Social & emotional learning (or SEL) is widely recognized as being an essential part of children’s education in many parts of the world. Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability and resilience are vital to the success of future generations – especially where employment is concerned.
The last three years have seen a sharp decline in children’s emotional wellbeing. According to recent stats, five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to suffer mental health issues. The pandemic and lack of physical interaction with peers and mentors in spaces such as schools and extra-curricular settings has clearly exacerbated this problem.
Addition are proud to support our client Role Models, an impact-driven education provider making a difference by delivering online and in-person workshops and sessions for school-aged children. Role Models founder, Hugo Shephard, discusses his mission of developing young peoples’ social and emotional skills for When It All Adds Up.
Can you tell us about your mission at Role Models?
Role Models has been going for seven years now. We have a real focus on social and emotional well-being that we wrap up in the term ‘life skills’. And by life skills, we mean skills like resilience, leadership, creative problem-solving and collaboration – all the non-academic soft skills that we feel are somewhat missed in the national curriculum.
We do this for three main reasons. One is around strengthening mental health amongst young people (this is a well-known crisis now, especially over the last three years). The second is around future employability. It’s making sure that people entering the workforce have the skills that the World Economic Forum identifies as being the key skills for employment (like critical thinking and adaptability). The third is around the link between character education and academic containment. If children are confident, happy and independent, they are, of course, likely to do better in their exam results and school work. So that’s why we do what we do.
We run online and offline courses in the UK, US, the Middle East and China – but our two biggest markets are the UK and US. We feel like the online provision now is a real area of exciting growth. It enables us to deliver globally, 24/7, and has allowed us to create our current employee benefits schemes for companies like Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley.
What inspired you to start your business?
I studied a psychology degree, and I’ve always had a real interest in early stage development. I even did my dissertation on Mother-Infant Bonding. I just always found that area to be particularly interesting. I suppose I’m fascinated by how people’s personalities dictate what they end up doing, and how they turn out as people. This actually started out as a creative child care business.
We were trying to positively impact people’s character and well-being through finding the right role model to look after them. For example, if your child is interested in music, we’d help find musicians to look after them, or if they’ve got a passion for art, finding artists to help inspire children in that area they particularly love. It was like character development, but more through osmosis.
Over time, it evolved into delivering character education, but with a more structured and formal educational framework behind what we do. It’s now delivered in the form of courses. We started with offline courses in London, and were just beginning to deliver online, when the pandemic obviously accelerated that whole area. So that’s sort of the journey so far.
Can you tell us about the employee benefit scheme you deliver for companies?
More and more corporations are looking to help working parents – especially dual working families – improve their work/life balance. They’re very keen that their employees keep their focus and their finger on the pulse. One of the ways businesses are doing this is by providing their parent employees with educational useful services.
With our scheme, parents working for the company will have access to a certain number of hours of our services for free each year. It allows them to be able to balance work and family life, by exposing their children to positive mentor experiences.
What challenges did you face during the pandemic?
Pre-pandemic, a lot of our revenue was offline and even abroad. When Covid hit, all that dropped off a cliff. We went through a really difficult time as a company where we had to furlough people. We had to make redundancies and essentially reduced down to a skeleton team of four, just to keep going while we rode out the storm.
That was really tough – both from the perspective of distributing a huge volume of work between four people, as well as our whole team being stuck at home. Working from home five days a week was not only tedious – it made it difficult to build relationships with colleagues.
What’s your vision for the future of Role Models?
We see the future as being a blended learning offering. We want to continue to deliver online and offline programs – with probably more of an emphasis on online, because we see that as a bigger growth area, Obviously, it’s more scalable, you can reach people around the world and it’s less operationally heavy.
Longer term, there are some real opportunities around the gamification of what we do. Children do respond really well to going up levels and gaining points. I suppose everyone likes progress (adults included) and kids just are happy to do that through games.
We’ll very much keep our live interactive sessions with real teachers, but between those sessions, it would be amazing to use virtual reality to deliver some of our content. Helping children to deal with certain situations and scenarios – for example, someone in their class who’s struggling, or maybe even a theoretical classmate who is bullying them. Using VR to help children learn to manage these situations would be a really exciting opportunity.
Of course, it requires virtual reality to become much more of a standard household activity and cost-effective. But it will get there – probably quicker than we imagine – and that would be quite an exciting step for us.
Have you got any advice for other entrepreneurs, or those considering starting their own business?
I’d offer two pieces of advice.
The first one is: try and set the bar as high as possible. Think big, early on, as much as possible, and be quite aspirational as to where you can take it.
The second one is: trust your gut. Particularly with recruitment and people – your gut tends to be right on those sorts of things.
Hugo Shephard is the Founder of Role Models and an Addition client.