Action For Happiness

On Tuesday 26th May, Ambassadors and ThinkForward students attended an Action for Happiness event, hosted by Matthiue Ricard (Director of Karuna-Shechen which runs Humanitarian Projects in the Himalayan Region). These projects have provided Education, Health and Social Services to disadvantaged communities in the Region. They have also built primary and secondary schools in Eastern Tibet where over 2,000 students receive free education. Karuna-Shechen also offers scholarship programmes to secondary and university Tibetan students. Their primary goal is to help young Tibetans, especially woman, to gain access to higher education. They have also helped set up medical centres across Nepal, India and Tibet to help treat people with new quality and safe equipment.

During his speech, Matthiue spoke in detail about the work he has done to help these regions, and how we can spread peace, love and harmony to others and for ourselves. However one thing that stuck in my mind from the night was his discussion of mindfulness.

While he was talking about mindfulness, he mentioned “The Sticker Test”. In the Sticker Test there were four people: ‘the friend’, ‘the non-friend’, ‘the unknown’ and ‘the sick’. Before 8 weeks of mindfulness and loving-kindness training, it was ‘the friend’ who gave away the most stickers. However after the 8 weeks mindfulness and kind-loving training, ‘the friend’ and ‘the sick’ gave away the same amount of stickers. Getting to know yourself and your mind, you will learn that you are no different to anyone else and no matter who you are, you have a purpose for being here.

He also gave some advice that if we all meditate for 10 seconds every hour, we will constantly appreciate everything around us and everything we have. He also used a metaphor of a perfume bottle. He explained the 10 second meditation is like a perfume bottle; if you take the lid off and spray it once, the smell will still be there once you’ve shut the lid, in other words the harmony and peace is still around you even when the meditation has stopped.

After the talk, I asked everyone for one thing they took away from the show and one thing they have learnt:

Matt: I really liked the metaphor of the perfume bottle and I’ve learnt that compassionate altruism is a habit.

Mel: To practise compassion, meditate and teach it to the younger generation.

Shelly: Meditation helps with fear and anger.

Tash and Shane: How to be happy.

Chelsea and Asiah: Money can’t buy you happiness.

Chloe T: I’ve learnt to be compassionate to other people.

Mabs: How to be naturalistic.

Yusuf: To cultivate courage.

Dominik: That money can’t buy you happiness and be compassionate to others because we can create equality.

Matt G: I’ve taken away inspirational quotes that teaches us how to be human. I’ve also learnt to inspire others to be more compassionate and being able to use empathy.

By Chloe Parker, ThinkForward Apprentice and Amirah El-Bashary, ThinkForward Ambassador

Building up systems to ensure impact: ThinkForward is ready for work

Today, there are nearly one million young people not in employment, education or training (NEET). With 15 per cent of young people failing to make a successful move from education to employment, ThinkForward is a breakthrough programme providing early and sustained support to young people at risk of becoming NEET.

In 2010, we set out to address the stubbornly high unemployment rates of young people in east London. Our solution is to provide vulnerable young people with a Progression Coach to support them during education and into employment. This may seem similar to other interventions at face value, but there are three things that make us unique:

1. Our coaches work with young people from age 14 right through to 19, seeing that young person through their GCSEs, college, and into higher education, their first apprenticeship or job. We find early intervention and sustained support to be key in developing meaningful relationships with our young people.

2. We connect young people with other charities and social services that may benefit them. Crucially, we also connect them with employers, exposing them to the world of work through mentoring, work experience and training.

3. Last, but not least, we take a holistic approach to our work. Our coaches are based full-time in a school, but they’re not teachers or friends – they are experienced professionals who can help young people build the awareness, self-belief and motivation needed to do well at school and plan themselves a better future.

Ultimately, we want to ensure ThinkForward participants have the mindset, qualifications and individualised support needed to make a successful transition from school into sustained work.

ThinkForward welcomed Impetus-PEF’s Ready for Work report, which identified the capabilities young people need to be considered employable and proposed a common language for young people and employers alike to use. These findings gave us the opportunity to develop our programme further and help even more young people understand what being ready for work really means. We want young people to be fluent in this common language to help them relate their own behaviours to employers’ expectations – regardless of the career or job they choose to pursue.

We have adapted the six capabilities identified in the report to produce a ten-point scale that objectively describes the behaviours of a person at different stages along the journey of developing work-readiness skills. The scale provides a way for us to track and regularly respond to a young person’s development, rather than waiting until the end of the five-year programme to see whether it has worked or not; we’re working in real time and course-correcting along the way – an approach proven to save time, money and, in many cases, avoidable disappointment.

In practical terms, these capabilities help establish a baseline when a young person joins the programme – from being completely disengaged from school to lacking only a few capabilities. It is informed by both the coach’s personal assessment and a tailored psychometric test. We then track each young person’s progress on a fortnightly basis.

To encourage young people to engage with their own work-readiness journey, we make employers’ and our expectations of them explicit and keep our assessment of them as transparent as possible. The ongoing assessment will help our coaches identify the individual and overall needs of their cohort. Importantly, it also allows us to evaluate, modify and design the activities we refer young people to. So, for example, by evaluating a completed placement we can measure its impact in moving a young person along the work-readiness scale.

Finally, the scale will enable us to manage the impact of the programme as a whole, and provide a live-measure of our own performance. This will help us recognise when something isn’t working and adjust our support and interventions accordingly.

Taking a tailored approach is at the core of what we do. Having the capabilities explained in an explicit framework allows us to communicate clearly to and between the employers and young people we work with. It also helps us understand exactly how the programme is helping and what more we can do. All this adds up to employers finding young candidates prepared to start work – and more importantly – with the skills to stay and thrive in employment.

By Susannah Behr, Business Engagement Manager, ThinkForward

Raising the bar – achieving the golden five

Amid all the debate about whether GCSEs are getting easier or harder, and the coverage of those impressive young people achieving ten or more A*s, there is another story to tell. More young people than ever before are getting the 5 GCSEs A*-C that are a predictor for their future success. Good attainment at 16 is not just the gateway for young people to be able to go on to study more advanced further education courses, it is also the foundation required for longer-term success in the labour market. Sadly those young people who do not attain 5 GCSEs at A*-C are seven times more likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) at 17 than those who achieve this level.

Schools are already doing much to raise attainment and should rightly be proud of their pupils’ achievements. They are aided in this task by a range of charities and social enterprises who deliver interventions in schools, often targeted at the most disadvantaged young people. For example,
ThinkForward, aims to help more young people achieve a successful transition from school to work. Our qualified coaches offer five years of intensive support for young people who have been identified by their schools as being most at-risk of dropping out of learning and becoming NEET.  We work with young people to improve their behaviour and attendance, focus on learning and decide what they want to do when they finish school. Programmes like ours give young people from low income families the confidence to strive for a future they never dreamed was possible.

Although most of the young people we support achieved Level 4 or below in their Key Stage 3 assessments at age 14, we are delighted that over 60% of them today achieved 5 GCSEs at A*-C. For example, Halima from Oaklands School in Tower Hamlets passed all of her GCSEs and will now study A-Levels at Cambridge Heath Sixth Form. Over the last two years she has gone from being a shy pupil who lacked confidence in her own abilities, to someone who now wants to pursue a career in law. Her coach has helped her to be in school consistently and focus on her studies, linked her up with a mentor in an investment bank and supported her get a part time job.

The programme wouldn’t have been possible without support from the DWP Innovation Fund, a payment by results scheme that funds us for every successful outcome we achieve. An increasingly common way of funding public services, payment by results incentivises the effectiveness of providers and ensures government only picks up the bill for the programmes that work. As a taxpayer, this is an attractive proposition, but can be challenging for small charities without the cash flow to manage payments sometimes years in arrears. The solution for us has been a Social Impact Bond, with investment by Big Society Capital and Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation. They have provided the upfront capital that enabled us to start delivering the programme and have taken all of the financial risk. In return, if we continue to be successful, next year we will pay back their investment with a small return.

So today let’s praise not just those with the very highest grades, but all young people who have achieved and those who have supported their attainment.