Saying yes to the future 

Sonita Alleyne talks to about founding the Yes Programme, a video-based careers resource for primary schools.



Sonita Alleyne started up the Yes Programme, an initiative aimed at inspiring primary school children about the real world of work, after hearing that over one million young people under 24 were not in job, education or training. She’s also a mum and says as a parent she feels there is “an 18 foot wall that parents are stretching every sinew and fibre to help their children to get over to reach adulthood”. She wanted to do something to change those statistics and give young people more options.

Sonita had run her own media company for 18 years and had recently retired, but was on the board of the London Skills and Employment Board and the National Employment Panel. That’s where she heard the statistics that spurred her to action. “I wanted to do something positive that would make a difference.”

The Yes Programme is so named because, says Sonita, every child will one day leave formal education and go for an interview. To do that they have to get from the no or maybe pile onto the yes pile.

The programme provides primary schools with a series of videos of people from all walks of life talking about and doing their jobs and showing the relevance of subjects like maths to those jobs. There’s a drummer who shows how he uses fractions in this jobs, a referee explaining the difference between fact and opinion and a radiographer describing how to use magnets. Discussion points, activities and related links are also included with the video materials to help teachers explore topics in depth.

A leap of faith

Sonita says research shows that children do need to get some sort of understanding of the world of work at an earlier stage than secondary school. “It helps them not to close down their options, especially with regard to science careers,” says Sonita, who founded and led production company Somethin’ Else until 2009 and was awarded an OBE for services to broadcasting. “If you ask kids what they want to do with their lives they normally base it on the subjects they like or what they have seen, for instance, what celebrities do. It’s important to show them what is available.” Moreover, she adds, the world of work is changing and traditional jobs are being made redundant. Children need to know what is coming on line.

She says: “Kids are smart. We underestimate them. They are thirsty for ideas and if they know why they are learning something they are more likely to be engaged. It works.”

The idea is simple. The videos are designed to fit into the topics in the primary curriculum in small chunks – “little and often,” says Sonita. “It’s about taking a leap of faith that they can do things and small frequent interventions work best.”

The programme was first piloted in Colchester with Key Stage Two pupils and officially launched in January 2013. Sonita spent a lot of time talking to teachers about what resources the programme could offer them that would support what they are already doing. “It’s not about replicating what is already in schools,” she says. Now over 500 schools are using the programme.

It could get a boost in the next few months as it has won the backing of Nick Boles, Minister of State jointly for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education.

He says: “By linking the learning environment and school syllabus with the world of work, young people will be better supported in recognising their potential, and choosing a career path that best suits their interests and skills.”

Plans for the future include career days and extending the programme to Key Stage One and Three pupils and across the UK.

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