26 October 2017

St Dominic’s Sixth Form College, Harrow, tells its story

Angela Inglese, Assistant Principal:

“St. Dominic’s Sixth Form College is a Catholic Sixth Form College in Harrow. We have approximately 1200 students aged between 16 and 18 and around 100 members of staff. The college is very diverse. We are very popular in the local area so the rest of our intake is from a range of ethnic backgrounds. We are very proud to have been named The Sunday Times’ Sixth Form College of the Year for 2017.

We decided to start working with our alumni about five years ago. We signed up to Future First because their ethos really resonated with us, particularly around the power of role models and the impact former students can have broadening young people’s horizons. Through Future First, we are now able to keep in touch with our alumni and create a sense of community by sharing college news with them and requesting for their help and support throughout the academic year. We want to continue using our alumni to inspire students, especially those who are interested in careers that we don’t currently offer much support on.

A large number of our career talks by alumni over the years have been to show our students that there are so many ways of being successful. Often in society, the focus is on academic success and we’ve been really fortunate to have a bank of wonderful alumni who can show our students and their parents that it’s not always about being a doctor, it’s more about giving them a chance to be who they are.

Since we joined Future First, every year, in the spring term, we invite our alumni back for an alumni panel and careers event. A few months before the event is due to take place, our Careers Team get together and decide which careers and courses we want to focus on, generally picking something from each department in the college. We invite all our Year 12 students and their parents to the event and we are usually joined by about 13 alumni, all from different backgrounds.

This event is run like a panel, with the Future First facilitators asking our alumni open-ended questions about the importance of working hard to get into university, work or apprenticeship schemes, or what the expectations are when they get there, and what university and work life is all about. We finish off with a break out session, enabling students to speak to each former student in more detail about their journey after leaving college. Our alumni also share any advice they have to give. It’s great fun!

The most noticeable impact our alumni have is helping students understand the importance of their UCAS application. The whole point of this event is for students to understand what is on offer, what kinds of things they are interested in and whether they could then do that as a career and if so, how to get there.

Our students find it so helpful especially because they are hearing from those who were once in their seats. At St. Dominic’s, we have always been keen on sharing the fact that it’s not just about going to university. So every year for this event, we welcome former students who have applied for apprenticeships so that students who are keen on other pathways can also benefit from this event.

It’s great that former students like to come back and visit us! At this year’s alumni event, I was privileged to meet a student who I taught 10 years ago. She’s now a politics lecturer and has just written her first book about how people express political ideas using graffiti.

I’ve had several conversations with students since the event and they have often pointed out things that alumni said. Hearing from alumni about their future choices means more to them than hearing from teachers.

One student had her heart set on medicine but having spoken to alumni who are pharmacists she now feels that pharmacy sounds much more achievable and is definitely a career she can use her skills to flourish.

The pressure to get good grades is very attractive for some students. But anxiety as a result of pressure is so common. To be able to find out something like this not only takes some of the pressure off but gives students a focus, boosting their motivation and their self-belief.”