Raising Aspirations

Zoe Mawson, Head Teacher, Beckfoot Heaton Primary School & Nursery, Bradford

Our school serves an area of high deprivation in Bradford, West Yorkshire, within one of the 10% most deprived wards in the country.

In 2016, we created a 3 year vision which we named, “Growing To Be Great”. Prior to this, expectation and ambition for children was too low, in school and within the community.  For Growing To Be Great to succeed, a fundamental shift needed to take place.

Our strategy to raise aspirations

Children needed to believe that they could be great and this started our journey towards our now well established Aspiration strategy.  Three elements of this strategy work together seamlessly together to help children realise that they can have high aspirations for themselves.

The school and community can develop these aspects to some extent but the real gains start to happen when partners from the world of work, work alongside schools to help realise them. I could never have imagined the impact we would gain, when I first became interested in inviting volunteers into school to work alongside children.

At the start of the journey, the majority of pupils at Beckfoot Heaton would find it very difficult to have any discussion about their futures. They had never heard of the word university and had limited ideas about the jobs that might be open to them.

More than anything, too many children did not believe that a child “like them” could have a great future.

We had to change their belief in themselves and so began a programme of inviting visitors to school who were representative of the groups on roll. Children liked the messages they heard but they also were very appreciative that people were giving up their time to come to talk to them.  This was a recurring theme when visitors attended.  Are they really interested in me?  Do they really think that I can do it?  Are they coming here for free because they want me to do well?

Inspiring Bradford

This rocketed when we were selected to launch Inspiring Bradford, an initiative of the charity Education and Employers.

60 volunteers took part in the event in October 2017 whom we contacted via Primary Futures . This free service developed by the National Association of Head Teachers and Education and Employers give schools access to an amazing range of volunteers – from architects to zoologists, apprentices to CEOs.

Children were captivated as Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI talked to pupils and staff about the importance of being ambitious for their future.  Carolyn and the other guests, some advanced in their careers, some starting out, opened children’s minds to not only the types of jobs available but also the relevance of their school life.  Seeing how things that children were learning now could help them in their adult life intrigued many children and most certainly helped them see subjects in a different light and giving a new found energy to “loving learning”.

The quality of children’s learning has improved over the last few years, in measurable outcomes but also in the PRIDE they take in their work.  Regardless of cognitive ability, all children demonstrate effort and commitment to learning, knowing that it contributes to their futures.

Our work with Primary Futures has resulted in the formulation of the Aspiration strategy which is now firmly installed in our curriculum maps.  Children at Beckfoot Heaton have been in contact with over 130 visitors, all bringing something a little different but ALL helping children to believe in themselves and “broadening horizons” about their futures.

Though links we made via Primary Futures we have gone on to develop an excellent relationship with the Born In Bradford Research team which has nourished partnerships with PhD researchers, our local Health Trust and Leeds University. As Bradford Royal Infirmary is a large employer on our doorstep, pupils not only learn about roles that are available in the health sector but the fact that it is in walking distance from their homes, make the opportunities there even more realistic.

After visits from volunteers from this team, our pupils entered the StepIntoTheNHS competition and we were delighted when one of our pupils, Hafsah Ali, was the regional winner in April 2019.  The judges were impressed with her understanding of NHS roles and the attention to detail in her entry.



Visit to Downing Street

When our school was invited to Downing Street in August 2019 to discuss how we were using volunteers from the world of work to raise aspirations, Hafsah was a natural choice to represent Beckfoot Heaton.

Along with her friend and teacher, Hafsah confidently told the Prime Minister how her love of learning Science and the inspiration she had taken from volunteers coming to school had helped her to formulate her ambition for the future – to be an astronaut doctor.

As Head Teacher of a school which was not providing the best education for its pupils, I am very grateful to Primary Futures and it’s amazing volunteers and our other partner who most certainly have helped girls and boys at Beckfoot Heaton know that there is a whole, achievable future out there waiting for them.  Self-belief is now high for the vast majority of pupils, the quality of their work has improved and the progress they are making is rocketing.

Working Together

To me it’s about education and employers working together to help the next generation. If you are a school I would strongly recommend building in employer engagement into strategy and your curriculums. And if you are an employer please do get involved – we need you! Please encourage your staff to sign up to Primary Futures – school can then get in contact with them and invite to visit and talk to young people – please, it makes such a difference.

Zoe Mawson, Head Teacher, Beckfoot Heaton Primary School & Nursery