“A new year can be used not only to bring hope and optimism for a more positive future but renewed energy to change things for the better”

Future First Executive Chair, Christine Gilbert, discusses the social mobility problem in the UK and how we plan to tackle social inequality this year.

Two important reports published by the Social Mobility Commission at the end of 2016 highlighted the scale and the seriousness of the social mobility problem facing this country. They presented a depressing picture. There is a widening geographical divide between big cities with too many towns and counties being left behind economically and ‘hollowed-out’ socially.

The end of year gloom was made bleaker still last week by an Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) report showing younger people who already have higher incomes are much more likely to have received or to expect to receive an inheritance than previous generations. In other words, a young person’s future wealth is linked ever more strongly to the wealth of their parents.

When a problem seems so large and intractable, tackling it can feel impossible. But a new year can be used not only to bring hope and optimism for a more positive future but renewed energy to change things for the better.

Thinking and planning for a better future is exactly what Future First is all about. We know the social mobility challenge is huge but our work with hundreds of schools up and down the country is positive and invigorating. Last year, 180,000 alumni signed up to support their former schools and we can see the impact of their work on individuals and groups. We expect to increase this number in 2017.

Alumni come with different experiences of life after school and their personal stories highlight success but also the difficulties they had on the way. They offer insights and connections. Success in the world of work suddenly becomes real and within the grasp of current students. Their expectations about what students from their school can achieve are given a boost.

Our schools continue to find all sorts of inventive ways to use their alumni, from skyping a former student in Canada as part of a geography lesson to asking leavers to take a selfie outside their university to share with current students. And the feedback is terrific. 85% of students we’ve reached feel more motivated to work hard because of engaging with alumni. Every single teacher we’ve worked with on an event said they would recommend Future First to others.

Last year saw us focus our efforts in different parts of the country where the need is greatest. The South West was identified as a particularly poor area for engaging with employers. So, with funding from the Careers and Enterprise Company, we began working with 40 schools in the region to help them build thriving alumni communities.

This coming year, we’ll be driving forward more regional plans to combat mounting social inequality. Low levels of social mobility mean that a growing number of people feel they are losing out and life is unfair.

We shall also continue to work with schools to better understand their needs. A major initiative at the end of last year was the launch of our interactive digital toolkit. At the click of a button, each of our member schools can now access guidance, tips, templates and practical ideas so they can build a thriving alumni community. And we will be designing more tailored alumni programmes, targeted at helping the most disadvantaged students.

This year will be important in extending our reach, our activities and our impact so that more young people benefit from the many advantages contact with alumni can bring. We know this cannot combat all the evils of social mobility but it can make a significant difference to the lives of many young people.

So we are looking forward to helping schools and colleges make even more of a difference in 2017. In true Future First style, we believe the future can be what you make of it.