Alumni Careers Event at Ken Stimpson
Published on 23/11/18
As a student in mainstream education, two of the most important decisions you can make in your academic career are; what to do when you finish year 11 and then what you choose to do when you finish year 13. As someone who was in that position not too many years ago, I remember that feeling well, and yesterday I was privileged to be able to go back to my old secondary school to attend a FutureFirst alumni careers event.
I attended Ken Stimpson Community School (aka KSCS or ‘Kenny’) from 2003 to 2010 and I completed both my GCSEs and A-Levels there. I took History, Geography and Music for my GCSE subjects and then went on to study English Language, English Literature and Psychology at A-Level (as well as taking History to AS).
After leaving, I went on to study English Language and Literature at degree level with the Open University, whilst simultaneously working in part-time (and then full-time) employment. I started my employment career working in a school, moved into retail for a while, did a 3-year stint in the Civil Service and have been at e4education ever since 2015.
I have some amazing memories from my time at KSCS and I fully enjoyed being part of the school, so when I received an email from a lovely lady called Gurmeet at Future First asking if I would be interested in coming back as an alumni, I jumped at the chance to go back. Having undertaken both the academic university route and the employment career path, I looked forward to sharing my own knowledge and experiences with the current cohort of year 10, 12 and 13 students.
Walking back into a school you haven’t been into in eight years feels both exciting and rather bizarre – everything seems the same, yet also somehow very different. I signed in at reception and was taken to the dance studio, down some rather brightly coloured mural covered corridors – a definite improvement to the white brick walled areas of my teenage memories. Inside the room was Gurmeet, who was just as lovely in person as she was via email, and two other alumni who left in 2013; Michaela and Josh – who were both also extremely friendly, funny and interesting to talk to.
Careers Advice with Year 10
Gurmeet gave us a short briefing to let us know the events of the morning and then we were introduced to around 20 students from year 10 who would be doing the first session with us. These students are about 15 years old and are currently in the first stage of their GCSE studies. They are just starting to consider what they might want to do after they finish mainstream school at 16, whether that is Sixth Form, College or an Apprenticeship. Some of the students already knew exactly where they were headed; there were a few future engineers, barristers and actresses in the room, whereas others weren’t too sure.
The purpose of volunteering in this session was to talk to the students about the various options available to them, to advise the paths we had taken and the careers we’d had both during and since university. The students were broken up into three different groups and we, the three volunteers, moved around talking to each group in turn about our own experiences. The groups had to initially guess the degrees we had studied (English, Biomedical Sciences and Maths) and then quiz us on what it was like in our current career path. We then had a few practical activities to help them with, such as working out the education and employment pathway three example students had taken from a selection of different cards. This was designed to show the students that there is no one ‘right’ route into a specific career.
The group I was sat with, a fairly raucous but friendly bunch, then had to learn about the soft skills involved with employment and work out which ones were most important for my role as a Marketing and Communications Executive. They chose communication, digital and creativity as the top skills from the available selection and then highlighted resilience, analytical and entrepreneurship as also being relevant to my day to day activities. I was very impressed with their responses and reasoning.
We also talked about how soft skills are being learnt right now in all of their different lessons (teamwork in PE, communication in English, creativity in Art…) and then debated a few true/false statements such as ‘knowledge can only be learnt through books and lessons’ (they agreed this was false – you learn all the time) and ‘university is only for academic people’ (also false – anyone can go to study anything).
The students really seemed to engage with the topics we discussed and were very interested in finding out about the different options available to them.
After this session with Year 10, we had a short break where we went to sit in the staff room. This was surreal – it was like entering the school’s inner sanctum, that mystical area that the teachers used to disappear off to through a set of double doors after a particularly taxing lesson. The staff room, it turns out, is quite large, quite cosy and fairly ordinary – no hidden magical features unfortunately. It did have tea and chocolate however – so that’s not so bad! We saw a few of our old teachers and I had a little bit of banter with my old history teacher – fortunately some things never change!
University Advice with Year 12 and 13
After the break we went back to the Dance Studio for a two-hour session with year 12 and 13. This time, we talked to the students more about university choices; choosing a course, loans and finance, managing time efficiently, societies and socialising. We each shared our own university experiences and then split the students into groups to work through different scenarios including budgeting for a month with a specific amount of money and discussing factors to be considered when attending university (independence, making friends, prioritising work etc).
As an Open University graduate, my experiences of university were quite different to the others, but the students asked me lots of questions and seemed to value my perspective. Some of them had already decided what they’d like to study at university and where (Zoology, law, criminology, science…Reading, Nottingham, DMU…) whereas others were still in the process of making a decision or had decided to look at apprenticeships or employment instead.
It was a very engaging couple of hours and the students on my table were a lot of fun. I could tell they were taking the discussions very seriously and that some of the information given, especially the price of rent, was extremely eye-opening for them.
Some Final Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed going back to the KSCS and all of the students in both sessions were very well-behaved, inquisitive and eager to learn. They were a credit to both their school and their teachers as they asked lots of relevant questions and seemed genuinely interested in our responses. It was a very worthwhile experience and I’m thankful to the school and FutureFirst for organising the event, and to e4education for letting me have the morning out of work to attend.
I also want to thank a few teachers from Ken Stimpson (past and present); Mr Corcoran, Mr Bilson, Mr Lancaster, Mr DeVita and Miss Mosley – your dedication to teaching, your faith in me and your endless advice and assistance through my time at KSCS definitely helped me to get where I am today. Thank you.
We ended both sessions by giving the students some advice that we’ve learnt over the years since leaving KSCS and I have shared my response below:
“You don’t have to decide who or what you are going to be today. There is often a feeling of pressure among students to make the right choice right now. The decisions you make at 16 or 18 will set you on a certain path but it’s not where you have to stay for the rest of your life. There is no rule that says that the course or career you choose in your twenties is the one you have to still be in, in your sixties. You have time to make your decisions and if you make the wrong one, you can change it.
Whether you go to university, college, an apprenticeship or employment – make sure you are being honest with yourself and you’ll be fine. If you’re not sure what to study, but you still want to go to university, pick a subject you love. All degrees offer transferable skills to employers, so your opportunity won’t ever be wasted. And remember, even if things go a little haywire, sometimes you have to find out what you don’t want to do, in order to find out where ultimately, you’re supposed to belong. Good luck!”