ELBA’s Education team reflect on a year of changes, challenges and successes

Written by Siân Lewis, Mentoring Works Programme Manager, ELBA

Now we’re in August and our school, college and university partners are all taking a breath and enjoying the summer break, the Education team have been reflecting on the past year; the changes, the challenges, the successes, the learning and what lies ahead. 

The 2020-21 academic year has been one like no other. We, like so many of our teams across ELBA and beyond, have shared how we’ve adapted our programmes in response to the conditions of the pandemic; offering virtual and remote interventions, in place of what would have been face-to-face engagement between students and employee volunteers. The team, and all our partners and stakeholders, have worked tirelessly to make it work and it has been a steep and fruitful learning curve. 

It is hard to recollect the sheer volume of reschedules, cancellations and adaptations to our activities that have occurred this year. What does come to mind, though, is that everyone involved, from volunteers to students and teachers, has been heroically supportive, flexible and patient. Students have struggled with accessing devices and the internet, teachers have rapidly learnt how to turn classrooms into remote activities, volunteers have patiently waited as we manically create breakout rooms and Kahoot quizzes. 

Through all of this, the Education team has hosted a great number of opportunities. 

For Mentoring Works, the Year 10 and Sixth Form/Post-16 programmes ran throughout the year. We have been working with schools and colleges across Hackney, Islington and Haringey and matching mentors and students (aged 14-18) together on a programme for durations of 5-9 months. Mentors, through a series of regular sessions, adapted as telephone based sessions this year, have guided young people in making their own discoveries and decisions and supported them to develop the skills, competencies and knowledge they will need for future education, training, careers and life. Mentors and mentees rose to the challenge of the new communication model and we received some fantastic feedback through our celebration events and evaluation process this year:

“The MW team are always there to support and it makes implementing the programme really easy – so thank you. It’s really nice to hear when our volunteers have really good interactions and build relationships with the mentees and you hear stories directly from them. It’s a much needed programme.”

Mentoring Works, company partner

“A positive aspect of the mentoring programme was how well the programme moved to virtual and still managed to support the students and help them during these very challenging times.”

Mentoring Works, school partner

“I really enjoyed the mentoring programme and getting to know my brilliant mentee. It has been great to have an insight into what it is to be in Year 10, sometimes you forget about all the stresses and pressures, and the fact that they do really hard academic work. It has been inspiring to see how hard my mentee has worked and just to see improvement across the year. And also being able to use my knowledge and provide some clarity to secondary school students, it has been great and very rewarding.”

Mentoring Works, mentor

“For me it was learning about myself. I got to work on public speaking as it was something I was struggling with before. I learnt how to set goals and how to maintain them in a way I can actually get them done, which will really help me in the future. For me mentoring was about self-discovery and understanding what kind of person you are and things that you might need to work on and how to work on those things, that is so beneficial to have that experience. I would definitely recommend it to everyone. It was a really amazing experience and I wish I could do it again!

Mentoring Works, mentee

For Education Works, this year saw a new offering in the form of “Spotlight” sessions for students of any age to hear from volunteers about various skills including Staying Motivated and Time Management, alongside various Insight Sessions and Employability Skills based workshops:

“Today was very interesting for me, and it was very eye opening too, because I never knew that coding was fun like this.

Student at Kingsford, Hour of Code Session

“Today I learnt to create a plan of substance is not only thinking of the ideas, but creating a structure and plan of feedback.

– Student, Barclays Problem solving Session

We were also thrilled to support Linklaters Work Experience, offering 30 students from our local schools the chance to spend three days working with Linklaters on their Business Foundation Programme, as well as supporting Chaucer with their brand new Scholarship, offering a student the opportunity to earn a degree while gaining experience in an engaging work environment.

Virtual mentoring has been taking place this year between east London students and volunteers from Red Lion Chambers. The programme launched in December 2020, and has involved monthly sessions between the 16 mentees and their mentors, receiving advice and 1-to-1 feedback. The mentoring sessions have given law students, who are interested in pursuing a legal career, a deeper insight into the profession. As the sessions were virtual this year, it concluded with an in-person event, much to everyone’s pleasure.  

In July 2021 students on the programme participated in a mock trial at the Old Bailey. Members of RLC volunteered as jurors and witnesses with the Recorder of London, HHJ Mark Lucraft QC presiding as Judge. This was an incredible opportunity for the law students who are interested in pursuing a career at the Bar to practise their skills first hand. We have received some incredible feedback on both the mentoring and the mock trial alike:

“The ELBA programme was incredibly enlightening, in my experience. The mentoring sessions taught me an array of skills and the mock trial gave us the opportunity to demonstrate and practice what we had learned, the perfect way to conclude the programme! It was an enjoyable yet informative experience, one that will definitely help me greatly through my career.

– Law Student, Queen Mary

“I had the amazing opportunity of participating in a mock trial at the Old Bailey, an event arranged by Red Lion Chambers and East London Business Alliance. This is a highlight of my year so far, I am still buzzing from the experience. This was my first time wearing the wig and gown so lots of pictures were taken! A special thank you to my wonderful mentors who have spent much of their time helping me work on my advocacy skills.

– Law Student, Queen Mary

The event was such a pleasure to be a part of, it was great for the students to receive such an opportunity- thank you Red Lion Chambers!

For the first time this year, we used the Skills Builder national framework of 8 essential skills to evaluate all our programmes and activities and it has been a really positive experience for us and our beneficiaries and volunteers. It has been brilliant to work with Skills Builder on making the most of their tools and resources and how we can best absorb the content and steps into our delivery and we look forward to continuing our future implementation here.

With plans underway for the 2021-22 academic year, we are excited to relaunch our CV and LinkedIn Reviews, as well as Higher Education Mentoring from October and activity to coincide with COP26. Mentoring Works, although anticipating an initial remote launch and start at the programme outset in October and November 2021, we have our hopes pinned on being able to transition back into face-to-face during the programme year, if all conditions and consents allow.

Mentoring Works will be welcoming two new members of staff in the coming weeks, Fauzia Sultana as Project Coordinator, who has been working with ELBA as part of the Kickstart Scheme for the past 6 months and Ajmin Haque as Project Manager, a previous ELBA Eagle. We really look forward to them joining and getting started as the new academic year and programme cycle begins.

We are so proud of the year we’ve concluded and look forward to progression in the year ahead. Although we are hopeful to reinstate the original face-to-face modes of delivery to our work, there have been many positive outcomes from our adapted work and things we will be looking to keep. Much of our delivery lends itself so well to virtual alternatives and we can effectively share information, training, workshops and events this way. But the human connection has been missing – that rapport and increased engagement of meeting and facilitating face-to-face and, for students especially, there is no substitute for seeing physical places of work and bringing potential futures and destinations to life. 

So when we say that we look forward to seeing you in 2021-22, we really are hopeful to meet in person again and do great work together to benefit all the fantastic employee volunteers in our partner companies and the scores of young people in our education networks across the London boroughs. 

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