Challenging career stereotypes with Waldegrave School students

Bernie Corrighan, Careers Adviser at Waldegrave School in Richmond, talks about working with Future First to challenge stereotypes around careers and how alumni have helped their students.

Waldegrave School is a comprehensive in London for girls aged 11 – 18. From 2014 we opened a co-educational sixth form. We are a high performing school and in 2016 we were voted the top comprehensive school of the year by the Sunday Times Parent Power supplement. Waldegrave consistently performs well in the borough of Richmond and we are proud to specialise in Science and Maths.

We decided to work with Future First as we wanted to use alumni to challenge both student and parental stereotypes of certain jobs. We want to emphasise that there are a number of different pathways and careers areas available to our young people. When we launched our new Sixth Form we wanted to have an organised alumni resource as previously, we had alumni attend school events but very much on an ad hoc basis, we had no official database.

We sought to use the organisation of Future First and develop relationships for work experience, mentoring and career inspiration. Use of their technology made our alumni experience more structured, it’s easier to communicate about events but also include our alumni in school news. We have used alumni in a variety of ways; from e-mentoring to parent’s evenings to talks. They have been a massive benefit to the school.

Our Year 9 students experienced an alumni workshop which was a really good event. The 35 students had all chosen to sign up after it had been announced in assembly and were keen and enthusiastic. The workshop focused on the prospect of choosing their GCSE options but also got them reflecting on their own skills. It was really great timing as the students will be choosing their options in February. The workshop was a great opportunity for them to start thinking about their upcoming decision; the facilitator really tailored the session to help support this. The girls networked really well and they grew in confidence as the session progressed. It was great to see them confidently shake the hands of the professional volunteers. I even got involved as another volunteer which was an interesting chance for me to get to know the students more as their careers advisor. I will definitely try and book the workshop again as the students were all so engaged! Dan, our facilitator, even commented on how well our Waldegrave girls took to all the tasks.

In the short term is was great to see the student’s confidence grow through the course of the session. I think the activities based on reflection will be really important when they’re thinking about future decisions and how best to present themselves. It was great to see the group thinking about their skills and strengths in a positive way; the way the workshop broke each section down into smaller tasks made thinking about their future manageable. The biggest takeaway for me is the fact the girls got to think about their confidence, communication and reflection.

Alumni have helped Waldegrave in so many ways as we have used them for so many different things. We’ve had alumni come in to assist in mock interviews for University. For example, an architect came in to speak to students and help coach them in ways to improve their interview techniques.

There is the immediate impact of using alumni for support and advice. We have also used alumni to really inspire our students. For example, we have had International Women’s Days events to inspire our students to think about careers that are not mainstream. We use our alumni to open our students’ eyes to different opportunities; to get them thinking about different career pathways. By using alumni, we hope to get our students thinking about apprenticeships as they are exposed to real world examples.

The service offered by Future first is amazing, they help keep me on track. In my role I have so many responsibilities so it is great to have someone who reminds me about events and someone to touch base with. I really like the inspirational posters as they are really powerful. Also, the fact Future First helps with our careers programme and towards the Gatsby Benchmarks is fantastic.

The alumni are such a useful support to Waldegrave and not just for careers support but can be used in all subjects; alumni are real life examples for our girls to relate too. We hope to utilise the programme even more by getting more staff involved and developing from there.