16 April 2021

Alumni helping break the isolation for rural schools

For some schools working with Future First, the potential of an alumni network can come as something of a surprise.

Holbrook Academy near Ipswich joined us in September and the results were almost immediate.

Denise Tinker, Holbrook’s Careers Lead, said: “We’re a rural school on a peninsula and, while many students stay local, a lot go far away and it was a question of how we were going to get hold of them to work with us still. Having Future First helped us achieve an amazing response. It went from six or seven former students at our last sign up to over 100 within little more than a night. And working with our Alumni Programme Manager is wonderful. She’s fantastic. She’s just there all the time, but not too much–if you know what I mean!”

Future First’s work with Holbrook is part of the Uni Connect partnership and has been running since Summer 2020. Despite the complications caused by the Covid crisis, we’ve been able to arrange virtual alumni interviews, a mentoring programme, a workshop about university and video diaries to mark “World of Work Day” during National Careers Week.

“The World of Work Day videos were great,” said Denise. “I set the event up on Google Classroom and invited speakers from the world of work to speak to the students. Then we did 20-minute breakouts from the live speakers, so students could just nip on and watch one of the videos Future First had arranged with alumni.

“It meant the students could pick and choose the ones they were interested in.”

During the workshop, the students were able to really get a sense of what life after Holbrook would be like. The alumni spoke about their pathway since leaving Holbrook, including their successes and failures, and students were able to use the chat facility to ask them questions.

Denise said: “When it came to going to university, the students were asking all sort of questions. Things like: ‘How nervous were you?’ and ‘Did you know anybody?’. It really worked well.

“The important thing was that the students got some really down-to-earth good advice from people who had been through it. One former student even talked about what to take to university with you–which was just brilliant. “It was real, basic, hands-on stuff that was just so valuable.”

“It was so good for our students to speak to people who had gone to Holbrook and actually hear their pathways. You could see immediately how much the students got out of it through the chat, with lots saying things like how brilliant the advice was.

“From the students’ point of view, it was all very much on their level – especially because many of the alumni in the workshop had only left school a few years ago.”

One student commented: “It was lovely to talk to ex students who are at uni now and get areal feel for what it really is like!” While another said how great it was to learn that support was available when you start university if you had any worries.

Denise added that as Holbrook is in a fairly isolated location many students stay local when they leave school, so the aim now is to inspire pupils to “get out there and do what they want to do”.

She also pointed out how useful it was for students to hear how the subjects they are doing now are still relevant to the world of work, the benefit of raising expectations and how important it is at this time for students to think of their future lives without limitations.

“One former student who is now working in radiotherapy said how her sciences were used so much, but so was her English.”

“For our students to hear that the subjects that they perhaps like or dislike are actually being used out in the world of work was fantastic.

“That ability to relate what they are doing now to their futures was so good.”

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