A long-awaited development to the careers provision at my school, John Hanson Community School in Andover, has been officially building our alumni.
We have always had ex-students support our in-school events after they leave; attending the careers fair, supporting mock interviews and delivering small group workshops on their chosen career. However, we’ve always felt as though we could be doing more and that we needed to access more ex-students. Over the last 18 months, our careers education has had to change. We’ve lost the majority of our external visits to businesses and university campus visits, there’s been a pause to the National Citizenship Service (NCS) programme that has always been popular with our year 11 cohorts, and we’ve experienced a 50% reduction in work experience opportunities as local firms were unable to commit to taking our youngsters on in the same numbers as they used to.
Over the last term, my team and I have worked hard to reach out to ex-students to create a more formal approach to alumni, and to build a more thorough destination database. We all have ex-students to engage with our careers education, but how do we find them?
Our top tips
- Firstly, we contacted ex-students who we still had a link to: our caretakers’ son, our Inclusion Managers’ daughter, and a degree-level apprentice who works for a local company and supports us regularly. These became our starting point and baseline for all others. Using these contacts as an initial test run has really helped us to ensure we have just the right information and content our students are interested in to help with their own career decisions. This has also meant that our quest for alumni has spread by word of mouth.
- Secondly, we would recommend creating a short Word form with a select few questions to get the information you need. Initially, we asked:
- What year they left us.
- Where they went after school – local college and sixth forms were named, as well as apprenticeship and work as an option.
- What courses they took and the grades attained.
- What they are doing now.
- Next, we posted a message out on all of our social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as in our whole school newsletter
- Then, we sent a message out to all our current parents with a link to the form asking if they had a child who’d left us in the past five years.
This order of events has been a real success! We have a growing database with ex-students from a variety of career sectors, willing to support our work in school.
As these alumni links grow, we are really conscious that we need to then do something with them. I will continue to book visitors in for careers talks and assemblies, and with any luck by next autumn, our annual careers fair can be even bigger as we’ll be able to invite many of the alumni with their employers. In the past, we have also organised ‘careers sector’ months. These have been mini careers fairs at lunchtime in our school canteen where students can drop in and ask questions to up to 10 businesses from within a particular sector. These were always very popular, and something I’m keen to use our alumni for post-Covid. This could evolve further – our current head of faculty ‘career sector’ assemblies could also be replaced by our alumni – the possibilities are endless.
Our next steps
One-off events are not enough. We want to engage students and parents alike, so we have also developed a career-specific termly newsletter to showcase our growing alumni. Our first was focused around our initial three ex-students. Once this went out we sent the message to current parents and were inundated with further information for our alumni.
This newsletter is evolving. We released our second edition prior to the Christmas break and plan to create 6 per year. Each time, we are taking feedback from students, staff, parents and indeed alumni, for more ideas of what would be worth including.
You can see from edition 1 to 2 (links below), we added in information about college open days and direct links to our main local colleges, as well as parental information on T levels. Our future plans are to add apprenticeship vacancies as they arise and links to useful careers websites that parents can be supporting their child to access from home to really think about their future options.
Our future plans
We are planning to update the website in the spring/summer term too so that students can also look through a directory of ex-students and be motivated to succeed and aim high. Generating our alumni network is our first step in building back up our career offer post-Covid.
Anna Hall has been an assistant headteacher for 8 years, leading on professional development, quality of teaching and the personal development of students. She is Careers Leader at her school and, with the support of her team, secured the Careers Award in 2019.