Why everyone needs a role model.

 By Future First Executive Chair Christine Gilbert, the former Ofsted Chief Inspector.

There can’t be many people whose lives have not been touched by role models.  Most of us could name several people who have had an influence on what we have done or the way we do things.  These people have, by their example, inspired or motivated us to do things differently.

My first head of department, who would certainly have not been described as a great teacher by today’s standards, instinctively worked on the strengths of his students so they thrived in his classes. He did the same with his young team of new history teachers so we grew in confidence to overcome the difficulties we had in learning to be good teachers. He took a keen personal interest in each of us and knew very quickly how to help us survive and develop. It was years before I understood what a good leader he was and the huge impact he had on everyone who worked with him. Peter would have found it hilarious to be described as a role model but he certainly was and proved a major influence on how I later did my job as head of department.

Anyone involved in education knows the value of role models. The best schools use role models as an essential part of learning both inside and outside the classroom. In particular, they see the value of role models near to the students’ own age. They know that much learning can be done through observation and even imitation.

My experience as a teacher, a headteacher and Chief Inspector at Ofsted tells me that access to relevant and relatable role models is crucial for a young person’s development. Nowhere is that more important than their learning about the world of work. Too many young people, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds, do not have access to good role models. For example, nearly 40 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds do not know anyone in a job they would like to do. Far too many teenagers don’t have access to networks that would help them learn more about life after school.  Using relatable role models has huge potential for helping to unlock social mobility and opportunity in this country.

At Future First, we work with schools to help them harness the talent, expertise and experience of their alumni to inspire and motivate their students.  They feel connected to former students and the alumni themselves feel a strong affinity with them. Teachers tell us that alumni can have a transformative effect on students not just in their expectations and aspirations but in their work rate too.

Polls suggest us that many adults would be willing to return to their former schools to tell their stories and offer realistic and very practical advice.  They are also happy to support in a number of ways such as mock interviews or providing work shadowing opportunities.

During the 1st to 5th February, Future First will be running a Back to School Week. This will highlight the many benefits alumni offer schools and encourage former students to return to their old school. Please do join in yourself or support the campaign with friends and colleagues.

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