Schools are tremendous powerhouses. In and amongst everything else they do, they are also – and powerfully – socially mandated to make a positive difference in the lives of young people. Fundamentally, this is about social and global mobility, and it lies at the core of a school’s activity. Schools are not in this alone, however – they have several wider communities with which they can interact, and multiple stakeholders. Engaging these stakeholders in the task of developing social and global mobility in young people falls naturally to schools – and schools can lead the way in this respect.
If we look more closely at one of these stakeholder groups, local businesses, then schools have a number of different approaches they can take to get local businesses involved. All businesses have a social obligation – which many recognise at some level – to contribute to the general development of young people, and they certainly have a wider economic motivation to protect the future of their businesses (and the economy more generally) by ensuring that young people are flexible and ready to make choices in the workplace. They are natural partners for schools in a drive towards creating opportunities that lead to greater social and global mobility for young people.
1. Research who your local businesses are
Start by defining what you mean by local – what kind of geographical area, for instance – and then ask yourselves these questions about local businesses: How many are there? Who are they? What do they do? What is their reach? Are they grouped in networks? How are some of our more immediate stakeholders in the school community (eg teachers and parents) connected with these businesses? Are we aware of any particular interests that local businesses already have in developing social and global mobility? The answers to these questions will help paint a picture of local businesses and will start to suggest and prompt specific ideas for engaging them in the school’s vision for leading social and global mobility.
2. Reach out to let them hear why they have a role in social and global mobility
Focus some of the school’s digital and media communication about what is happening in school in places which local businesses will access. Use these channels to give insights into what the school believes about social and global mobility, and how local businesses can be involved. This might include preparing short articles for local business magazines or the local newspaper, or even putting up notices on local community noticeboards (physical or digital). Research which newsfeeds and online sources of local news are popular amongst local businesses and make sure that the school is connected to them and generates content for them.
3. Sign them up for work experience and work-readiness programmes
Almost all secondary schools already have work experience programmes, where students can spend a week or two at least in Year 10 or Year 11, usually, in a local work environment. There is nothing to stop all schools creating their own programmes, however – the curiosity and knowledge of Year 3 students, for instance, can be hugely stimulated by a morning spent in a different work environment. The more businesses you can sign up; the more opportunities the students will have. Involve the local businesses in helping to design the structure of the week, and the kind of tasks that the students should experience – and report back on – during this spell in the workplace.
4. Enrol business leaders as mentors
If your school does not yet have a comprehensive business mentoring programme for students throughout the school, to introduce them to life in local business, then consider setting one up. Students could be grouped into small numbers and meet regularly with their mentor to discuss issues that affect working life, eg money, the regulations that businesses have to follow, marketing and brand development, managing staff etc. Entrepreneurship is an invaluable 21st century skill – bring in people who have worked in and with start-ups, too.
5. Don’t underestimate their global reach
Local businesses often engage directly with national and international communities via the internet, media and social media. A small technology company, based locally, may be writing software for use on another continent; a local shop may have a mail order offshoot which sends its products across the country. Large companies, based locally or with some representation locally, may have satellite offices across the world, but a business does not now have to be large to be globally connected. When schools embrace this, and start to ask how they can partner with businesses to create international opportunities for their students, the world really does start to open up – international work experience, talks and seminars about cultural challenges, digital engagement and opportunities to work on projects across the world. Let your imagination soar – and pursue the ideas that emerge.
Schools are really, really busy places. In fact, people who have never been deeply involved in education on a daily basis often do not realise just how complex and active schools are. Many schools already do a tremendous amount that contributes to the social and global mobility of their students, and they deserve real recognition for this. For some schools, the thought of adding more tasks to their daily agenda is overwhelming.
And yet wherever schools sit on this spectrum, they know – deep down – that there is more that they can do to improve the life chances of the young people with whom they come into contact on a daily basis. They can’t do it by themselves, and nor should they be expected to: they can, however, be relentless in establishing relationships with external stakeholders, and reasons for them to engage. And if they do just one thing that gives just one extra student just a single extra opportunity that can lead to a greater sense in that student of his or her potential to choose where, when and how to work and live later in life, they will have taken a further step along the path towards becoming a truly Powerful School.
Powerful Schools: How schools can be drivers of social and global mobility, by Dr Helen Wright, is published by John Catt Educational Ltd and is also available on Amazon.