This summer we finalised our strategy for the next four years and have begun to implement it. To help realise our vision of a world where a young person’s background does not limit their future options, we want to ensure that young people in every state school and college benefit from alumni support. To maximise progress, we are focusing on three areas for development: extending our reach; exploring innovative, targeted interventions; and building a national alumni movement.
- Extending our reach
Future First is currently working with just over 10% of all secondary schools and colleges nationwide. This represents positive progress for an organisation less than seven years old but we need to reach more schools and more young people so this remains a key element of our approach.
The key shift is towards more explicitly supporting schools to run their own networks. Our new approach focuses on upskilling schools with the knowledge and tools they need to lead their own alumni engagement. We have started to offer two years of support through our existing ‘core’ service to help schools build and kick-start their network, focusing on ensuring we not only help them launch, but train school staff to continue the development over time. After that period, schools may prefer to move to our ‘DIY+’ service. Through this, we offer access to our technology platform that they will already be using to manage their network, as well as ongoing access to our interactive alumni engagement toolkit.
- Exploring innovative, targeted interventions
As described above, we will increasingly support schools to lead the growth of their own networks. Schools will use their alumni in ways outlined in our toolkit and, increasingly, through learning from each other’s ideas.
The second strand of our strategy looks to supplement those school-led interventions with a series of targeted interventions, seeking to tackle some of the most long-standing challenges facing the education system. These will include, for example, using alumni to help tackle the huge underachievement of white working-class boys, or to support students at risk of completely disengaging from school or entering the criminal justice system by engaging former students who may have faced similar challenges in their younger lives.
We will work alongside our network of teachers and other experts to plan, design and deliver a series of interventions to tackle such challenges. These might include using alumni as role model speakers, coaches, mentors or work experience hosts as with many of our other programmes. However, the precise combination of activities, timing, specific alumni chosen and more will be designed to support the needs of the target students. We will then evaluate the effectiveness of such programmes and for those which are effective, we will disseminate guidance about how to replicate them.
- Building a national alumni movement
Future First is committed to building a national movement of alumni engagement. This means supporting or promoting the use of former students to schools beyond those with which we directly work. We have already seen some success in this. Before Future First started, less than 1% of non-selective state schools made use of their alumni to support current students. We recently commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research to poll schools on whether they do so now. 26% of them said that they do.
Future first played a key role in making this happen. We have worked with more than half of those schools directly – either as ongoing partners, or to help them kick-start their networks. Alumni support is a key recommendation of the government’s best practice guide on careers education and that document also includes a case study of our work.
Seeking to grow the number from a quarter to all state schools is a critical strand of our new strategy. To achieve this, we aim to secure support for a large research study into the impact of alumni networks in secondary schools. By developing the impact base for our work, we believe we can convince more headteachers and governors to invest in this area in their schools.
We will also review how we can better communicate the information we hold already about the benefits of alumni engagement.