday this week, we celebrate a nationwide army of 260,000 volunteer alumni marching back to the classrooms in their old schools or for assemblies and workshops supporting teachers with careers advice and transforming the life chances of current students.

We are on the way to creating a culture of thriving, engaged alumni networks in every UK state school or college and have worked in more than a thousand over the last decade. But it’s not enough to just show students those careers exist. Young people have to develop the confidence to aspire to attain them, to dream anything is possible, to reach for the skies.

We know students worry about their futures and that their anxiety increases as they progress through the school system.

Our schools tell us that hearing from alumni who have gone on to achieve fulfilling careers – and from those too who regret not working hard enough and who now feel they wasted their school chances – is transformational for students. Their eyes open. If someone who has sat at the same school desk, kicked a ball in the same park, perhaps had the same teachers has gone on to achieve a successful career, why shouldn’t they?

‘You just have to believe in yourself,’ ‘I can achieve more than I know,’ ‘If you work harder it will lead to good things in the future.’ Time and again when I visit schools, I hear these messages from students who are suddenly more engaged, motivated, keen to learn after hearing from relatable, inspirational alumni.
As well as improving motivation and attitude to learning, teachers welcome the wider value of alumni too in instilling resilience and tackling adversity. Because life is not linear, there will be challenges, as we see too clearly during the current pandemic which has caused such turmoil for some students. ‘The fact that our students can see someone overcoming a barrier that they might be experiencing and that they have gone on to achieve success is great, said one teacher.

Another reported the only graduates their students had met were their teachers and doctors. ’It’s essential for them to meet more people who have had different careers and journeys into higher education to see that there are options available to them in the future,’ they said.

For many returning alumni, it may be the first time they have walked through the school gates since they picked up their exam results. Yet they always enjoy the rewards of meeting current students. ‘It’s great to give something back because there wasn’t anything like this when I was at school,’ said one.

Over the last decade, Future First has shown that alumni engagement in the state sector is bringing sustainable and lasting change. But we need to move forward and accelerate that development. Our plans include establishing mentoring programmes between alumni and students, linking with employer partners in key sectors such as international trade, tailoring programmes to key transitions like secondary school transfers and working with special schools.

But we need former students to support us. So if you can help us in our work, sign up to support your former school now. Together we can prove to today’s young people that the future is there and it is bright.