At the Aldridge Foundation we want our students to leave school with excellent academic qualifications and we want them to be work – and life- ready, equipped with the skills they need to thrive in the future. It is part of our commitment to the long-term goal we share with our Academies – that, by the age of 25, all Aldridge graduates will have experienced an outstanding and enjoyable education and be able to sustain the life of their choice. They will be independent, thriving economically and making a real, positive contribution to their communities.
Education at an Aldridge school goes beyond the classroom. We want our young people to enter adulthood already aware of the positive contributions they can make to their communities and with a clear understanding of how the skills they gained engaging in social action throughout their school years are highly transferable and of great value to employers.
Traditionally, volunteering was viewed by some groups of learners as something you had to do before you sent off your UCAS form. We believe in social action for all students and from an early age and we want to embed it into the school curriculum. At the Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy one of our youngest social entrepreneurs, six year old Rhiannon, was hugely successful last year making and selling lemonade for charity. Asked what to do with the remaining profits after she had made her charitable donations she announced that she was going to buy more lemons to accelerate her business!
It’s a lovely story – with a point. By facilitating social action at school from an early age, our children are building a skillset which prepares them for the world of work and developing confidence in their own abilities to create change. This is also a social mobility issue. We want our students, wherever they start out from, to be at the head of the queue when it comes to their next steps in life, and we think that the experience of social action will help them.
And we don’t just see this as an individual journey; it is the journey of a whole class, a whole year group and a whole school. For example, at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy we have a group of Year 7 and Year 8s who are being mentored and coached through an entrepreneurial educational approach called ‘Team Academy’. They are being supported to set up real social enterprises, the profits of which support local and international charities, and are learning independence and key business skills alongside developing their literacy, numeracy and communications skills. As in the real world of business, our students are learning the importance of collaboration and partnership building, and building their resilience and ability to bounce back from failures or setbacks. We know that by offering them this opportunity, the Academy is setting them up for life. This approach ‘makes sense’ of school for some students. Watching our Team Academy students become more engaged and purposeful in their learning is also really exciting.
We are therefore delighted to support ‘Step Up to Serve’ and their ‘#iwill’ campaign which aims to increase the number of young people taking part in quality social action across the UK. Part of achieving this goal includes encouraging employers to embed social action into their recruitment procedures and working culture.
The report ‘Unlock new talent: how can you integrate social action in recruitment?’ was produced by CIPD in conjunction with ‘Step Up to Serve’ and found that 67% of employers felt as if entry-level candidates with social action experience had more employability skills. They stated that volunteering helps young people enter work already equipped with skills in teamwork, communication and an ability to understand the needs of a local community. I was delighted to read this! Despite this, only 16% of employers asked about social action during the application process and just under a third brought it up in interviews. This is part of what needs to change.
Step Up to Serve, alongside the CIPD, has produced excellent guidance for employers to help them embed social action into their recruitment procedures to help them tap into a huge pool of young talent.
It is our view that the more employers value social action in the recruitment process, the more parents and students will seek it out in their schools, and the more schools will integrate it into their curriculum. The more employers get involved in school governance and in partnership working, the more likely it is that meaningful and thoughtful social action of real value will become part of the fabric of a good education for life. Ultimately, we want more talent, from a more diverse cross-section of society, to be recognised by employers and society as a whole. That’s got to be good for absolutely everyone, surely?
And let’s not forget that in the middle of all of this, young people are out there making a real difference through their social action – making a difference, and developing fantastic habits as citizens, for life.
Honor Wilson-Fletcher, CEO of the Aldridge Foundation
Picture – Portslade Academy’s Student Social Action Committee was recognised with the Brighton Argus award of Charity Achievement of the Year 2015. In the words of the paper, the fundraising group “received a record-breaking 36 nominations for the work it does throughout the community”.