School collaboration for better social mobility
Mouhssin Ismail is Principal of the Newham Collegiate Sixth Form having previously worked for city law firm Norton Rose Fulbright LLP as a banking and finance solicitor. Here he explains how organisations could work with schools to improve the prospects for young people from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Social mobility has once again become a prevalent topic for discussion amongst politicians and educationalists following publication of several high profile reports.
While the focus should rightly be on raising academic attainment and outcomes of those from a low socio-economic background, an often-ignored piece in a completed puzzle is the role organisations can play in paving a path towards greater social justice.
Here are some initiatives that organisations could implement to support less advantaged students close the gap on their more privileged peers.
School governance - strategic planning
Organisations that have links with schools and sixth forms serving a deprived community should make every effort to seek representation on the governing board.
The governing board, amongst other things, sets the strategic vision and direction of the school/sixth form and input from an industry expert when constructing the school’s improvement plan will ensure there is a comprehensive and coordinated programme of work related activities that support students from less privileged backgrounds.
Moreover, organisation representatives are in a far better position to scrutinise the work related curriculum given their knowledge, expertise and insight, as well as facilitating further career specific opportunities for students from the school/sixth form.
Information, advice and guidance
Students and parents from less privileged background invariably suffer from a ‘knowledge deficit’ when it comes to information about specific careers or jobs. Organisations can really tackle this issue by having student friendly information on their websites, giving guidance on how to make a competitive application as well as more career specific advice.
Honesty around grade requirements, statistics about students’ success rates from BAME and less privileged backgrounds would help. Having the full picture will assist schools/sixth form, parents and students make informed choices and will raise aspirations amongst students who wish to join a high status profession.
A ‘one stop shop’ where this information could be readily available, updated regularly by industry experts and shared with schools and sixth forms would really help career advisors disseminate the latest information to young people.
Depending on the age of the student, the information could also be used as a way for schools to create career specific action plans which is reviewed periodically during any ‘nurture meetings’ with the school’s pastoral team.
Mentoring and coaching
Mentoring and coaching of young people from less advantaged backgrounds is an excellent way to raise aspirations and support the pastoral/career-related work of a partner school. However, for it to be effective several key ingredients are necessary:
Where possible, it should take place at the offices of the mentor. This serves two main purposes; firstly, the student experiences a palatial office environment which may be very different to their own surroundings and secondly, it takes the student out of their local community which is typically homogenous and exposes them to individuals from different backgrounds.
There should be an agreed format with agenda items/topics devised at a strategic level and which is rigorously followed by the mentors to a) ensure consistency across the piece and b) measure impact and outcomes amongst mentors.
A launch event for mentors and mentees where expectations are set out and logistics confirmed.
Where possible, the mentor should be of a similar background to the student as it will help expedite the relationship building process. However, part of the programme must include an opportunity to network and meet with people from different backgrounds for reasons alluded to above.
Regular review meetings with the pastoral lead from the school will ensure the mentor is augmenting the work at school.
Issues around time and commitment are unavoidable and therefore it is better to work with a few students than try to take on too much which leads to a diminution in the quality and effectiveness of the programme.
Visits to school, assemblies and career fairs
Schools/sixth forms should have a rota of inspiring guest speakers from different organisations to deliver presentations in assembly. Organisations should not be apprehensive in making the link between educational attainment and career prospects/earning potential.
Some schools may be reluctant for organisations to share this information as it is felt that young people should love learning for learning sake and that money should not be used to taint the intrinsic value of education.
However, many young people want to know how getting strong GCSE grades, A-levels, a degree and ultimately a job will improve their life chances. Organisations should not be diffident about this fact and use it to motivate students.
Work placement and soft skills development
Priority should be given to students who are eligible for free school meals or looked after children (LAC) when providing work placements.
There should be a competitive process that mirrors, as far as practicably possible, the actual application process including grade requirements (students could use latest test results). Able students from disadvantaged backgrounds often compare themselves with students in their school/class and unfortunately this mentally can exacerbate the achievement gap where attainment/outcomes may not be as high.
Organisations should also carry out a half day induction before the work placement commences to induct students in how they should interact in the workplace and focus on the competencies they should be exhibiting during their time with the company.
A work experience ‘passport’ where students log the skills/competencies demonstrated during the placement, which is reviewed periodically with a mentor, would be extremely beneficial in appraising student performance. If this is part of an ongoing programme, targets could be set for next time and progress could be monitored against this.