Innovation, alumni and the second lockdown

With the country continuing to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of the crisis on young people’s learning, wellbeing and futures is coming into sharp focus. 

We know staff in our partner schools are working incredibly hard to ensure students can make up lost ground from school closures over the last year, but the effect on young people’s progress and confidence can’t be underestimated. 

Despite schools reopening in September, the term was punctuated by continuous disruption for pupils, whether from pupils being sent home to self-isolate or restrictions on in-school activities. 

The wider benefits of attending school, including personal development, motivation to achieve in the future and building essential life skills, will need additional support as we continue to combat the virus. 

The pandemic has widened the gap between disadvantaged young people and their more privileged peers, with pupils experiencing varying levels of access to education and differing progress in their learning. 

The gap has widened despite schools having rallied to ensure disadvantaged students have access to the technology they need. Some of our partner schools have launched wonderful initiatives to help close this gap. William Ellis School in North London for example, has reached out to alumni to provide digital equipment such as laptops and wifi access, knowing many students will lack this technology to help with their learning.

Future First has also been busy readjusting to the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis and finding ways to continue helping pupils in our partner schools to strive for success.

Many of our projects have been successfully adapted to continue despite restrictions. They include: the Future Me Mentoring programme, which saw alumni provide SMS support to student mentees in 14 schools and our partnership with the KPMG Foundation, through which all our partner primary schools received regular email updates and remote learning resources during the first lockdown.

Videos have been one of the key ways we have continued to link alumni and employers with students during the crisis. Examples include videos for:

  • Cotham School in Bristol, where videos focused on a ‘Day in the Life’ of alumni – including one from a high-ranking civil servant at the Department for Education. 
  • Bottisham Village College in Cambridgeshire, where two alumni shot a video for new Year 7s sharing advice about starting secondary school. 
  • Schools in Cumbria, where videos showcased what alumni have gone on to do as part of our Uni Connect partnership with Hello Future.
  • Bonner Primary School in East London, where pupils have got an early insight through videos into careers thanks to work with one of our long-standing employer partners, law firm Ashurst. 

Our innovating didn’t stop with the second national lockdown or the move into new region tier restrictions, with many initiatives taking place on Zoom. Schools benefiting included: 

  • Witchford Village College in Cambridgeshire, where alumni spoke to students in receipt of free school meals to build their confidence about the future.
  • Harris Girls Academy in Bromley South East London, where alumni spoke to Year 12 students during tutor time.
  • St Clement Danes School in Hertfordshire and Notre Dame High in Norwich, where students received a series of videos from alumni to help with the steps to a successful career.
  • A virtual insight day with The Wellcome Trust for pupils to hear about the research charity’s graduate scheme and the range of career opportunities available.
  • A virtual workshop with Legal & General for students wanting to know more about a career in the financial services.
  • A virtual workshop on resilience for Year 8 students at Chantry Academy in Suffolk at which two former students shared their experiences of overcoming challenges. 
  • A workshop for Year 12 students studying PE, Biology and Psychology at Vyners School in Hillingdon West London, supported by – among others – an RAF Physical Training instructor and an NHS dietician.
  • A post-16 pathways workshop for Year 11 students at Sydney Russell School in Barking and Dagenham East London, where four alumni volunteers shared their experiences since leaving school.
  • A resilience workshop and live careers pathway Q&A with alumni at St Richard’s Catholic College in East Sussex

Future First has also established a National Alumni Network, where volunteers keen to support in schools across the country can put themselves forward to feature in resources for young people, sharing their stories since leaving school and featuring in live online events.

Our focus throughout the pandemic has been to ensure we are there to support schools when they need us. We’ve also been determined to make sure disadvantaged young people get access to role models at such a critical time. 

Our aim is to ensure young people gain confidence and motivation despite the challenges and that we, along with alumni and our employer partners, support them to achieve this.