The correlation between family income and educational attainment is more pronounced in the UK than in almost any other developed country.
Employers are increasingly concerned about young people leaving school (and even university) lacking the real skills they need for the workplace –empathy, communication skills, leadership and teamwork.
There is increasing evidence to indicate that the nurturing of these ‘softer’ skills, particularly at certain points in a young person’s social and cognitive development, does actually feed back very positively into their academic performance and attainment, as well as positively influencing long-term levels of wellbeing and career prospects.
The transition from primary to secondary school is a particularly crucial moment. 72% of children from low socio-economic backgrounds have been found to experience difficulties that lead to very damaging dips in confidence and academic progress. These dips set students back months –sometimes years–and that’s the best-case scenario.
At worst, they lead to students becoming entirely disengaged from their education, and left with scuppered life chances. The Franklin Scholars initiative exists to support the UK’s most vulnerable children at what has been identified as the most precarious moment in their educational lives. In doing so, it also provides an opportunity for older students to take charge, make change from the ground up in their schools, and develop crucial life skills while they’re at it.
The Franklin Scholars are high-potential Year 9 and 10 students in schools that serve low-income communities as mentors.
They are recruited through a thorough selection process that includes an online application, recommendations and interviews –designed not only to serve as a valuable learning experience for young applicants in and of itself, but also to enable talented but often overlooked students to shine.
72% of children from low socio-economic backgrounds have been found to experience difficulties
Work in action
A group of approximately 15 extraordinary students is selected on the basis of the potential for them to positively influence others, as well as room for their own personal growth.
Once selected, the Franklin Scholars undergo intensive training which delves into them as individuals –looking inward to reflect on their own experiences and their own strengths, before looking outward and developing the empathy, social awareness and communication skills that they need to effectively support younger students.
Once equipped with the relevant skills, tools and gusto, the Franklin Scholars are set up with Year 7 mentees and kick-start the learning adventure that they will journey together over the duration of the academic year. The organisation works closely with a member of staff in school who is also trained to coordinate and oversee the on-going programme over the year.
The school identifies vulnerable Year 7 students on the basis of information gathered from primary schools and teachers, their socio-economic status (the majority eligible for Free School Meals), and observations and feedback from staff over the course of their first days and weeks in school. The Franklin Scholars and their mentees come together for weekly sessions that last for the duration of the school year, and involve both group activities and that all-important targeted 1:1 time.
A curriculum framework and a range of tools are provided, so that the structure and support is there, but with enough flexibility for the Franklin Scholars to be able to take ownership of and responsibility for leading the sessions each week. All activities and resources are carefully designed to develop students’ non-cognitive skills and social and emotional literacy at the same time as academic literacy, and an enhanced engagement and confidence in the learning process.
The Franklin Scholars create a safe space for the Year 7s to share, to learn, to step out of their comfort zones and reflect upon their experiences. The year-long programme is designed to achieve real depth of impact; students are able to develop real relationships, confidence, social skills, self-worth and the positive mind-sets that are so crucial to their success in school and in life. Students are also encouraged and equipped to give motivational assemblies and run extra troubleshooting workshops for wider groups of pupils, so the impact of the programme extends well beyond the group directly involved in the weekly sessions.
The Franklin Scholars are continually supported with extra skills workshops at regular intervals during the year, making sure that they’re developing the skills they need –not only to have a positive impact on the younger students, but also to carve out bright futures for themselves.
The Big Changers
Jessica Barratt, Founder
Jessica Barratt created Franklin Scholars in 2013 around Benjamin’s Franklin’s philosophy: “When you’re good to others, you are best to yourself.”
Franklin Scholars is an award-winning social enterprise that works with schools to help each young person to tackle their own personal challenges and develop the skills and mindsets they need for success through support programmes. The Scholars themselves are near-peer tutors and mentors. In 2014, Jessica was awarded a Shackleton Leadership Award for her work with Franklin Scholars.
Before founding Franklin Scholars, Jessica was running community education programmes in Mozambique, and simultaneously conducting research and development work around peer-to-peer support. Prior to this she worked in the music industry where she set up a youth mentoring scheme focused around the music business.
They have have now worked with more than 4,000 young people, in 80 schools in nine regions across the country, delivering year-long peer mentoring programmes. Franklin Scholars are the only entity in England that focuses solely on the provision of peer mentoring programmes in schools at a regional scale.
Both mentors and mentees benefit from their programme including in academic, social, and emotional spheres and next year, they are looking to do an independent impact assessment to help them better quantify the benefits of their programme. They are working to significantly scale up our work in the coming years, expanding to new areas in England and increasing the number of schools in which they work.
Franklin Scholars’ ongoing impact and growth has been recognised having been awarded a Nesta Future Ready Fund (one of only ten organisations out of 300 applicants).
In secondary schools, their Beacon Programme, a peer mentoring intervention working primarily with Year 10 mentors and Year 7 mentees – reached thousands of young people, of whom 47% were Pupil Premium eligible, 38% were BAME, and 60% were girls. Among the mentees, 91% were at risk of exclusion or future involvement in criminal activity and at least 25% had probable or possible depression during the course of the programme.
In total, almost 47,000 hours of support were provided by almost 2,000 mentors across 61 secondary schools in England from 2013 to 2020. Read more in their latest impact report.
1. A character growth framework
A character growth framework, inspired by the KIPP schools’ character card, to gather self-assessments from students themselves as well as from their teachers across a range of ‘soft’ skills and competencies. This is measured at the beginning and end of the year, to identify areas for improvement and to track growth and impact.
2. Strong narrative
There is a strong narrative element built into the programme, whereby students are empowered to write and tell their own stories of their learning journeys. At the end of the year, each student will have a passport, populated with stamps for having visited different lands and travelled different landscapes (such as the land of inquisitiveness, the rivers of collaboration, etc.), and with anecdotes and evidence of their various learning experiences as a result of participation in the programme.
3. Literacy progress measurement
Literacy progress of the Year 7s is measured via externally-assessed tests at the start and end of the intervention–this is important for schools who are, more often than not, primarily concerned with academic outcomes over ‘softer’ skills development. Wherever possible, we also gather performance data from schools to track the progress of students involved in the programme against those not involved.