Sarah Sewell, Teach First ambassador and Founder of Yes Futures
Sarah Sewell
Founder of Yes Futures
Ambassador cohort
2009, Training Programme

Teach First’s community is invaluable - it helped launch my social enterprise

The UK education system leaves many children without the confidence they need for life. After years of teaching, Teach First ambassador Sarah wanted to do something about it.

The social enterprise she built, Yes Futures, now employs 10 full-time staff, working with both secondary and primary schools, from Norwich to Portsmouth. Every step along the way, she’s found invaluable advice, ideas and opportunities through the Teach First community – helping her make a difference to the lives of children across the country.

At the end of summer 2009, I joined six other Teach First trainees at West London’s Stockley Academy, about to step into the classroom for the very first time.

Like many new teachers, I found managing classroom behaviour challenging at first. But as I got to grips with my new role, it dawned on me that the children weren’t the problem. The education system hadn’t provided them with what they needed to thrive at school and in life – their behaviour was just a manifestation of that.

It was at this point that I decided to start a new extra-curricular programme with my bottom-set Year 10 class. After school, we’d all jump in a minibus and head to a nearby activity centre, to do things like rock climbing and raft building. I was amazed to see these same pupils, who were struggling in class, now start organising themselves, working in teams, and communicating with each other.

A remarkable transformation

I’ll never forget one boy called Jason. In class, he was very quiet and disengaged. But at the activity centre, he realised he was the only one who had been canoeing before, and in that moment turned into an incredible leader. Suddenly he was teaching other pupils how to hold their oars, encouraging and nurturing them along the way. It was absolutely eye-opening for me and – in no small way – life-changing for him. He saw he had value and skills, and was able to help other people.

Jason became transformed in class. He was engaging with the work and putting his hand up to answer questions. The change in him and the other pupils helped me see how important it was for young people to develop the self-esteem and life skills – believing in themselves, working well in teams, leading others – that schools don’t always have the time to focus on.

How Teach First’s networks helped me set up my social enterprise

Having used my Teach First Summer Project to shadow an entrepreneur, I knew I had what it would take to start my own organisation. In 2012, I set up a social enterprise – Yes Futures – to help young people build these vital life skills, and compliment the work of schools.

As I worked to get Yes Futures off the ground, Teach First’s networks proved invaluable: I made the most of the opportunities available; I went along to Innovation Weekends, which helped shape my ideas; and through the Teacher Ambassador Network, we also found our first pilot schools to partner with – in Birmingham, Yorkshire and London. 
Then I hit a major milestone: my first paying customer (Reach Academy, a free school in Feltham set up by Teach First ambassadors I met at network events). And in 2015, after four years of piloting ideas and building Yes Futures, we launched our programmes across multiple schools in London.

Finding leaders and role models

Every year, Yes Futures works with over 60 volunteer Coaches from a variety of backgrounds, from professionals to retired teachers and university students. We have one volunteer called Tom who works in international consulting. He’s very successful in his day job, but he’s also a bubbly, down-to-earth, happy man – making him an amazing role model for young people.

Even today, I continue to find huge value in Teach First’s networks, such as the CEO’s Action Learning Set. This group supports senior leaders of social enterprises. We have confidential sessions where we coach each other through issues such as staffing situations, or how to take a new idea forward. Being a leader can be a lonely, stressful role, so there are sometimes tears in that group! It’s a wonderful space where we can be ourselves and ask for help when times are tough.

Paying it forward

With Yes Futures now established, I want to use my experience to support others in building a fair education system, while also learning new skills and developing my career. I’ve already started mentoring others and would love to become a  trustee of another organisation.

My first port of call will be Teach First’s community, because it’s like having friends working in the same industry. In many of our professional lives, it’s often difficult to approach people for help or advice. But knowing that someone shares your values and experience makes it easy to connect – even if you’ve never met them.

 

Like Sarah, if you've completed any of our programmes, that makes you a Teach First ambassador. You are now part of a community changing education for the better. Our community consists of teachers, leaders, policymakers and beyond, bringing their expertise to help unlock the potential in all children. No matter where you've chosen to go after your time with Teach First, as an ambassador, you're a critical part of the solution to ending educational inequality.

Find out more about how you can stay connected and continue to make an impact, below:

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