A charity which aims to introduce role models from industry to pupils who need inspiration has appointed a new CEO. Here, Matt Lent explains how Future First are delivering opportunities to young people to boost their confidence and raise aspirations, by tackling issues around social mobility…

Can you explain what Future First is and describe its work?

Future First is national education charity with a vision of a world where a young person’s background doesn’t limit their future. We work every day to achieve this vision and have so far helped more than a thousand state secondary schools and colleges across the country to engage their community of former students to improve the motivation, confidence and life chances of the current generation. 

Former students have a wealth of talent and experience, which private schools and universities have always harnessed. Future First makes it easy for state schools or colleges to do the same. 

Giving young people relatable role models, who have sat in the same seats as them, is an extraordinarily powerful way to raise all students’ aspirations, and open up a world of possibilities to which they would not otherwise have access.

Can you give some examples of how alumni have inspired the youngsters you work with?

Many former students return for assemblies and interactive workshops to talk to current students about their career paths and the skills they will need to succeed in work. These skills are not often taught in the curriculum. There are also lots of examples of alumni providing a wide range of workplace visits and work experience opportunities, and some even become school governors. But in reality there are no limits to how alumni can support current students.

Future First Matt Lent

For example, an alumnus working in the Netherlands joined her old geography class, at Tiverton High School in Devon, by Skype to talk about international labour markets. And a games designer joined a computing class in his old school, Oathall Community College in West Sussex, to help students see the connection between their school work today and their employment opportunities when they are older.

Many also act as mentors, such as at Chilton Trinity School, Somerset, where a paraplegic former student mentored a disabled Year 8 student. Another alumnus who worked in landscaping built a peaceful study garden for students at his old school. One school even used alumni donations to fund university trips for students who would otherwise not be able to go. 

Future First are beginning to work in primary schools to engage pupils earlier 

What plans do you have this year for Future First?

Future First have a truly amazing and committed team who work so hard with hundreds of schools all around the country, and with tens of thousands of alumni and young people. We know the amazing value that effective alumni networks can bring to a school and its pupils. Increasingly schools are realising that embedding this within the day-to-day school life is really helping their students, as well as supporting the school to meet the statutory careers guidance and Gatsby Benchmarks. 

We are starting to see the growth of a real nationwide movement as more and more schools and teachers come on board. We see a future where every single state school in the UK is able to tap into the amazing resource of former students, providing the social capital that all young people need to succeed, but particularly for those with the most challenges to overcome. 

We have also just started to extend our work into primary schools, as we know that the earlier we engage young people in thinking about their career options and meeting positive relatable role-models from the world of work the bigger the impact we can have.

How can policy makers help resolve social mobility issues?

Research shows that young people who have four or more encounters with the world of work while in education are 86% less likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) and on average will go on to earn 18% more than their peers who did not have such opportunities.

We need to ensure that every young person in the country, but particularly those from areas of low social mobility and deprivation, have the opportunity to meet and interact with employers and employees. This will help to broaden their horizons, raise aspirations, and allow them see the relevance of their education. 

Every young person deserves to have trusted and caring adults in their life, other than their parents or teachers. Someone who will encourage and support them without agenda or judgement, someone who they can relate to and who will motivate them to be the best they can be. We need national policy that makes it easier for schools, and others who work directly with young people, to focus on building these supportive networks, tapping into existing resource, and helping young people develop the vital employability skills they will need, including confidence, communication, resilience and motivation.

 

For more information on Future First, see http://futurefirst.org.uk/

 

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