Almost a quarter of Hogan Lovells staff in London are now mentoring students, giving them the skills and confidence to grow and find work later in life.
At the all-girls, inner-city comprehensive school, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (EGA), the proportion of students who are eligible for the pupil premium – that is, additional funding to improve the attainment of disadvantaged children – is well above average. Add to that the girls’ diverse ethnic backgrounds, and this can translate later in life to barriers in finding work.
Working with employers directly improves outcomes for young people, according to government guidelines. So, legal practice Hogan Lovells who had worked with EGA for two years, supported the creation of the Business Class programme to provide business mentors that deliver a number of projects across the school years. These are designed to give students a better chance to succeed in life.
The business has lead the Islington Cluster for Business Class – a national BITC programme linking businesses with local schools for the last four years. As part of the programme, volunteers deliver a range of activities from speaking at parents' evenings, running the after school debating club, teaching business studies GSCE students how law firms operates, voter registration workshops and much more.
The firm has worked directly with 920 students at EGA and through its work with the wider cluster, it has engaged a further 1,000 students who are now more confident in themselves and have developed essential skills they will need in life after school, including how to develop a CV.
In its NEET (not in education, employment, or training) one-to-one mentoring programme, for example, 20 mentors have worked with 20 students for six months each year since 2013. All students strongly agreed that they were now more confident working by themselves, better understood the importance of listening to others, were happier to ask questions, understood more about working life and the subjects and skills needed to follow different career paths.
All parents said they would like EGA to participate in the activity again. “The mentoring improved my daughter's confidence and thinking about a lot of her options in the future,” says one parent. “She has a lot of confidence in the things she can do after leaving school.”
And the volunteers really value the programs that they get involved with, too. “I had one mentor who signed up and to be perfectly honest, was quite nervous going in to potentially mentor a 14-year-old girl, going well, ‘I’m a 30-something-old man, what have I got to offer her?’” recalls Lorna Taylor, the programme manager at Hogan Lovells.
At the end of the ten-session programme, the girl stood up at a celebration dinner, said thank you to him for boosting her confidence and sticking with it even though she knew she was not the easiest of people to work with at times, says Taylor. “It inspired her to go on and do other things.”
Now, that same volunteer is on the governing board for the school.
Meanwhile, in the ‘Presenting Yourself’ workshop, where 31 business mentors worked with 180 students throughout the day, all students said it was ‘very useful’ (91 per cent) or ‘useful’ and most (95 per cent) said that working with a business professional has helped them to identify their achievements, qualities, skills and work related learning experience.
International law firms compete in a challenging marketplace, and the programme has helped to encourage collaboration across the firm, build brand awareness and work together with clients on projects outside of a particular case, building deeper and more trusted relationships.
The pool of business mentors is around 23 per cent of its London office, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with all volunteers saying it improved their commitment to Hogan Lovells.
The sheer scale and scope of the project remains a challenge however, says Taylor. “We try to make sure that we work with every child in every year group, every year of our partnership with the school, which is a big commitment.”