Asked by: Alex Shapland-Howes, MD, Future First (futurefirst.org.uk)

I recently heard the Headteacher of a high-profile public school extolling the virtues of keeping in touch with his former students: “We’ve just been given a gift of £500,000 for the school’s archive”. To most schools in this country, the concept of raising that sort of money from former students is as alien as having an archive at all, but we shouldn’t ignore the potential contribution the alumni of every school could make.

By staying connected, former students can have a transformative effect on their old schools and not necessarily by donating money. Historically the preserve of elite independent schools, these alumni communities can actually have the most impact in some of our most disadvantaged schools.

Young people leaving education now join an ever more competitive and fluid jobs market. Yet, facing additional responsibilities and tightened purse strings, 83% of schools are operating with a reduced careers service. People in jobs should play an inspirational part in every school’s careers provision. Four in ten young people nationwide don’t know a single person with a job that they would like to do. By meeting people in real jobs, students leave better informed about the options they could choose in the future and the skills needed to get there.

And there’s a dual benefit to choosing former students of your school to play this role. Firstly, they’re more likely to volunteer at their old school. Even more importantly, by introducing students to people from the same area – ‘people like them’ - who have gone on to succeed in a range of ways, they believe they can too. For students who don’t necessarily have access to these role models at home, hearing from former students can leave them more confident and motivated that if they too work hard, they can be whatever they want to be.

Future First sets up alumni networks in state schools and colleges and will run Back to School Week between October 12th to 19th during which alumni will be encouraged to return to their former school.