The Access Project Blog
‘Evidence based innovation’ by Jamie Martin
Jamie Martin is a former tutor for The Access Project. He was also an adviser to Michael Gove. He now works in management consultancy, and has worked on projects advising governments and education providers. His tutee, Leyla, is now studying PPE at York University.
In Moneyball, Michael Lewis tells the story of how one of baseball’s poorest teams, the Oakland As, used data analytics to revolutionise first their performance, and then their sport. In leading this revolution, the A’s GM Billy Beane had to challenge the received wisdom of establishment opinion in what he called “an industry that has been around for 100 years without changing”. Anybody who has worked in education will immediately recognise the recalcitrance of the As’ scouts and coaches. They refused to change their decades old, intuition based, methods of choosing players and tactics. Poor results were blamed on the supposed in-built advantages of more successful teams.
Tutors provide academic support to boost attainment
Beane’s first step was refusing to accept this soft bigotry of low expectations. Like the best school leaders, Beane expected excellence and set out to find the methods necessary to achieve it. He hired a Yale economist, Paul DePodesta, to lead a data analysis unit. They began drafting and picking players based on statistical evidence, not gut feel. Oakland made the end of season play offs every year and achieved what is still the American league’s longest ever winning streak. Soon even the bigger, richer clubs were hiring data analysts and using Beane and DePodesta’s “Moneyball” methods.
Baseball was just the latest industry to have seen a data-driven revolution. In banking and retail, for example, the assumptions of supposed establishment experts have given way to new evidence based approaches and a more transparent, meritocratic heirachy of ideas. The publication of a report by Deloitte and the DfE which uses the national pupil database to understand what drives pupil outcomes is the latest sign this revolution has finally reached education.
The importance of Deloitte’s report is not that it provides all the answers (it doesn’t claim to), but that it challenges traditional assumptions on the basis of data. It is the latest in a spate of research, from the OECD, the Gates foundation, leading professional services firms and charities developing new thinking. These organisations have revolutionary ideas on longer school days, students focusing on core academic subjects, teacher quality and what our expectations should be of all pupils, which challenges education’s outdated status quo.
This wave of new thinking is typified by The Access Project. Set up in response to evidence (further supported in the Deloitte report), that increasing teaching quality and focusing on core academic subjects improves pupil performance, The Access Project has given students one-to-one tuition in the subjects favoured by the best universities. Tutorials have been made more effective by the application of the latest thinking on how students learn most effectively.
Last year, 25% of school and college sixth forms failed to produce a single pupil with the requisite grades and subjects to enter the best universities. Research suggests that the chances of a comprehensive school pupil getting AAB at A-level and winning a place at a Russel Group University are 3%. For The Access Project students, over the last two academic years 31.03% of pupils got AAB at A-level in Russell Group facilitating subjects, and 85% won places at Russell Group universities.
In education, data-driven innovation isn’t a case of higher profits or making the play-offs. It means students getting life chances they would otherwise not have had. Just like in baseball, education’s establishment experts often reject new approaches, refuting any challenge to the status quo. The great Physicist Richard Feynman, however, once told an audience of teachers that “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”. The more we follow that belief, and champion new approaches and higher expectations, the better it will be for pupils.
TAP Top Trumps #5: Alice Penfold
Alice Joined us in December 2012 and is Programme Coordinator at St Aloysius’ College. She graduated from the University of Oxford in June 2012, where she read English language and literature.
What made you want to get involved with TAP?
I wanted to work in education, and I’m excited by The Access Project’s mission and methods to address educational disadvantage. The role of Programme Coordinator is both varied and autonomous, with the chance to make a real impact.
What has the response been like in your school?
The response has been really positive. The teachers are supportive and there are lots of students getting involved, which is great.
What unique quality do you think you bring to the team?
Quietly confident and optimistic.
What has been your best/funniest moment so far?
Best moment: After launching The Access Project to Year 10 in their assembly, over 30 students turned up to the first debating after school club. Their energy and enthusiasm has continued, and it’s fantastic to see so much motivation.
Funniest: When film producer Stephen Woolley came to visit Year 10 Film Club, and one of the boys asked me afterwards how I’d managed to get Steven Spielberg to come to the school. I know he meant to say Stephen Woolley really…
‘#Tutoringtips – Preparing for exams’ by Tom Slatter
For more top tutoring tips, follow us on twitter at @theaccessp and the hash-tag #tutoringtips.
It’s exam season – the next few weeks and months are going to be make or break time for your tutee. How can you help them prepare in the run up to their exams?
Does your tutee have an exam timetable? Does she know when and where her exam is, how long it will last, what equipment she’ll need?
You’ve probably been looking at past papers all through the year, but if not now is the time to try one or two. You can find them on the website of the exam board your tutee is studying. How should you use them? In a number of ways. First have the tutee take a look at the structure of the paper – how many questions are there? How many marks are available for each? You might also complete some example question together before asking tutees to construct their own answers.
Each year the exam boards produce examiner’s reports. These discuss the common mistakes made by pupils on the previous year’s paper. Going through these is a good way to familiarise tutees with exam questions and the kind of mistakes they should try to avoid. Again, these can be found on the exam board websites.
Why not spend part of a tutorial helping your tutee plan their revision. When is she going to revise each part of the syllabus? How long will she set aside and on which days? Is she leaving time for other subjects? Is she remembering to eat, sleep, socialise and avoid stress?
Ask the tutee to list the different topics, units or modules you have been studying. Have her rate them from one to three, with one meaning ‘I am very confident’ and three meaning ‘I’m not confident at all!’ This should help focus revision sessions where they’re needed.
Everyone has their own favourite ways of revising. Generally speaking, reading through a textbook isn’t as effective as doing something with that knowledge. This could involve creating brainstorms or spider diagrams, creating lists of sub-headings under which you can ‘fill in the blanks’ and write out what you know. Something as simple as attacking your notes with a highlighter to find the important words and concepts can be a useful exercise. Why not turn a tutorial into a revision session and recap part of the syllabus with your tutee.
Exam season has always been stressful, and you’re likely to share in that stress as your tutee’s exams approach, but with focus, hard work, and as much calm and confidence as you can help create, your tutee will do well!
What will you be doing to help your tutee get ready for exams? Leave a comment and share your ideas.
‘The link between deprivation and academic attainment’ by Chris Hall
It is widely acknowledged that getting AAB at A-level (particularly in subjects considered more academically rigorous) is the golden ticket for getting into a Russell Group university. This year, for the first time, the Department for Education published data for the percentage of students at each school getting AAB in the so-called facilitating subjects identified by the Russell Group as being particularly valuable.
Despite having been subjected to the odd dose of misguided criticism, this statistic is a very good indicator of the number of students at each school who are getting the kind of grades needed to get a place at a top university. It provides a simple yet important insight into the question of university access: at many schools even the brightest students are not getting the grades they need to have a reasonable chance of going on to study at a top university. Unsurprisingly, at least to those well-versed in the link between socio-economic status and academic attainment, schools in more deprived areas have far fewer students getting the grades required by leading universities.
The graph below shows the percentage of students getting AAB at A-level at different levels of school deprivation (based on the percentage of students who have been eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) at some point in the last 5 years). The general pattern is striking. At schools with between 5 and 10 per cent of students on FSM approximately 1 in 9 students get the grades needed to access top universities. For schools in the 45 to 50 per cent bracket it is more like 1 in 55.
When the data was originally published it generated headlines because of the sheer number of schools in which no students got AAB at A-level. As the BBC reported, some 594 schools (almost a quarter of the total) failed to produce any students getting these grades. The graph below shows that these schools are again much more likely to be towards the more deprived end of the deprivation spectrum. Once you reach significant levels of deprivation (i.e. over 40 per cent of students on or previously eligible for FSM) more than half of the schools are failing to produce any students with the results needed. This is particularly detrimental given the importance of school culture in improving access to universities. If there is no culture of high academic attainment it becomes exceptionally difficult to convince younger students that they can go on to study at top universities.
All of this serves to reinforce one of The Access Project’s central beliefs. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, academic attainment rather than aspiration is the most significant obstacle to access to selective universities.
Unless we tackle the problem of academic attainment we are not going to increase the number of FSM students going on to study at top universities. Aspiration is important, but it is much more likely that low aspirations are a symptom rather than the cause of the problem. When so many schools serving deprived communities send no students on to top universities we can hardly be surprised when the aspirations of their students are low.
The Access Project’s new Chair of Trustees, Neil McIntosh
We are delighted to announce that Neil McIntosh is taking over as the Chair of Trustees. Here, Neil outlines his reasons for joining The Access Project.
I retired at the end of 2012 after thirty five years running charitable organisations, first Shelter, then VSO and finally a stint of more than twenty years as CEO of the CfBT Education Trust.
Retiring from something which has been hugely more than a source of income is a curious moment. On the one hand it is absolutely vital that you truly let go. Especially after nurturing an organisation over many years any tendency to cast a shadow needs to be firmly resisted. On the other hand there are issues, campaigns, objectives which transcend any one organisation and are much more difficult to put aside.
I did not fear becoming short of things to do in retirement but I did wonder if the sort of role I was being asked to consider would really enthuse me. It was at that time I was approached about becoming Chair of The Access Project Board. I couldn’t quite believe how many of the elements which had motivated me over the last thirty years were reflected in The Access Project’s mission.
The Access Project is driven by a combination of broad social objectives; a belief in fairness and a commitment to ensuring that social and economic disadvantages should not prevent young people fulfilling their potential. But crucially from my point of view The Access Project exists to undertake a highly practical series of interventions to support that commitment.
I like the fact that The Access Project is entirely focused on the interaction between teacher/tutors and learners, the only relationships that really matter in education. The emphasis on the pursuit of social objectives through the engagement of large numbers of individuals is recognisably similar to the work of volunteers overseas in VSO . Also I like the commitment to hard, measurable outcomes. This is work which needs to be carried out to high professional standards.
The Access Project’s approach reflects some of what is best in the third sector. It is in part a social enterprise,selling its services to schools but it is a truly voluntary organisation with an operational model which relies on the goodwill and expertise of mostly young professionals who are keen to ensure that the opportunities which they enjoyed are available more equally in the future. It will be their contribution coordinated by the staff of the project which makes the difference in future. It’s great to have a chance to contribute to that.
‘The growing problem of the baby boom’ by Alice Penfold
The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that 256,000 extra school places will be needed in England by autumn 2014 to meet rising demand. Although there are various other pressure points across the country, such as Manchester, Bristol and Hampshire, it is London that is coming under the greatest strain.
This is due primarily to the capital’s rapid population growth; it is predicted that 118,000 extra state-funded primary and secondary places will be needed within three years’ time. London’s school-age population is set to rise at more than double the pace of the rest of the country and local authorities’ efforts to create additional places by expanding existing schools mean that many schools will be forced to use temporary classrooms (a recent article on BBC Breakfast News focused on a school with temporary classrooms constructed in the school car-park). In addition to expanding existing schools, there is a significant rise in the number of new and supersize schools, particularly in primary education.
Many of the issues that the growing school-age population raises have, of course, already been discussed. How can London boroughs deal with a funding shortfall of approximately £1 billion? How can we physically find the space to build more schools and more buildings?
The growing demand for primary and secondary school places also becomes a solely political issue all too quickly: shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan has criticised Michael Gove for failing to provide school places for children, blaming David Cameron’s government for cutting the funding for school buildings, whereas schools minister David Laws claims that the Conservatives are undoing the damage left by Labour’s reduction of available school places during a baby boom era.
However, it is crucial that we also consider the impact not only on the boroughs, the government and schools, but the impact on individual pupils. We need to make sure that growing class sizes, the growing search for space and growing demands do not lead to us overlook the individual student. Students on The Access Project have the chance to earn the invaluable support of a one to one tutor; overall, though, how can we make sure that each child gets recognition within the classroom? Although it is overly simplistic to say that smaller class sizes equate to better learning, it surely becomes harder and harder to differentiate work, to maintain students’ engagement levels during class, and to encourage active learning in continuously growing group sizes. There is no easy solution. We need to make sure that there are enough opportunities to accord every child a voice: to debate and demonstrate, to ask and answer questions, to present and participate. Easier said than done, of course, but I hope that the more we remind ourselves that the effect on individual students is central to the growing problem of the baby boom, the less likely we will be to view the issue from a purely political or economic perspective.
‘What do babies know?’ by Jenny Livings
On Friday I was fortunate enough to visit University College, London, with a group of year 10 students from Globe Academy. The day was aimed at promoting access to higher education and included working with student ambassadors, an interactive campus tour, and a taster lecture entitled “What do babies know?” delivered by a psychology PhD student. Now although I am slightly biased (having completed a psychology degree myself), the lecture was incredibly fascinating. The students learnt about innovative techniques that researchers use with babies such as eye tracking and false-belief tasks and how learning can even occur in the womb. They discussed their earliest childhood memories, and were informed that often teenagers can remember as far back as 2 years old (adults generally can’t remember younger than 3-4 yrs).
Following this lecture, I started thinking about how this might apply to the students that we work with in The Access Project.
Firstly, it reignited in me a real passion for a subject that I studied at university. I love psychology – the experiments, the theory, the application to real life, and the occasional explanations of the obvious(!). I loved my time at university, partly due to the independence, the social life, and all the additional skills that I acquired by making the jump from home to independent adult status. But also largely because I loved learning, in-depth, about a subject that I was passionate about.
Secondly, the lecture reminded me that our younger people are metaphorical sponges. They are biologically programmed to acquire new information. Our neuronal circuitry is malleable up until early adulthood, after which our brains become more “hard-wired”. Our young people are therefore equipped to be educated, moulded, develop, and learn, and we must take full advantage of this.
Before our younger generations become too “hard-wired”, we must influence and inform them of the many opportunities that are available to them. We must instill in them a passion for learning, and a passion for their subject of choice. We must make them open to new experiences and challenges. And we at The Access Project must make high aspirations and achievement a part of their biology.
The Access Project Director responds to UCAS applicant figures
The Access Project has commented on the UCAS applicant statistics for the 2013 cycle, published today.
Alex Kelly, Director of The Access Project, said:
“We are heartened by the statistics which show that, despite the recent increase to tuition fees, applications to university have risen since the 2012 cycle.
“Here at The Access Project we work hard, in partnership with schools and organisations, to ensure that less advantaged students can access top universities. Simply getting them to apply is the first stage in the process, and so these figures are only part of the story.
“Places at competitive universities remain skewed towards the most affluent in society, and there is still plenty of room for improvement in the admission of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We believe academic attainment is the main barrier to university access, which is why we match students with tutors who meet them for a weekly academic tutorial.”
- The Access Project is an innovative education charity which helps motivated students from disadvantaged backgrounds win places at top universities.
- For an interview with Alex Kelly, contact Laurie Martin on email@example.com, or telephone on 020 7609 2484.
‘Tutor and student feedback’ by Andrew Berwick
Are we making a difference? This is a question we should be asking ourselves every day. I’d say I do ask it every day (although with occasional breaks on weekends).
We were lucky enough to have BCG help us to go about answering this question back in December: we worked together to come up with a practical framework for measuring our impact. This includes some ‘hard’ quantitative measures (e.g. how many students progress to Russell Group universities from our schools) and also some ‘soft’ qualitative measures (largely surveys).
So, last month we started to implement this strategy for real by running our first student survey. We also decided to run our first tutor survey at the same time to help us decide what to focus on for the next 6-12 months in terms of tutor support. Here are the headlines:
- Students really value their tutorials. Students rated the impact of their tutorials at an average of 8.1/10.0. This was consistent across different years.
- Tutors are less forthright about their own impact. The average tutor rating of his/her own impact was 6.8/10.0. The gap between tutors’ and students’ perceptions of value suggests either that students are inflating tutors’ impact out of politeness, or that tutors are wary of ascribing too much value to their own intervention. As ever, I’m sure the answer is somewhere in between the two.
- Tutors are patient, but not saintly. We have to assign tutors to tutees based on the demand from our students. Unfortunately this means that occasionally it can take a while for a tutor to be matched after training. Happily, our tutors are pretty forbearing: they’re happy to wait up to 3 months to be matched. A wait of more than 3 months, however, is seen as being too long – and rightly so. We’re going to work on making this matching process as efficient as possible, and also to improve our communications with tutors during this period.
- We have some clear goals to work on in terms of our tutor support. Lots of tutors are wary about their first tutorial in particular: we are going to try to address this by providing more explicit guidance about ways of setting goals and getting the most out of the first 5 tutorials. We also have some exciting plans for Dropbox coming up in the next few months, so watch this space.
I might end this post by mentioning the most enjoyable bit of reviewing the survey, which was reading all of the great stories tutors mentioned when asked ‘What has been your most memorable experience on the programme to date?’ Here are some of my favourites:
- “My student got 100% on his latest Politics A-level exam, and then said ‘it’s all thanks to you’. It’s not at all, even remotely, but it was nice to pretend!”
- “My tutee doubling his knowledge of the periodic table purely motivated by wanting to beat me!”
- “Helping my tutee get from an E to a B in A-level Chemistry, enough to get him into a good university to do the course he wanted”
- “Having my student get the maths grades he needed to get his first choice university place”
- “A very heated debate about whether we should clone polar bears!”
To be frank, that last one sounds like a future blog post so I’ll leave it there.
‘Social mobility and the problem of unpaid internships’ by Kathryn Busby
I’ve been thinking this week about the connection between low social mobility and unpaid internships, prompted in part by attending Rare Recruitment’s excellent Social Mobility in Graduate Recruitment Masterclass.
I was fortunate when leaving university that my experience of student volunteering was enough to secure me an entry-level job in the charity sector, but if I were graduating now it would probably be a different story.
Last year the Office of National Statistics found that one fifth of people who graduated in the last two years are unemployed, and that those who have found jobs are more likely to work in a lower skilled job than a decade ago.
In some professions, unpaid internships are a significant route to employment. Intern Aware reports that in 2012 as many as one in three graduate jobs went to people who had already interned with their future employer.
For those from less privileged backgrounds, who are already less likely to have the advantage of prestigious universities on their CV, this can present a big problem.
If you can’t afford to work for free, then you miss out on the practical experience, the chance to prove yourself and the networking opportunities that unpaid internships offer.
As for the employers that run these schemes, they are not only doing something potentially illegal, they are depriving themselves of the chance to recruit all those bright, talented and passionate individuals who, not unreasonably, need to earn money in order to live.
Intern Aware made the news recently with a list of 100 unpaid internships that appear to breach National Minimum Wage law. Their cause has been taken up by Jo Swinson MP and HMRC are investigating – could this mark the beginning of the end for unpaid internships? I’ll certainly be watching this space to find out.
‘A visit from The Access Project alumnae’ by Tom Slatter
One of the most rewarding experiences in education is seeing your former students do well, so we were really pleased to be visited today by three of our alumni. Yonca, Leyla and Fatos, all former TAP tutees from Highbury Grove school, came to visit and share what they had been up to since starting university.
Yonca is studying Comparative Literature and German at Queen Mary University and also working at Bethnal Green Academy.
Since leaving Highbury Grove, Leyla has started studying PPE at York. She recently made a documentary on Obama’s re-election which has been nominated for the National Student Television awards
Fatos is now studying Spanish at Bristol. She has also made her first forays into journalism, having written an article for the Independent online ‘Why aren’t languages a more popular choice at University?’ As well as studying, she is currently working at Buckingham Palace as sales and information assistant.
All three had really positive things to say about university, particularly the freedom and independence that studying at degree levels allows them. Yonca thinks university is amazing, ‘I love the lectures. I love that everyone is responsible for their own learning’.
Fatos also talked about her Spanish degree. She was suprised that her course covered so much – not just the language, but also Spanish history and culture. She has also been impressed that her lecturers have been able to give her personalised attention, something that Leyla and Yonca, in larger courses, haven’t experienced as much.
The most interesting part of our conversation was when I asked about Access Project tutors.
Although she now studies Spanish at Bristol, Fatos was really struggling when she was first matched with tutor Tania Hawkes. Tania came up with a clear plan to help Fatos, which paid out with much improved grades. ‘She gave me so much time. I don’t think I would have got a B in Spanish without Tania.’
It was a similar story with Alice Hastings-Bass, who tutored Fatos in English. She was the ‘best tutor. The amount of help she gave me can’t be put into words.’
Yonca and Leyla emphasized the informal nature of tutorials, and the chance to meet one-to-one in a workplace or cafe. They valued spending time with someone who really knew their subject but was able to give the attention and one-to-one guidance that teachers aren’t able to in a classroom setting.
Although she no longer attends tutorials, Leyla is still in contact with her tutor, who occasionally sends her links to interesting articles and documentaries she might find useful.
What makes a good tutor?
My final question was about the qualities of a good tutor.
According to Leyla, ‘A good tutor inspires you. They know how to relate to you and are on the same level as you, rather than in a hierarchy like a teacher. They ask you loads of questions. They inspire you.’
‘What causes learning in tutorials?’ by Chris Hall
Over the last week I’ve been doing some research on one-to-one tutoring. Although tutoring generally seems to have received relatively little academic attention, there is a fairly large body of evidence suggesting that it is much more effective in terms of facilitating learning than most other methods. This fits well with our view at The Access Project – we place one-to-one tutoring at the core of what we do because we think that it has the potential to significantly boost the academic performance of our students, and it seems to be working pretty well so far. The value of tutoring also seems to be borne out by the significant rise in the use of private tuition companies.
The really interesting question is what happens in a one-to-one tutoring situation that causes students to learn. I think most people’s default response is to look to the tutor’s actions. Surely students learn as a result of what the tutor has told them or encouraged them to do, and the best and most effective tutors are the ones who can give the clearest explanations of difficult concepts and know the most about the subject in question? The research suggests something slightly different. Most academics emphasise the importance of the interaction between tutor and tutee, suggesting that most learning takes place as a result of successive interactions between the two rather than as a result of the instructions given by the tutor.
One interesting feature of this research is the balance of this interaction. The evidence suggests that the tutee should always being doing the lion’s share of the talking, with some academics suggesting that in the best tutorials the tutee does as much as 90% of the talking. A second key point is around the types of contributions that the best tutors make. Rather than offering long explanations or demonstrating the correct approach, the best tutors often confine themselves to asking indirect questions that guide the student along the correct path. In one study the authors described the approach taken by the best tutors as being ‘excruciatingly’ indirect.
After looking at the research I was determined to try and put some of it into practice in my next tutorial. This got me thinking about some of the obstacles to becoming a more indirect tutor. There is the risk of being seen as unhelpful by your tutee. If you get the balance wrong and your tutee does not understand why you never just tell them the right answer rather than keep asking questions it can quickly becoming frustrating for them. We can all sing the praises of the Socratic Method, but I think most of us would pull our hair out if we actually had a tutorial with Socrates. Knowing when to ask questions and when to take a more direct approach is key. Moreover, adopting a more indirect style requires significant discipline on the part of the tutor. You need to become comfortable with silence and avoid the temptation to fill it with your own voice. You also need to avoid becoming exasperating and giving them the ‘right’ answer when they don’t seem to be getting it. Whatever the challenges I’m definitely going to make the effort to change my approach to tutorials – my resolution for the rest of the year is to put as much thought into when I speak in a tutorial as I do into what I say when I do speak.
 Bloom, B (1984) ‘The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring’, 13 Educational Researcher 4
 Lepper, M, Woolverton, M (2002) ‘The Wisdom of Practice: Lessons Learned from the Study of Highly Effective Tutors’ in Aronson, J (ed) Improving Academic Achievement: Impacts of Psychological Factors on Education
 Chi, M (1996) ‘Constructing Self-Explanations and Scaffolded Explanations in Tutoring’ 10 Applied Cognitive Psychology
 Lepper (2002), supra n2
‘The Access Project social – Monopoly, disposable cameras and an inflatable animal’ by Florence Morton
The events of last Monday have been much reported on over the last few days. But what many news outlets have neglected to mention is that alongside divisive political events, it was also the day of The Access Project Easter Social.
- Team Giraffe show off their cycling skills
The Easter Social was a team building exercise, several days in the planning. Split into two teams and handed a blow-up animal, a disposable camera, and a complicated score card, participants were tasked with visiting as many of the Monopoly board destinations as possible. In case anyone thinks that sounds too easy, bonus rounds were included for those who like a challenge. And everyone likes a challenge.
Team Giraffe were first to leave the office after the start gun, leaving Team Dolphin still working out their route around London’s landmarks. Each team then spent the next 3.5 hours racing across London by bus, tube, and on foot.
While the aim of the afternoon was to strengthen team bonds, divisions quickly appeared between those who were competitive and Really Wanted To Win, and those who were slightly more laid-back about the whole thing. It emerged afterwards that some of Team Dolphin had been ruthless in their quest for efficiency in all things Easter Social.
- Team Dolphin grit their teeth in determination
And when two of Team Giraffe briefly lost their team mates while pursuing Easter Social glory, this division became abundantly clear. Both teams managed to rally round however, visiting destinations as diverse as the Bank of England, the Science Museum, Hamleys, and Pentonville Prison, while racking up bonus points and ticking off Monopoly destinations.
So successful were both teams, in fact, that when it came to the all-important results the victory hung on the outcome of a single bonus round. The photos had to be developed, the scorecards counted and verified, and every point contested before the victor could be announced. To the dismay of Team Giraffe, a technicality (they hadn’t read the bonus round rules) left them robbed of the overall prize, leaving Team Dolphin as the inaugural Easter Social winners. Congratulations Dolphins.
‘To me social mobility means…’ continued
See here for ‘To me social mobility means…’ PART 1
We’ve been considering our concept #social mobility and the response so far has been fantastic – so much so, we’ve had to migrate to a new page to make room for more superb, complex and concise definitions!
The wager was a simple one: define your idea of social mobility in 140 characters or fewer. Twitterati from all walks of life were giving it a go: here’s PART 2.
UPDATE 11.04.13, 15.22
STEMettes, a fantastic charity who prove girls can do science, presented us with this meditation on social mobility:
“For us #socialmobility means doing things ur parents never dreamed of doing themselves; Going to places they never dreamt they’d be allowed”
UPDATE 11.04.13, 16.32
The Brokerage Citylink provide young people in London with a pathway of opportunities into employment, so they know a thing or two about social mobility.Their addition to the collection makes clear the importance of social mobility, not just for those who are disadvantaged, but everyone in society:
“For us #socialmobility is about ensuring every young person meets their potential. Vital for business, society and young people.”
UPDATE 11.04.13, 17.00
I plugged our responses into a word cloud generator, and the outcome is fascinating.
As you’d expect, people’s responses differ in complex and nuanced ways, but the word cloud (our thanks to Wordle for this) neatly reveals patterns of repetition.
Certainly the key-words are crucial, but ideas that crop up consistently include Help/Helping, Background, Life and Opportunity.
UPDATE 11.04.13, 17.00
So the day is drawing to a close, but not before Programme Coordinator Jenny steps up to the mark with this excellent contribution:
“To me #socialmobility means allowing every1 fair access to all life opportunities. People should not be disadvantaged by accident of birth.”
By my recollection, Jenny is the first to mention that word “fair”. Earlier we were squabbling about social mobility as a concept, but surely we’d be here all night sculpting a definition of “fair”?
Thank you to all those who reflected on social mobility today. It’s given us plenty of food for thought, and spurred us on in our mission to address educational disadvantage – looking forward to tomorrow!
UPDATE 12.04.13, 9.05
I just wanted to add Enabling Enterprise‘s addition, which they tweeted last night:
#socialmobility means that no matter who you are, what you have & where you come from you have the opportunity to achieve your goals”
A fantastic vision of social mobility – thanks! You can follow Enabling Enterprise on twitter at @enablingent.
We are still looking to hear from people with new definitions, so keep sending them in!
UPDATE 12.04.13, 10.01
Our friends at IntoUniversity got us back into the swing of things this morning with this expertly crafted definition:
#socialmobility is giving young ppl from disadv. backgrounds the same opps to reach their potential as better-off peers”
A fantastic response which again demonstrates how, despite key words proving a common theme, our approach to social mobility differs from individual to individual, organisation to organisation.
I guess the next big question to ask is How do our definitions determine our approach? Welcoming any thoughts on that quandary…
UPDATE 12.04.13, 10.15
That gauntlet was promptly picked up by IntoUniversity, who said: “In terms of approach, it’s things like talking about uni from a young age, broadening knowledge and raising aspirations.” Clearly, then, our concept of social mobility is closely wedded to what we think we should do about it. I think that’s pretty accurate for the definitions floating around our office – on which note:
UPDATE 12.04.13, 10.20
Chris, who is out of the office today taking a group of students (accompanied by Booz & Company) to the University of Cambridge, stole a few minutes to proffer his view on the matter:
“To me #socialmobility means giving all people an equal chance to succeed so that social class never becomes entrenched across generations.”
Stirred perhaps by the grandeur of Cambridge, Chris was bang on 140-characters with this definition!
UPDATE 12.04.13, 10.38
University Alliance, who help build a strong future for UK universities by creating a space for collaboration, innovation and debate, took the discussion into new waters with this fascinating suggestion:
“For us #socialmobility is not just about mobility bt building resilience in all individuals4personal fulfilment,employability&ec.growth”
They make the excellent point of systemic change – stressing that society needs to be strengthened to sustain mobility between social classes. Thanks University Alliance!
UPDATE 12.04.13, 14.42
As the week winds down and we approach Friday evening, we have this from upReach
“Our take on
#socialmobility is ensuring that social background is no barrier to undergraduates accessing professional employment”
upReach improve access to professions for less-privileged undergraduates, and this is manifestly at the core of their vision of social mobility.
In all our various definitions we’ve heard about ‘children’, ‘young people’, ‘undergraduates’, and ‘all individuals’, which calls attention to something Nick Clegg, in his report Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility, called the “Social Mobility Cycle”. As we’ve learnt over the last few days, social mobility is not restricted to one age range: society should, the report suggests, provide “help and support at every stage to narrow the gaps and provide second chances.”
‘To me social mobility means…’ by The Access Project and guests
Here at The Access Project, we think a lot about Social Mobility. As a social mobility charity, we aim to ensure that a student’s ability is the main factor in their success, rather than their socio-economic background.
But what does this mean “on the ground”, for The Access Project team? How do our definitions of social mobility differ, and how does this shape our mission? And in the age of social media brevity, how is it best expressed as an aphorism, something that could easily navigate the channels of Twitter?
The team were asked to draw up their own definitions, keeping them strictly to 140 characters or fewer. We’ll be posting the responses on this page, but we’d also like to hear your views! Tweet us at @theaccessp and we’ll publish them here on the blog.
The first comes from our Director, Alex:
“To me #socialmobility means more than helping disadvantaged have opp to succeed. It means eliminating impact of background on life chances.”
Alex Kelly – Director, The Access Project
UPDATE 11.04.13, 11.10
Year Here have flexed their twitter muscles, and responded with this neat summary:
“To us #socialmobility means that it should be a person’s ability/potential rather than their background that leads to success.”
UPDATE 11.04.13, 11.21
Teach First North West added their view on #socialmobility:
#socialmobility is giving ALL children the opp. to access, aspire and achieve their ambition.”
Nice work, @TeachFirstNW
UPDATE 11.04.13, 11.50
It’s our Programme Coordinator Alice’s birthday today, but she still spent time whittling down her definition to these concise 140-characters:
“To me #socialmobility means creating a society in which a prson’s background presents no barriers to accessing opps in education work &life”
UPDATE 11.04.13, 12.17
The various definitions have prompted debate in the office about the value of the term “social mobility”. Since this discussion risks making the whole endeavor irrelevant, I turn instead to Future Leaders‘ excellent contribution:
“For us #socialmobility is about helping every child to realise their potential by developing outstanding leaders for challenging schools.”
Thank you to @FutureLeadersCT for their response – and bang on 140 characters!
UPDATE 11.04.13, 12.34
Alex must be feeling lonely as the only picture featured on this page – so we’re giving prime photo placement to our next #socialmobility contribution. It could be you!
UPDATE 11.04.13, 13.22
We may have paused for lunch, but the Twitterverse carried on churning out excellent definitions. Here’s Teach First’s Nigel Ball with his:
#socialmobility exists when life’s greatest rewards are accessible to all”
A succinct effort!
UPDATE 11.04.13, 13.30
Tom, another of our Programme Coordinators (they’re the ones who run the programme in school), responded by demolishing the concept of social mobility altogether. And he managed this miraculous feat of semantic re-shuffling in under 140 characters. Blimey.
“To me #socialmobility means social justice. Not jst moving btween social classes but the elimination of class distinction & unfair advantage”
I have to provide a dissenting voice here. Social mobility does exist – it has a hashtag.
UPDATE 11.04.13, 13.41
Wading through the complexities of our CRM system Salesforce has clearly not deterred Olivia, our Systems Manager, from joining the debate. Her version includes the concept of downward mobility, something not yet touched on by previous definitions.
“To me social mobility means you can go down as well as up – I want social equality for all.”
Clearly here social equality and social mobility are mutually complementary. Do you agree? Have your say at @theaccessproject.
‘Theory into practice’ by Andrew Berwick
Although this may come as a shock given my role description (Director of Tutoring), I delivered my first tutorial last week. The good news is, I really enjoyed it. (I don’t like to reflect too much on what the next steps might have been had I found it a real chore.) The even better news is, I learned a lot. Here’s what:
I should have done more preparation. I taught the English AQA spec for 2 years. I talk all day to tutors. I’ve read all of the English syllabi more times than you can shake a stick at. Still – I should have done a bit more prep. I read the play we were discussing on the day – which gave me a working knowledge – but more importantly I would have liked to have had the structure and requirements of the exam a little clearer in my head, given my tutee’s GCSEs are only a few months away. Lesson learned.
Tutoring may be more fun than teaching. Yep, so I’m non-committal about this; in my defence, I would point out that I’m working off of a small sample size here (viz 1 tutorial). However, I really enjoyed the session: I learned a lot about my tutee and what he wants to achieve over the coming months/years, and I also got to engage in that kind of learning dialogue which is difficult to maintain in class in all but the most well-structured lesson. Helping someone to articulate and develop ideas that are just tantalisingly out of touch is a really exciting feeling. And, to be fair, I learned a load about the play from my tutee as well.
Getting the right tone is an art. Or, ‘What to do when your tutee uses a smiley in an email’. We encourage all of our tutors to build rapport with tutees whilst maintaining their professionalism. This is easy to say, but requires you to think carefully about how friendly you can be via email and in person. I’ve got to admit, I did like the smiley though.
Can’t wait for round 2!
‘Why do we call them ‘Soft’ Skills?’ by Tom Slatter
Recently I got to experience a taste of life outside of the education bubble. I was at a meeting chaired by Nick De Bois MP and facilitated by Tony Breslin of Breslin Public Policy where we got to hear from several SME employers.
The overwhelming message from these employers was that young people applying to work with them had a deficit of skills. Not subject knowledge or specialist skills, but rather the ability to deal with customers, to speak in public, to empathise and communicate, to turn up on time and show independence and initiative. The so-called ‘soft’ skills.
Now you could be forgiven for thinking these skills aren’t important. After all, hard subjects are more important aren’t they? Politicians and pundits from all sides of the political spectrum have long talked about facilitating subjects, academic subjects, hard subjects.
The messages are often confused, and pupils can get the impression that it is a mistake to take subjects at GCSE and A-level that do not directly lead to an obvious career. With the current, often bizarre, debate about knowledge versus skills there seems to be an emphasis on facts, knowledge, and good old fashioned ‘rigour’. Soft skills aren’t the priority.
- One-to-one tutorials help our students develop their communication skills
At the meeting, Tony Breslin made the point that ‘soft’ skills are amongst the hardest skills to master. Personally, the most important subject I ever took at school was drama. Without it I would not have been able to follow the career path I have, or succeeded in many other areas of life, both in and out of work. I’ve never considered working as an actor, but drama helped me overcome immense shyness and develop confidence and public speaking skills.
The most impressive speaker at the meeting was a sixth form pupil Katerina. She spoke to the group about the work experience placement she is undertaking where she works as receptionist for a firm near her school. She spoke about the skills she needed here – independence, initiative, customer relations. All of these qualities she clearly had in abundance.
But to hear the employers talk about it, many school leavers don’t have these skills. To hear the politicians and columnists talk – well they don’t talk about it at all.
These skills are not ‘soft’. Call them ‘interpersonal’ skills instead. I’m not suggesting a new A level course in ‘how to talk politely’, but one of the main purposes of education is to prepare pupils for the world of work. It would therefore make sense to make sure we emphasise these skills too.
‘The four Ps of successful school trips: Planning, Preparation, PANIC and PHEW!’ by Jenny Livings
This week I undertook the challenge of taking a group of students on my first school trip. Now, I am an (bordering on obsessively) organised person, so of course all the relevant paperwork, risk assessments, journey planning, etc was done well in advance. However even with all this planning and preparation, last minute obstacles inevitably arose. On Monday, one of the students came to me asking if she could travel by minibus (bearing in mind the trip was on Wednesday) as she had hurt her leg (when I say hurt, I mean it was encased in a huge plastic cast). Aghh! I can’t organise a minibus for her at this late notice! However fortunately through further discussion with her she revealed that she can walk, just not too far, and as the journey required her to be sat down on a bus for the majority of it, she was happy to use public transport. Phew, crisis averted.
How do you measure the speed of light with cheese?!
Next task: meeting Monday afternoon with the two members of staff accompanying me on the trip to discuss logistics for the day. Member of staff 1 – “Do we have a back-up plan if the bus is full and won’t let us on at 9am in the morning with 15 students?” Me: “yes, we can travel by tube”. But wait, what if the students don’t have money on their travelcards (despite being told to top them up)? And what if the student with the leg brace can’t manage getting on and off tubes? Aghh! I hadn’t even considered that the bus might be full. So thoughts began racing through my head: Is this even a problem? How likely is it that the bus might be full? Could we split into two groups if this is the case? With only 3 members of staff this would mean a new risk assessment…! So after my initial panic, I looked up the transport again…RELIEF! We are at the start of the of the bus journey so we will be getting on an empty bus. Phew, panic over.
So Wednesday came, and after a restless night’s sleep with ridiculously unlikely scenarios playing through my mind, the trip went without a hitch. The transport was seamless, the lecture entitled “When Science Attacks!” was a real hit, with interactive demonstrations including how to measure the speed of light using cheese in a microwave, how the TVs in our home are in fact miniature particle accelerators, and what happens when you pour liquid nitrogen on the floor in front of a room full of school students! The students also got to see me fail at the simple tasking of holding a helium-filled balloon, resulting in a last minute dash by the lecturer to get another one.
The students experienced what it is like to study at a top university and had an inspirational insight into how exciting science can be. All the planning and preparation paid off, and I got to see the students getting excited by the prospect of university. Result.
‘Liver let die?’ by Holly Maguire
St Thomas More RC School recently hosted a Medicine workshop for Years 9 to 11. Ashton Barnett-Vanes, a Medicine PhD student at Imperial College London, came to talk to the students about applying for medicine at university and his experience working in trauma care and disaster relief.
Ashton promised to answer all the students’ questions, which included “What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve had to do?”, enabling us to identify some potential doctors amongst those students who claimed they’d heard worse.
The students were then faced with some of the difficult decisions they might be met with during a career in medicine. They were given a list of patients with different liver problems and had to decide where to place them on the organ donation register. Among the patients were Alan, an alcoholic father of two in his forties, and Jesse, a 19-year-old who has overdosed on paracetomol. Interestingly, all the groups either put Alan first or last, and those who put him last also put Jesse first (ahead of poor Daniella, the 8-year-old with acute liver failure, and Rachel, the 30-year-old teacher with Hepatitis).
The pro-Jesse groups claimed his overdose meant his need was more urgent. The pro-Alan groups claimed the fact he had children meant his death would affect the most people. The pro-Jesse groups said as an alcoholic, Alan didn’t deserve a liver. He’d caused the damage to himself. But arguably so had Jesse. Ashton floated that alcoholism should be considered a disease as well as the liver cirrhosis itself. This gave some students pause for thought but most stuck rigidly to their choices. No students considered Rachel’s importance to her students (a sort of red herring I had thrown in, somewhat optimistically) or the estimated length of the patient’s life following the transplant.
We all looked to Ashton for an answer only to be told that choices like these are made only on a case by case basis. Some students expressed betrayal at the revelation there wasn’t a right answer but there was overall acceptance that these decisions are never going to be simple. At the end of the session one student complained “Being a doctor is much more difficult than on Grey’s Anatomy.” If that’s the only lesson learned, I’m happy with it.
‘Looking to the future? Let entrepreneurship lead the way’ by Beth Price, Enabling Enterprise
Beth Price, Project Assistant at Enabling Enterprise looks at entrepreneurship as an option for young people, and how it is not confined to the realm of setting up a business.
Student protests now seem like a familiar sight. The rising costs of education are a major concern for young people looking to develop themselves and their career prospects through further study. Secondary students applying university may ask whether further study is really worth the burden of debt. Recent graduates searching for employment may ask whether a degree really prepared them for an increasingly competitive job market. When faced with these barriers, young people have two options: give up or press on. Fortunately, many young people refuse to have their aspirations dampened, but instead choose to adapt creatively to a tough economic climate.
Last week, I read an article called ‘Earning to Learn’: an investigation into postgraduate students who set up their own businesses, from coaching to freelance tutoring, to help them fund their studies. Rather than feeling dejected by the lack of funding, these students chose entrepreneurship as a way of supporting their application to university, by finding the niches to create their own economic opportunities. This new ‘spirit of entrepreneurship’ on campus seems to reflect a wider trend, with an increasing number of universities and colleges forming their own enterprise or ‘innovation’ hubs, which encourage undergraduate and postgraduate students to turn their business ideas into reality. The outcomes look promising, but does entrepreneurship in education really hold the key to overcoming the barriers facing young people today?
The answer is yes, and no. Applying to study for a Marine Biology PhD whilst starting up your own infographics company is an inspiring and impressive example of the success young people can achieve. On the other hand, being an entrepreneur is a risky business – reports show, on average, only 20% of new start-ups in the UK survive. Whilst student entrepreneurship can open up many new opportunities, the statistics are really too narrow to promote entrepreneurship as the model for future success for all young people.
Entrepreneurship as a Philosophy
At Enabling Enterprise, we believe there is much more to entrepreneurship than setting up a business. Entrepreneurship embraces a much broader set of skills and attitudes – initiative, creativity, determination and resilience – qualities we want to inspire in all young people, not just entrepreneurs. When young people begin making the transition from school, whether applying to university and considering future job options, they often feel a sense of uncertainty. Having been guided through a maze of GCSEs, BTECs and A Levels, you suddenly step out into an empty space, with no sign posts and no-one telling you what to do. From this moment on, you alone must decide on the direction you are heading in, even if the final destination is unclear.
To be ready to make these choices, young people need to be equipped with the confidence and proactivity to seek out new opportunities, as well as the skills to make the most of them. When applying for university or a new job, for example, young people are required to take initiative in pursuing new avenues and prove their competencies in environments which are very different from the structured world of the classroom. In the current economic climate, having young people with the capacity to rise to challenges, invent new pathways and adapt to different scenarios, will be more important than ever. This is what entrepreneurship, as a philosophy, is all about – and it’s just not confined to the realm of business.
Embedding Entrepreneurship in Education
A broader understanding of entrepreneurship, as a set of ‘enterprising’ attitudes of skills, may provide a more inclusive ‘model for success’ for young people making their first transitions to further education or the world of work. There is scope for colleges and universities to embed an entrepreneurial approach within the culture of education itself – whether providing an applied, real world focus to academic courses, encouraging a wider range of extra-curricular activities, or, more fundamentally, embracing a skills-based approach to teaching and research. For example, collaborative group work, creative research projects and student-led discussion forums, can all contribute to an academic environment where young people not only deepen their knowledge, but also develop the core skills which will prepare them for the future.
At Enabling Enterprise, we believe higher education should not be the only arena where entrepreneurship can come into play. Young people pursue a wide variety of paths, but school is the place where the journey begins. We work with school students from 6 to 18 across all areas of curriculum, showing how enterprising skills and attitudes are an asset to everyone, no matter where your passions and ambitions lie. In these difficult and uncertain times, we aren’t in the position to dictate choices for our young people, but we do have a responsibility to equip them with the skills, experiences and aspirations to make their own.
To find out more about Enabling Enterprise, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.
‘What can politics even do for us anymore?: The Islington Parliamentary Youth Forum’ by Alice Penfold
At the start of this week, I accompanied three sixth form students from St Aloysius’ College to the Houses of Parliament, to take part in the first Islington Parliamentary Youth Forum, an event open to young people between 16-30 years old studying in Islington that brings together politicians and decision-makers to listen to young people’s views and concerns. The topic was ‘Youth Unemployment’ and, with tickets fast disappearing in the week leading up to the forum, I was excited to take my students along and see what was on offer.
It was fantastic to be able to debate within the grand setting of the House of Commons. There were speakers from the BT Group PLC, KPMG and The Brokerage Citylink, who discussed different opportunities available to students, both those looking to leave school at 18 and those planning to go on to university. Chaired and sponsored by Emily Thornberry – the MP for Islington South & Finsbury and Shadow Attorney General – students then debated both Islington-specific and more general unemployment issues and questioned their local MP on how much the government really listen to the views of young people and what they planned to do about youth unemployment.
The students from St Aloysius’ made some impressive contributions to the debate, including one Year 13 student’s direct question to Emily Thornberry; ‘Is aged 16 early enough to start?’ It is a frequently asked question and it certainly ties in neatly to recent news reports of teenagers’ job ambitions (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21762564).
The Islington Parliamentary Youth Forum was not without its flaws, however. There wasn’t nearly enough time to properly discuss every point raised and, unfortunately, Emily Thornberry had to turn up late and leave early. Whilst her schedule didn’t allow her to stay longer, a member of her office who remained wasn’t able to give wholly satisfactory answers to the remaining questions. More importantly, the fact that she couldn’t stay until the end left me (and many others, I’m sure) wondering the extent to which the voices of the young people present had really been heard and considered.
‘What can politics even do for us anymore?’ was one question I heard someone ask before the forum began. Let’s hope that Emily Thornberry MP and her office take on board the well-expressed and significant concerns of young people when discussing disadvantage in Islington and when deciding what policies and procedures need to be put into place.
‘Systems, platforms and the occasional palace’ by Olivia Ide
Most of our recent blog posts have been about education, in one form or another. Obviously, this is a good thing – we are an education charity after all – but I think that as education is about broadening one’s horizon, it is acceptable for me to leave such musings to others.
So today, I will mainly be talking about a favoured topic of mine: systems!
Yes, I am comparing the palace of the Hungarian Parliament to the systems of a small charity.
As Systems Manager, I am often called upon to come up with new systems, and I think this is great. My work is an exciting mix of exploring uncharted territories, building palaces, genetically engineering cyborgs and sudoku. Who wouldn’t want to do that?! I think that secretly, all the Programme Coordinators are jealous. Yes, they get to work with our students and see The Access Project achieve things on the ground, whereas I rarely leave my desk and often end up talking to my computer for company, but I think it’s clear where we’d all rather be.
This week, I have been bending MailChimp to my every whim. I have used it to create a system to track students’ feedback on tutorials, and it is now ready to be tested by one lucky school. It’s very exciting as it will give a real-time view of what the students are thinking, and I had a great time creating the various templates and merging fields and all of that.
I have also been working on our new Online Resource Library. This will replace Dropbox and I am – in the vernacular – super psyched about it! Having scoped the ORL with the various stakeholders, I drew up the scope and then put it out to tender, and we’ve just decided which supplier we’re going with. This is great news and I cannot wait to push on and work with them to build it.
Perhaps the highlight of my week, however, has been building an HR system into Salesforce. This involved a whole bunch of new, interconnecting custom objects and a rather snazzy spreadsheet to assist with the bulk uploads. Part of the system is supposed to calculate how much holiday staff members have left to take this year and, weirdly enough, it’s currently calculating my holiday correctly but no one else’s. I’m taking this as a sign that Salesforce likes me more than everyone one else, but I suppose I should try and fix it…
To conclude, as I know that the PCs have to maintain the facade that they’re not that bothered about systems and seriously enjoy being on the front line, if anyone else ever wants to chat about systems or swap Salesforce tips, just drop me a line!
‘Girls do Science too’ by Florence Morton
“Thanks Miss, that was actually really good”. High praise indeed from the group of initially reluctant Year 12 students I took to the STEMettes inaugural panel event last Thursday.
The STEMettes are a group of women who recently came together to start promoting the idea that “girls do science too”. Their mission is to encourage female students to consider the STEM subjects, showing them exactly how varied and interesting the field is.
Last Thursday, at the first in a regular series of panel events, 8 women and 1 man from a variety of STEM backgrounds (think post-doctoral Physicist, structural engineer, TV presenter, and energy manager, among others) stood up to explain what they did and how they’d got there. Their stories were interesting and inspiring, with the dominant themes being the idea that anything is possible with hard work and determination, and that it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a life plan worked out at the age of 16 – several of the panelists started with the fact they’d had no idea what they wanted to do while at school.
For the girls on the trip with me this was refreshing and encouraging. These were accessible women in high heels and pretty dresses (important factors for any Year 12 girl) telling them they could do anything they wanted to. And it was a message which resonated.
The STEMettes will be running more panel events in future, and I’ll definitely be taking more students along next time. The students were right, it was really good. In fact the only downside for me was that I came away starting to wish I’d studied Engineering or Physics at university instead of Politics and Economics!
‘Life-long learning’ by Kathryn Busby
When does our education end? At The Access Project we focus on the schooling that children receive and their chances of studying at a top university. This is critically important; educational inequality means that many young people find their paths to success are restricted, blocked or even invisible. But that’s not to say that we stop learning at 16, 18 or 21, or that education ends once we leave school or graduate from university.
This is certainly true for me. I graduated last century, but I still get great satisfaction from learning something new and then going on to apply it. Strangely, as years pass the mountain of knowledge still to be scaled doesn’t seem to get any smaller… so it is perhaps fortunate that when working at The Access Project the opportunity to learn is available in many different forms.
I learn a lot from my colleagues at The Access Project when I see how they approach different challenges and find solutions. I learn from people in similar roles working in other organisations when I talk to them and they share their insights. And sometimes I get the chance to learn in the more formal setting of a training course.
Last Thursday, I attended a half-day course at the Directory of Social Change to explore the role of Company Secretary, which is one of my responsibilities at The Access Project. Thanks to a friend (and qualified Chartered Secretary) I already knew the essentials – filing the correct documents at Companies House and the Charity Commission, keeping appropriate records, ensuring that rules set down in our governing documents are upheld – but this was my chance to delve into the detail and find out more about best practice.
Our introductions revealed that we were a mixed group, from beginners to those with relevant qualifications looking for a refresher. I wondered how the trainer would manage that range of expectations, but she was well prepared. Pitching her presentation at a moderately high level, she urged us to ask as many questions as we wanted, at any point. It was a great approach; in order to get what we needed out of the session, we had to speak up and take responsibility for what we needed to learn. As a group we rose to the challenge with enthusiasm and the result was far more appropriate to the audience than anything the trainer could have prepared.
As well as getting answers to all of my own burning questions (and learning just as much from what other people asked) the session came with an unexpected bonus: a demonstration that it is possible to deliver effective training to a room full of people whose training needs vary considerably. It was an excellent afternoon’s education.
‘A poor indicator of poverty’ by Chris Hall
A new study from the Children’s Society released yesterday suggests that as many as 6 in 10 children living in poverty are not currently receiving free school meals (FSM). The potential consequences of this for child well-being are obvious. As the Children Society points out:
‘For parents in poverty, finding the £370 a year needed for each child’s school meal often means struggling to provide their children with the basics, including buying them shoes for school and heating their home.’
For those working in the education field the blunt nature of FSM as an indicator of poverty should be a particular concern. It remains the go-to measure of poverty and is used extensively by government and voluntary organisations. The attainment gap between those living in poverty and the better-off is almost exclusively measured by the differences in performance between those on FSMs and those not. The Pupil Premium, introduced by the coalition government to provide schools with extra money for poorer pupils, is paid to schools for each student eligible for FSM (as well as those who have been eligible at some point in the last 6 years). Many charities working to improve social mobility (including The Access Project) select schools they work with based on the percentage of students eligible for FSM.
There are two main problems with using FSM as an indicator of poverty. First, as the Children’s Society study highlights, many children living in what by a range of other measures would constitute poverty are simply not eligible. This is because eligibility is determined by whether their parents are in receipt of benefits, most of which are only provided to those currently out of work. Those living in low-income working households do not have access to FSM by default, so a whole range of factors that clearly contribute to poverty such as rental prices, the cost of living and family size are deemed irrelevant.
Second, not all students eligible for FSM actually claim them, either because of the stigma attached or because of lack of knowledge. Despite significant attempts by schools, largely prompted by the Pupil Premium, to increase the take-up rate, there are still a large number of eligible children who do not receive FSM.
Given the inadequacy of FSM as an indicator of poverty it is perhaps surprising that it remains so widely used. However, when you look at what data schools provide on their students it is easy to see why. It is pretty much the only piece of data that can be used to assess poverty that all schools are required to provide. The only alternative is to assess poverty on the basis of the areas in which the pupils live (using something like the Index of Multiple Deprivation), but given that lots of poor people live in generally affluent areas and vice-versa (particularly in London) this approach is also unsatisfactory. Free school meals are far from perfect as an indicator of poverty, but they remain the best we have.
‘Segregation in UK schools’ by Tom Slatter
‘It’s not in my contract, it’s outside my 1265 hours. If you want me to do it you need my goodwill, and to be frank, I’ve no goodwill left!’
So saying, Dave swept out of the union meeting to raucous applause from perhaps half those in attendance.
At least that is my recollection of the last NUT meeting I attended before leaving teaching to join The Access Project.
Dave has taught maths, led maths departments, even been a head teacher and taught overseas. However, you could be forgiven for thinking, from my half remembered quote, that he was a jobs-worth: more interested in his contract than the children.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Dave cared about his pupils as much as every other teacher does.
Dave came at things from a working class, left wing perspective. He was in no doubt that class was the most important issue affecting our pupils’ chances.
I happen to love my job. I love dealing with young people who are frankly far smarter than I ever was. Every day I help switched-on, ambitious, young people navigate the hurdles involved in getting into the right university.
At The Access Project we match pupils with tutors, many of whom are graduates working in City firms. A world away from working class South London in some ways, but at the heart of what we do is the same issue, something which most in education, of whatever political persuasion, agree with.
The education system is segregated along class lines.
Recently we chatted to The Challenge Network - a national charity that brings together local people - about last year’s OECD report which suggested that UK schools are among the most segregated in the developed world. Last week they posted a blog reflecting on the report, drawing on the work of Tom Schelling, who suggested that the simple urge to be near ‘people like us’ could lead to segregation without any conscious desire for it. They were interested to hear what our view of segregation was “from the ground”, through our work with state schools and Academies across London.
- Cyan and Fatos getting their A-level results
I’m sure there’s something in this, but it’s not the whole story when it comes to UK education. Poor pupils are under-represented in the ‘good’ schools in this country. The plethora of different schools we now have, and the resistance to equitable ways of allocating school places, play a part. Pupils whose parents are unable (for whatever reason) to get them into a ‘good’ school are far more likely to be from a disadvantaged background. Even with our best efforts at The Access Project, we don’t provide as much support to our pupils as the children of the richest in our country will receive.
Why does segregation in the school population matter? Because you can’t be what you can’t see. How can social mobility improve if pupils never see the options that could be open to them? How can our best teachers and educational resources be used properly if they are focussed at the children of the most affluent parents?
I don’t know how we solve this, but I am sure that the amazing, jaw-droppingly smart pupils I work with deserve an equal chance to excel, even if they have a disadvantaged background.
I don’t know if that’s a left wing position to take: to want an even, meritocratic playing field for all children in our country. I’m sure Dave would agree with that aim, and that we should all want our schools to be an accurate reflection of the whole of our society.
‘Choices, choices: A-levels and the facilitating subjects’ by Laurie Martin
Access Project students on a trip to Oxford University
Over the last few months I’ve been reviewing the university support strand of our programme, and a lot of my time has been spent considering how we help students make informed decisions about the subjects they study post-16.
In 2011 the Russell Group released a report entitled ‘Informed choices’ which specified the “hard” A-level subjects, frequently labelled ‘facilitating subjects’, which are most often required by leading universities.
The list has subsequently made the news after school league tables generated by the Department for Education for the first time included the percentage of students getting AAB in these subjects.
There’s a bit of misunderstanding surrounding the definition of ‘facilitating subjects’, and how it’s been put to use in these tables. There was also plenty of hand-wringing after many secondary schools (and indeed independent schools) were shown to be failing in this new measure.
Following the publication of the tables, the Russell Group released a cogent response in which they stated: “it would be wrong to use this simple indicator as a measure of the number of pupils in a school who are qualified to apply successfully to a Russell Group university.”
Our three-strand programme
In their original document they clarify this further: ‘Generally speaking students who take one ‘soft’ subject as part of a wider portfolio of subjects do not experience any problems applying to a Russell Group university.’
One of my colleagues rightly noted recently that ‘too often people point to something the government wants to measure in schools (e.g. number of students going to Russell Group universities) and claim that the logical consequence is that schools will neglect everything else in relentless pursuit of that goal.’ And there’s certainly been talk of inadvertently creating an “under-class” of otherwise academic A-level choices, as schools pursue subjects measured in the tables at the expense of other, perfectly suitable A-level options.
That doesn’t seem to me to be the intention, and it’s churlish to think that the Russell Group’s information is responsible for this potential outcome.
Ultimately, the term ‘informed choices’ pertains not only to those made during GCSEs, but those made in years 12 and 13 – in short, choices that extend beyond those about A-level subjects. Choosing sensibly at A-level will make choices concerning further education easier: the rationale behind publishing the ‘facilitating subjects’ is not to straight-jacket schools, but to facilitate access to competitive universities.
Informed choices is something that dictates our whole approach to access. When we’re approached by students who are not sure what they’d like to study at university, but are currently choosing A Level options, the Russell Group list of facilitating subjects is an invaluable tool. It recommends those subjects that give the broadest preparation for most courses at competitive universities. And as we expand into more schools across London, we are committed to ensuring that disadvantaged students receive the best quality advice.
‘What Fame! The Musical and South Indian food taught me about Education’ by Tom Slatter
There is nothing wrong with business.
There is something wrong with thinking an organisation is a business when it is not.
In the last two weeks, through eating South Indian food and helping out with the school musical, I have learnt a lot about the place of business practices in education.
A business can expect to have clear outcome measurements. We have provided our service to this many people, and made this much profit. We can measure this and be sure of our success.
Over lunch at a marvellous South Indian restaurant on Sunday, I discussed outcome measurements with a family member who works in the NHS. We talked about government ideas for measuring outcomes in hospitals which involve asking patients and their loved-ones to fill in questionnaires.
In practice this is fraught with difficulty. How do you collect data if the patient has no family and cannot answer for themselves? What about the brilliant clinician with a brusque bedside manner who receives poor feedback from patients for this reason alone?
What does this have to do with the musical Fame!? Earlier this month I played bass guitar for Oasis Academy Enfield’s first musical production. I was privileged to share in a fantastic, communal experience, to see pupils singing, dancing and acting in one of the best school productions I’ve ever seen.
Fame! At Oasis Academy Enfield was a triumph.
The experience will have many benefits for the pupils, most importantly because culture is good for us all, but also for the secondary skills they will develop. Drama gives us the confidence to speak in front of others; all the arts give us the creativity and teamwork that are vital for the world of work.
I am not necessarily sure it will have a direct impact on the raw data that is used to compile league tables.
Now, Oasis Academy Enfield happens also to be very good at the academic, but in the wider education system the incentives are such that raw data from a specific set of results in a specific set of exams are what matter most.
Exam results are not profits. A host of other factors, the most important of which are socio-economic, come in to play when trying to make sense of raw data from schools.
How do you measure outcomes in education? Well, randomised, controlled trials are a good tool as is the placing of data in context.
I wouldn’t claim to know the answers, but the arts are already under fire and if we concentrate solely on what the system incentivizes, performances like Fame! might be under threat.
‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ by Reanna Keer-Keer
Before I start the blog post proper, a headline: there’s a link to a fantastic TES article below, covering our Creative Writing clubs at Central Foundation Boys’ School. Please read all about it!
As a Programme Coordinator for The Access Project, I often deal in detail – for instance, matching each student with a tutor and all the tiny sub-tasks this entails. Sometimes in the midst of ensuring the small aspects of the programme go well, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture. For me recently, this TES article became a case in point.
I was of course thrilled by this opportunity to promote the students’ work, the school and the project! However, I quickly became engrossed in the nuts and bolts of making it happen – which date and time can the TES come in? What was the plan for the session? Are the students continuing to attend the club? Have we got explicit school permission to go ahead? How should the (somewhat complex) inception and context of the club and project be explained? Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
While resolving all of these details was advantageous, I lost sight of the main attraction – the students! They are funny, quirky and intelligent writers, a credit to the school, and it is because of them that the article is so entertaining. Had all else not gone to plan, this would have remained. So I have set myself a belated New Year’s resolution, for the success of the project and my own sanity – don’t sweat the small stuff! It’s the strong and positive core of a project that matters most, which for us is our brilliant students.
The article, and Editor’s comment.
‘Crying Wolf: education post-14′ by Laurie Martin
Two years after recommendations were made by Prof. Alison Wolf in her 2011 ‘Review of Vocational Education’, come September 2013 14-year-olds will, for the first time, be admitted at FE colleges. The idea, in its basic form, is a simple one: ‘to attract students of all abilities who want early access to practical and technical education’.
There is some irony in the fact that a report by an academic called Wolf is receiving little to no attention in the media. More worrying, however, is how equipped schools, FE colleges and local authorities are for this change.
There are two primary causes for concern.
Firstly, there is a suggestion that the students most likely to move to FE at 14 are those who qualify for the Pupil Premium. This is good news if FE colleges are in a position to target their resources, though recent history tells us this is unlikely: just this month Ofsted rounded on schools for a second year in a row, criticizing the way many of them spend their funding, set to increase in 2013. With a likely high proportion of PP students, FE colleges will suddenly need to administer payment effectively (they’d do worse than consulting the Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Fund toolkit).
Second is the standard and availability of information given to 14-year-olds about their range of options. We need to avoid the prospect of schools passing the buck to FE colleges, handing over “difficult” students to bolster their performance in GCSE league tables. This is, of course, unlikely to happen, because schools have a statutory obligation to provide impartial advice. But as the provision of post 16 advice comes under fire, there is waning confidence in schools’ ability to inform their most at-risk pupils from the age of 14.
It strikes me that the thrust of the proposal is sensible: GCSEs are manifestly not appropriate for every student in the country. But we should be talking about these changes, raising their profile so that the transition is smooth not only for schools, but for the pupils most likely to lose out. “Crying” now means calling for collective scrutiny – from Ofsted, government and organisations who work in the sector – to ensure Wolf’s recommendations are met fully and in their intended manner.
‘Free e-ducation: the rise of online universities’ by Florence Morton
When 12 year old Khadija Niazi got up to speak at the Davos World Economic Forum this January she wasn’t, apparently, the youngest speaker they’d ever had, but she must have ranked up there. This pre-teen from Pakistan doesn’t necessarily represent the average Davos delegate, but what she had to say has still garnered a lot of attention.
Khadija was in Switzerland to talk about the rise in “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOCs), after scoring top grades at the age of 11 on a university level Physics course provided online. This type of learning has been around for some time; as far back as the late 1990s, Cisco CEO John Chambers suggested that “education over the Internet is going to be so big, it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error.” While we may not have reached that point quite yet, the numbers enrolling on online courses have recently snowballed.
- Does online learning threaten institutions like Cambridge (pictured)?
This is due in large part to an increase in quality. Currently the two biggest players in the MOOC market are Coursera and Udacity. Both have Ivy League backing – Udacity was set up by a former Stanford professor, and Coursera is a platform for courses run by 33 colleges including Princeton, Stanford, and Duke – and students from all over the world can enroll (for free) to study everything from Statistics to Greek and Roman Mythology.
At this point I should make a confession: reading the Davos reviews was not my first introduction to the idea of global online learning. Earlier this year, in a fit of enthusiasm brought on by a New Year’s resolution to try something new, I enrolled on a “Global History” course run by the University of Virginia via Coursera. The course consisted of video lectures and a weekly quiz. Participants also had access to reading lists and a discussion forum. I diligently made my way through the first week’s mini lecture series but then fell behind and never recovered. I decided that my choice of topic was the problem, however, not the concept and have since signed up to slightly less weighty course titles (evidently I’m no Khadija) in the hope that I’ll have more staying power once they start in a few weeks’ time.
What drew me in was the idea that anyone, anywhere can join. Everyone who wants to take part can, all that’s required is a little motivation and an internet connection. This is truly global learning and, as Khadija’s story demonstrates, it has the power to change lives. No wonder the Davos delegates were taking note.
‘A top-heavy approach to social mobility’ by Chris Hall
One of the fortunate things about working to get disadvantaged students into top universities is that you rarely feel alone. There are lots of other organisations investing time and effort in trying to help young people from less academically privileged backgrounds succeed in relation to university access. Often this makes my job much easier. If a student wants to experience life at a Russell Group university I can direct them towards the Sutton Trust’s Summer School Programme or to one of the many events organised by the widening participation departments of most universities, saving me the hassle of having to organise a trip or residential myself.
Many of these organisations and initiatives receive generous support from the private sector. Lots of large corporates direct parts of their CSR budget towards promoting access to higher education, with schemes ranging from e-mentoring to targeted internships. This focus on university access, and in particular on access to top universities, is hardly unwelcome given the sheer scale of the problem. Everyone involved in this area can reel off a thousand statistics to support the contention that access to highly selective universities is largely a privilege of the privileged. However, I’m not sure that this narrow focus is entirely healthy.
Figures from IPPR
The link between educational attainment and socio-economic background is strong. Moreover, it applies across the full spectrum of educational achievement. A student on free school meals (FSM) is less likely to get an A* than a student not on free school meals, but they are also significantly more likely to get an E than their better off peers. In fact, the so-called ‘attainment gap’ is actually larger towards the lower-end of the achievement spectrum. The IPPR have highlighted the ‘long tail of underachievement among FSM that needs to be tackled’. Their conclusion is striking: ‘While raising achievement at the top is important, it is only a small part of the problem’.
So why is so much effort directed towards raising achievement at the top? I can think of three plausible explanations. The first is to do with framing. The transition between school and university provides a window through which we can clearly see the scale of the problem, much in the same way that the representation of women in boardrooms highlights the problem of gender discrimination in the workplace. Shocking statistics about the number of former-FSM students studying at Oxford grab our attention in a way that others do not.
The second reason concerns the appeal of certain narratives. The contemporary charitable twist on the classic rags to riches tale is that of the poor teenager whose parents never went to university who overcomes all the obstacles to win a place to study Medicine at Cambridge. The story excites people, it gets people passionate and it occasionally moves them to action. For those reasons it has become the story of choice for the charity website and the annual CSR report. The student who goes from getting E’s to getting C’s might be just as significant from the point of view of breaking the link between wealth and attainment, but their story is less ‘newsworthy’ than that of their high-achieving classmate.
Thirdly, the focus on a good university education can in part be traced to the life experiences of those working for and supporting organisations that promote university access. For most of these people their (usually) Russell Group university education was a transformative experience which opened the door to all of the opportunities that they have enjoyed subsequently. It is hardly surprising that they are then keen to ensure that the same experience is available to those from less privileged backgrounds. An education at a leading university has become the gold standard for equality of opportunity in part because of the role it played in the lives of those now working to promote social mobility.
None of this is intended to in any way undermine the valuable work that is going on in this area. A high-quality university education really is the gateway to many professions, and for that reason alone university access should continue to be at the forefront of any discussion about social mobility. Nonetheless, we need to guard against our collective efforts to address educational inequality becoming too top-heavy. After all, the link between disadvantage and educational attainment is just as egregious at the lower end of achievement as at the top, and directing all of our time and energy towards the latter would run counter to the principles that cause us to value social mobility in the first place.
‘Tutorfair and TAP supporting UCAS applications’ by Edd Stockwell, Tutorfair
That was inspired! On 6th Feb Tutorfair and The Access Project held a UCAS workshop at Highbury Fields School, in North London.
15 tutors worked in small groups with 50 students helping them learn about selecting a course; choosing a university; writing their personal statements; and financing their degree. The four areas had professional worksheets with guidance for the tutors and handouts for the students. It was split into tight 20 minute focus groups with the students moving between the classrooms.
After a nervous first session with everyone still finding their feet the sessions quickly warmed up. The small group setting enabled the students to get personal attention and feedback. Shy students were encouraged; nervous tutors quickly found their feet; and the dreams and expectations of these promising students could be bought together ready for their UCAS applications.
HFS had done an amazing job helping students do work experience and encouraging them to think about their degree courses when choosing their A-levels. Several of the students were part of voluntary organisations, clubs and charities and were hungry for the support and encouragement the tutors provided.
In the personal statements group students walked away with the structure and materials to really sell themselves. The aim was to emphasise why they wanted to study a particular subject and demonstrating – rather than just asserting – why they are suitable for it.
The finance session covered the government’s student loan program, scholarships and way’s of living cheaply. The difference between £50k of cash, a £50k loan and £50k of student debt – was not lost.
Choosing a university and choosing a course were more about opening up options: filling in the blanks about foreign cities and hearing the tutor’s personal stories about the courses they enjoyed and the friends they met along the way.
‘The Big Debate’ by Andrew Berwick
I went to see an after-school debating session at Globe Academy yesterday, run by Jenny, one of our Programme Coordinators. I was going along ostensibly to observe and to pass on some wisdom/tips/tricks/sympathy gleaned from my time as an English teacher, but ended up rolling my sleeves up to work with the students. This was much more fun.
One thing that struck me was how genuinely articulate the group was. Pretty much every student in the room was able to digest another student’s point, pick holes in it and offer a neat refutation. (On a debate on the death penalty: “You say we should take an eye for an eye; yet if we all do that then we’ll end up blind.”)
They were also capable of adopting an opposing point of view to their own; one student who was violently opposed to animal testing ended up arguing very persuasively for it about 10 minutes later. (So well, in fact, that her team ended up winning. Kudos.)
Given all of this raw intellectual firepower, I had trouble initially putting my finger on what it was that the students didn’t have: what it was that prevented them from developing a truly nuanced, powerful debating style. On reflection, I think it was the ability to link each of their very cogent points to each other, whilst recognising how this overall argument fitted into a wider school of thought about the topic. And, on reflection, I don’t think it’s surprising that this was where they struggled.
When do young people get to see a nuanced and sophisticated debate? When do any of us? I remember at university one of my supervisors advocating that we all watch Newsnight Review as, in his view, this show featured the only genuine regular debate in all of the available hours of television programming. (This was part of his wider lament of the standard of critical thought in society, in which I am sure my latest essay played a central role.)
I tend to agree with him. Wherever we see attempts at debate on television and other media it tends to be one-dimensional; on Channel 4 News, a guest is wheeled out to ventriloquize one side of the debate whilst their diametric opposite shouts over a chasm of misunderstanding from the other side of the studio. Or, in Question Time, the panellists answer a set of quixotic one-liners from a studio audience, never given the time or space needed to contextualise a response before heckling inevitably sets in.
In this context, I was pretty delighted to see some young people engaging with a complicated moral issue and assembling an (at times) powerful argument. My favourite point was when one of the more high-spirited girls arguing in favour of animal testing took her opposition to task for their apparent hypocrisy – pointing to the pots of Vaseline around the table and asking them to review Vaseline’s policy on animal testing.
Point well made, I thought. This is the best debate I’ve seen in ages.
‘Whose role is this anyway?’ by Jenny Livings
I am a month into my time at The Access Project now, and I can safely say it has been a whirlwind of experiences – taxing, exciting, stressful, entertaining, tiring, motivating, and so much more.
I have been challenged with building many new professional relationships, all of varying degrees of complexity, but all with their role to play. I have begun collaborating with teachers, burdening the helpful IT staff with my technical incompetence, bending the ear of my fellow Programme Coordinators, and making desperate calls to the premises staff at 5.30pm on a Friday (who successfully retrieved my handbag from my locked office).
And of course, the students. The very reason for the existence of The Access Project, and the same very reason that I have taken so much enjoyment from my time so far (possibly also a lot of the stress too…).
Students earn a tutor through after-school clubs
For example, in order for our students to earn a tutor they are required to attend six weeks of workshops to demonstrate a commitment and motivation to succeed. In light of this, I had a student ask if he could attend two of my workshops per week to qualify for a tutor in half the time. This was something I wasn’t entirely sure on our policy for, so I informed the student I would get back to him. After subsequent discussion it was agreed that this was acceptable. However I have been reflecting on this since, and am now wondering why I questioned this in the first instance. This young man was so keen to earn himself a tutor to boost his grades that he was willing to sacrifice two evenings a week to get this as soon as possible. If this doesn’t show commitment, I’m not quite sure what does.
Another example. I had a year 10 student ask if she could have a tutor in AS level maths (as opposed to GCSE) as she is studying this early. Again, I said I would double check (as we don’t currently have A level tutors assigned to Globe Academy due to the lack of sixth form). Following further reflection, I concluded that the fact that the student is not only bright enough to be doing AS level maths two years early, but also motivated to do well in it by asking for a tutor, is surely reason enough for me to source an AS level tutor for her?! I decided that I would be on a mission to find “The World’s Best AS Level Maths Tutor” for “The World’s Most Dedicated Student” and that it would be a difficult journey ahead, but that I was prepared for the challenge… Needless to say that this request was met with: “of course we can accommodate this, not a problem”. And so my mission came to an abrupt (yet successful) end.
These two examples highlight the somewhat of a role reversal that I have been experiencing; we are supposedly here to inspire students, and yet I find that I am frequently inspired by them.
‘Making it Appen: Our Changing Sense of Smart’ by Alice Penfold
What do we mean by smart? Do we mean intelligence, cleverness or acumen? Or has the meaning of smart become something more… mobile?
Travelling home on the tube earlier this week, I was particularly struck by the changing sense of smartness: about half of the other passengers in my carriage were engrossed in some kind of Blackberry, Android or iPhone – the ‘new smart’ – despite being underground, with absolutely no signal.
I realise that the new smart is not a new revelation. Computer science is set to become part of the English Baccalaureate and Education Secretary Michael Gove announced in January 2012 that he was revamping the ICT curriculum in schools, to meet the needs of present day technological developments.
Nevertheless, my commute got me thinking about the changing sense of smart: in my first Business and Enterprise workshop for sixth formers at St Aloysius’ College, I set the students the task of coming up with a new – and smart – idea for an app. Their knowledge and use of the new smart was, by itself, not enough. To come up with original ideas, the students needed confidence and creativity, and to share their work at the end of the session, the students had to make verbal presentations to the whole group. These needs cannot be matched by technology alone, however smart it is. Let’s face it, even FaceTime (Apple’s video-chatting technology) is no replacement for communicating with other people who are actually in the same room as you.
On its website, Apple celebrates its link with Flitch Green Academy, located just outside London. The school uses technology to help improve the children’s speaking and listening skills — particularly for many of Flitch Green’s shy children. “Apple products have given children the tools for them to develop their confidence. And it’s been a great assessment tool for us as well”, says Flitch Green Academy teacher Tracey Bratley.
Well, maybe. Having only had a smartphone myself for a few months, it worries me how much I have already come to rely on it. Microsoft has recently urged that all primary children should learn computer science and I completely agree that this is important for 21st century education. However, it is essential that ‘smart’ changes do not come at the detriment of key, personable skills: if we are able to maintain an emphasis on the value of face-to-face discussions and presentations, alongside our increasing reliance on technology, then we’ll be onto something really smart.
 “smartphone: any of various telephones enhanced with computer technology” (OED entry, September 2007)
‘Time for you and time for me’ by Laurie Martin
This morning I took precisely 4 and a half minutes to steal myself from my computer, make a cup of tea and read this blog called ‘Time to Think’.
Written by BBC Home Editor, and one-time TAP speaker Mark Easton, it advocates finding greater space for contemplation, in a society increasingly hooked on the immediacy of the present.
This “cult of immediacy”, Easton reckons, is spoiling us with fantasies of now-ness – we’re all busy spinning fictions of urgency, leaving ourselves oblivious to the benefits of pause and reflection.
It’s not, admittedly, a new idea. The “Mindfulness” movement which is slowly, and methodically, sweeping across the States and parts of Europe, credits the teachings of the Buddha for its findings: that a calm awareness of one’s own thoughts and feelings can lead to decreased anxiety and depression.
It’s an idea, then, that’s taken its time.
Set against this growing theory of the importance of reflection, however, are the likes of Daniel Kahneman, whose hugely successful Thinking, Fast and Slow differentiates between two very different modes of thought. For Kahneman, occasionally we unfairly relegate emotional and instinctive thought (what he labels System 1) below logical, methodical contemplation (System 2). Now-ness might be endemic in this world of rolling news and 140-character rapidity, but it might not be all that bad. Or at least, equally flawed as slow human judgment. And as another recent blog from The Access Project suggests, time is in short supply, particularly when it comes to education.
While my thoughts busied with these two competing theories, I was gradually drawn to a remembered passage of the poet T.S.Eliot. Written when time was very much on his side – he was just 22 – ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is a dramatic monologue spoken by the eponymous (anti)hero: a balding, somewhat pathetic middle-aged man contemplating the final years of his life.
‘And indeed there will be time’ Prufrock muses,
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
I sipped my tea, now the wrong side of luke-warm. As ever, Prufrock proved to be a spokesperson for a universal human problem. What he wanted was a lifetime of potential, condensed into a breath. What he got was a stolen minute, moments before switching on the kettle.
‘Industrious learning doesn’t take a revolution’ by Holly Maguire
Embarking on my first study skills workshop with sixth-formers at St Thomas More RC School, my main goal with the session was to encourage the students to reflect on their learning habits and how they can become more efficient. The students were asked to write an individual revision timetable for their half term holiday, taking into account their specific needs, with prompts like “What time of day are you most awake?”, “In what environment are you most likely to be distracted and why?” and “How can you best motivate yourself?”
Yet in writing my PowerPoint I realised I hadn’t taken into account its conflict with the methods of learning entrenched in the school structure. While my workshop includes suggestions like “take a short walk when you feel you are losing concentration” and “consider attempting the tasks you find hardest first”, few schools can accommodate these techniques and maintain classroom discipline. Indeed, I couldn’t permit students to take a walk outside because they are bored by my workshop, or to complete my presentation in a different order to their classmates. However, the fact remains that a student attending to their needs in this way improves their learning.
This conflict spreads wider than the differences between revision and classroom learning. A candidate’s ability to work independently and creatively is increasingly valued by employers, yet the UK education system necessarily consists of bells and timetables and large class sizes. Our schools may be based on the Industrial Revolution model of education, but we are no longer preparing the majority of our students for work in the factories. The success of Google’s 20% time initiative is evidence of what is hopefully a growing trend towards creativity and engagement in business. We need to adapt our learning environments to create a motivated, imaginative and efficient workforce. So how can we attempt to resolve this?
At The Access Project we see creative and varied lessons implemented in our schools all the time, but with employers’ desire for independent workers it is more important than ever that students have the opportunity to develop these skills outside the classroom. They can adjust themselves to working in a less structured environment without compromising the stability provided by the schools system.
Our tutorials require students to organise their time effectively, prioritize what they need to focus on in their tutorials and communicate with their tutor one-on-one for an hour. The after-school activities broaden their interests and improve their ‘soft skills’. These steps to modernizing learning aren’t revolutionary. By encouraging students to apply and develop the skills they learn at school in the world outside, we can generate a 21st century approach to learning.
‘Cautionary tales from The Sutton Trust-EEF toolkit’ by Laurie Martin
The relationship between spending and pupil outcome is notoriously problematic. Over the last ten years an increase in spending of 68% has led to only very minor increases in outcomes.
The Pupil Premium, a 2011 government initiative which allocates money to schools for pupils on Free School Meals (FSM) and in care, was intended to hand greater autonomy to schools to break the link between family income and educational attainment. Within months however, Ofsted had rounded on the government policy, claiming that money was not being targeted effectively, or else used to plug holes in school budgets and tarmac playgrounds.1
The Pupil Premium is not the only transferral of powers from local authority to school control that has come under fire recently. Careers provision in schools was criticised by the cross-party Commons education select committee on Wednesday, who said there was “worrying deterioration” in the standard of careers advice since the scrapping of the Connexions service under the 2011 Education Act.
Partly in response to this climate of confusion, The Sutton Trust and The Education Endowment Fund today updated their “toolkit”, first published in 2011 in conjunction with Durham University, intended to advise schools on effective uses of the Pupil Premium.2
The toolkit is designed to address the inefficacy of pupil spending, bringing “coordination and coherence” to an “increasingly fractured landscape of activities” by rating 30 different approaches to improving attainment.3
It’s a fantastic – and important – piece of research. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my time at The Access Project, it’s that effective interventions are difficult to rate when you’re “on the ground”, tracking progress on a micro level. And the updated toolkit is timely not simply because the Pupil Premium is set to rise – £900 per student next year – but also for its renewed findings on the efficacy of “mentoring”.
The headline – so far as The Sutton Trust’s own press release was concerned – was clear: “Poor Mentoring Can Be Worse Than No Mentoring”. Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of the Education Endowment Foundation and of the Sutton Trust, added that the findings provided “cautionary tales about the importance of getting programmes like mentoring right”.
There are a few observations we need to make here.
Firstly, while the findings showed that the effect of mentoring is variable, they also discovered that it was almost twice as effective on students from disadvantaged background.4
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly in its ramifications for The Access Project, is the definition of mentoring. “Mentoring in education aims to develop young people’s strengths” the research says “by pairing them with an older volunteer, sometimes from a similar background, who can act as a positive role model.”
The Access Project doesn’t do mentoring. It may seem like a minor semantic departure to call our volunteers “tutors”, but it marks a crucial distinction between a relationship intended merely to provide role models, and one designed to improve attainment.
Mentoring has to be a secondary outcome. Of course we are regularly buoyed by the stories percolating from our students and tutors about positive relationships that have formed. Our students travel to the tutor’s place of work precisely because we believe that aspiration underpins effective learning: tutors often do become role models, raising aspirations and giving advice on careers and further education.
But as far as we are concerned the intervention is a fundamentally academic one. Our volunteers are academic highflyers, who are trained to get the best out of their students.
So if the toolkit provides us with “cautionary tales”, we hope that the pairings we broker between volunteer graduates and disadvantaged students can be the much-needed good news story.
1 Ofsted says poor pupils losing out on ‘premium’ funds
2 EEF Toolkit
3 Sutton Trust Comment on OFFA Access Agreement Guidance
4 EEF Toolkit – Mentoring
‘The folly of a prideful ego’ by Olivia Ide
Today, in a fit of enthusiasm, excitement and ego, I wasted an hour and a half on a Salesforce folly.
Florence emailed me and asked if I could help her narrow the field of available tutors to make it easier to match a student with the most suitable tutor. It was a bright and crisp Thursday morning and I leapt upon the opportunity to use my arsenal of Salesforce skills and create a masterpiece. I had a vision – it was going to be a rapier of a report: sharp and (according to Wikipedia) ideally used for thrusting attacks. It would cut through the bureaucracy that was holding Florence back and, once she had proved its efficacy, we would triumphantly parade it in front of the other Programme Coordinators (PCs). They would surely heap praise upon it and its creator, and I would bask in emailed compliments.
This, alas, was not what happened.
I threw myself with abandon into trying to solve the problem: thrashing around wildly between list views, contact fields, workflows and report types – tweaking, adding, merging and generally moving things around as I went.
I won’t go into the gory details of skirmishes lost and won as I tried to mold Salesforce to my every whim. I shall say only this: by the end, I really needed a cup of tea.
The result was a Frankenstein’s monster. It seemed to be the unholy child of an excel spreadsheet and a land war in Asia. It was a report only a mother could love and – as its creator – love it I did.
With glee I emailed it to Florence and awaited the verdict. Would it live? Was it going to change the lives of PCs across The Access Project and leave my name written amongst the stars?
No, it really wasn’t. Florence emailed back minutes later, not only to tell me that the report was a waste of space and that I was a failure (I’m exaggerating, but I knew what she meant…), but that she’d come up with a really simple fix instead: with the addition of one tiny value to a single list, the problem could be solved. To add insult to my now prolific mental injuries, I noticed that she’d actually mentioned this fix in her first email and I, in my haste to achieve, had ignored it.
And so I write this, humbled by my experience. I hope that, in future, I have learnt to pause for thought before rushing in where PCs fear to tread.
‘Child poverty: what is the 2020 vision?’ by Kathryn Busby
In 2010 the Child Poverty Act was passed with cross-party support, committing current and future governments to eradicate child poverty, with significant reductions to be achieved by 2020. Now, just three years later, the prospects of achieving the 2020 targets are bleak.
End Child Poverty reports that one in three children in the UK are currently living in poverty and Shelter estimates that last year 75,000 children woke up on Christmas morning without a home.
Two weeks ago, in response to a parliamentary question, the Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey reported the impact of planned changes to benefits and tax credits on child poverty in the UK – it will result in 200,000 more children falling into poverty.
The Minister was reporting on relative poverty and did not reveal the predicted impact on absolute levels of poverty, which the government consider to be more important. However, a report published this month by Child Poverty Action Group and 2011 research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies both predict a significant increase in absolute as well as relative child poverty over the next decade, as a direct result of the coalition government’s planned changes to in-work and out-of-work benefits.
The most recent proposals are now being debated in the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, which if passed will limit increases to most working-age benefits and tax credits to 1% for the next three years. As this is certain to be lower than inflation, the price of housing, heating, food and other essentials will rise more quickly than benefit payments and many families will no longer be able to make ends meet.
We know that growing up in poverty can dramatically affect a child’s health, life chances and educational attainment. The government’s own social mobility strategy notes that the poorest children do worse than their better off classmates and this gap in development starts to emerge between children as early as age 22 months.
Yet, instead of ending child poverty by 2020, we are likely to begin the next decade by wasting the talents of another generation and denying them the opportunity to realise their hopes and ambitions. There is an old adage that society should be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens, including its children. So what does this say about us?
‘The Tyranny of the Spreadsheet – Is it important, or is it just easy to measure?’ by Tom Slatter
This week at The Access Project we were discussing our extra-curricular workshops. This is where we help students develop their confidence, speaking skills and a host of other qualities. They are also one of the best ways to get to know our pupils. The relationship between the professional and the young person is central to education.
One difficulty we have is how to measure the outcomes of these workshops. GCSE and A-level results are easily quantifiable. You can put them into a spreadsheet and create any number of graphs. These graphs are presumably important as they are taken very seriously. When politicians and pundits talk about education, they focus on graphs, spreadsheets and raw data.
The discussion you have with a student about their university choice, the encouragement you give them during exam season, the friendly human face you present when the other adults in their lives don’t have time for them: These cannot be easily quantified and don’t easily translate to a spreadsheet. There’s no school league table for human interactions.
Before I came to The Access Project I was a secondary school teacher. In my last school there was one teacher, possibly the best keystage 3 teacher I’ve met, who would spend every lunchtime and break with pupils. He would help with work, talk to them about their problems, form great relationships. He was also a hard-as-nails disciplinarian, but despite, or perhaps because of this he was very popular and very effective.
Then he started receiving poor feedback from on high. Lessons weren’t good enough, paperwork was lacking. Boxes were not being ticked.
The teacher himself would not claim to be perfect. But speaking to me one lunch time, he asked, ‘why doesn’t the conversation I had with that year 10 girl yesterday count? What about the phone call I made to one lad’s parents to check if he was okay?’
He was an expert at teacher-pupil relationships, but these weren’t easy to measure, they didn’t tick the boxes, they didn’t go on a spreadsheet. They didn’t count.
Relationships with students should count. They transform a young person’s attitude and life chances as much as an academic lesson.
This particularly matters in schools with a disadvantaged intake where fewer young people are likely to have this sort of support at home.
Teachers, other school staff, Access Project tutors can all form these relationships with our young people. Those relationships are never going to be on a spreadsheet or in a graph. They matter, even if they are not easy to measure.
‘Exam season’ by Chris Hall
It’s exam season at Highbury Grove. Or at least I think it is. The hall is definitely set-up in the traditional exam fashion – rows of isolated desks rigorously patrolled by stern looking teachers – and the students certainly seem more stressed than usual. The trouble is that these occurrences are so common in school that I’m not sure whether there even is such a thing as ‘exam season’. With November entries, January exams, teacher assessments, mock exams and summer exams the academic year could almost be described as a series of assessments occasionally punctuated by lessons.
I exaggerate of course, but for the students sitting the exams, usually under a great deal of pressure, it is not difficult to see how the school year could seem like that. As soon as they approach the end of Year 9 students are told they are about to enter a critical phase of their education which will have a huge impact on the rest of their lives. For those who make it out of their GCSEs two years later with good results their reward is a massive step-up to A-levels, which often require a level of independence and depth of knowledge for which GCSEs are very poor preparation. Unsurprisingly, many students who get good GCSE results end up flunking their AS levels.
Much of the debate about assessment and school performance is skewed by vested interests and misguided principles. Some schools complain about the obsession with league tables and advocate a more holistic approach to performance simply because they are failing. Politicians like to claim that a focus on exam results is essential to promoting academic excellence. What’s needed is a complete overhaul of the way we measure school performance. It needs to be based on evidence and it needs to reconsider the balance between teaching and assessment. Above all, it needs to be underpinned by an awareness of its own consequences. Whichever measures we use to judge school performance will have a massive impact on how schools operate. If we want to avoid a situation like the one we are in now, with schools directing all of their time and effort to maximising performance within the narrow window of GCSE exams, often with little thought for how this affects pupils education in the long term, we need to remember that the performance indicators themselves can sometimes become detached from the underlying performance that they are designed to improve.
‘“Who are you trying to impress?” The Access Project’s funding model’ by Alex Kelly
The Access Project began when I persuaded the headteacher where I was Head of Media Studies that the kids would be better off if I were organising tutorials instead of teaching classes on camera angles. She let me use the equivalent of the Media Studies budget to run the programme, so effectively The Access Project started life as a small department in a school.
The motive for registering The Access Project as a charity was the thousands of pounds given away each year by grant giving trusts: most only make donations to registered charities. I needed funding so that I could expand the programme into another school, and go full-time.
The problem was, once I started writing funding applications, I realised that each trust has slightly different priorities. My first application, to a trust which promotes materials science, was all about how The Access Project helps students do better in science. The second, to a trust which is most interested in alleviating poverty, was about how we help students gain employability skills. The third was all about how we target black and minority ethnic children, and the fourth was about how we help gifted students.
Hundreds didn’t fit closely enough. A trust devoted to helping boys from Tower Hamlets do more ballet, was tempting but just didn’t quite work. All in all, writing these applications seemed slightly ridiculous – instead of shoe-horning my programme into a size that fitted the trusts, surely I should have been thinking about how to improve it for the students with whom I was actually working?
Happily a few applications came good. The next problem was that they came with restrictions – for example, the money had to be spent on certain things, I had to try to work with other organisations which had also been awarded money, or I had to write regular progress reports. And I compelled myself to attend events where I thought I could schmooze further grant giving trusts.
A couple of years after The Access Project started, one of our tutors put me in touch with her boss, and a few months later the firm agreed to pay for The Access Project at their local school, with the firm also providing the bulk of the volunteers. Effectively The Access Project had become a corporate social responsibility programme. This seemed to be a much better revenue stream: rather than persuading people that our programme was worthy of a gift, we were being paid to provide a service.
Actually, this was better but not perfect. Pretty soon the headteacher at one of our partner schools sat me down and asked, ‘Why aren’t you charging me a proper fee for delivering this service?’ and that was absolutely right. The Access Project isn’t a CSR programme, it’s an education programme. We were in danger of being incentivised to provide an excellent volunteering experience, and a mediocre education experience.
Now we’ve come full circle: the bulk of our revenue comes from schools. This means that headteachers challenge us to deliver results – exactly as they should. It also means that they take the programme seriously and invest their staff’s time to support it.
Nevertheless, funding from corporates and grant giving trusts still plays an important role. Until we have expanded into many more schools and can spread our central office costs widely, we still need some help to cover these costs, so we try to find a corporate partner for each of our schools. And while we are testing and developing new parts of the programme we need to find investment money – like angel investment – which is where grant giving trusts come in.
The one thing I’ve learnt about funding is that charging for delivering the service that you provide is a good way to ‘keep you honest’. When you ask for a donation from someone to provide something for someone else, however much you might try to avoid it, you are incentivised to impress the donor rather than the receiver. You might think that the service is exactly what the receiver needs, but it is only when you have to impress your receiver to the point that they’ll actually pay you, that you really become efficient. We are lucky that schools (which have budgets) can act as a proxy ‘end user’ for the disadvantaged young people we are trying to help.
‘Controversy’ by Chris Hall
Last week one of my students asked at the end of debating club whether next time, as a sort-of end of term treat, we might debate something really controversial. Setting aside my surprise that recent topics – the use of torture, government regulation of Twitter and banning private schools – had apparently failed to cross the threshold of controversy, I asked the group what sorts of things they had in mind. ‘Something involving religion’ was the consensus response. Then one of the students said something interesting. ‘We can’t have a debate about religion because people feel so strongly about it that it will turn brutal and people will get disrespected’.
Some serious debating going down at Highbury Grove.
When I mentioned this to another member of staff in school I got a similar response. Some topics, I was told, were just asking for trouble given the diversity of the students and the fact that many of them have strong religious convictions. This struck me as a rather strange attitude. If indeed it was the case (and I had my doubts) that these students were incapable of engaging in a civil discussion about certain topics then surely that was something that needed to be overcome rather than just accepted. How could we expect these same students to go off and thrive at university if they were unaccustomed to having their views challenged?
Equipped with nothing more than naive determination and a particularly controversial topic (whether Britain should follow France in banning the burqa) I decided to give the students a chance. The session turned out to be the highlight of my first term in school. I ‘accidently’ mentioned at the start that some of the adults I had spoken to thought the students incapable of having a serious and well-mannered debate about such issues, with the result that they spent the next hour trying to prove them wrong.
The debate was sophisticated, engaging and respectful at all times. Many students were forced to argue for a position that was radically different from their own view. One student looked at me in utter astonishment when I asked him during preparation time to tell me why religious freedom was a good thing. I refused to accept his claim that it was obvious or just common sense until he was forced to articulate some genuinely good reasons why it was important. At the end of the session the same student announced in front of the group that he’d realised today for the first time that debating was not about attacking beliefs or having the right opinions, but about giving good reasons to back up your position. It might not have been controversial, but as an end of term message I was pretty satisfied with it.
‘Tony Gallagher talks to KSA’ by Gianni Fortes, Year 10, King Solomon Academy
On November 14th King Solomon Academy were delighted to welcome the editor of The Daily Telegraph, Tony Gallagher.
Mr Gallagher tutors for The Access Project, and was invited to speak to at KSA to launch their very own newspaper, The King’s Speech.
The latest edition takes shape.
He spoke to the class of 2016 about the challenges of running a national newspaper, and the students absorbed as much knowledge as they possibly could as he explained the dedication required in order to be a successful journalist.
Mr Gallagher spoke on the morning of the American election, and was able to show the students his front page, explaining how he avoided predicting the result too early. He also gave us a hint of what his Leader column would feature the next day, which was a thoroughly amazing insight.
He then spoke about The Daily Telegraph website, and said that thanks to modern technology he could find out how many people were accessing a specific story at any one time, which helped him and his team decide which stories to pick on a daily basis. He said that society was changing, and that technology was becoming increasingly important for newspapers.
Mr Martin, Programme Coordinator at King Solomon Academy, said: “It was absolutely fantastic to have Mr Gallagher speak, and it has really helped inspire our own budding journalists.”
“The reporter himself [Gianni Fortes] has cut his teeth on The King’s Speech, and has now earned himself a TAP tutor. Let’s watch out for his name in the national bylines in the future!”
After answering some questions from the students, Mr Gallagher rushed back to the Telegraph offices, to organise the newspaper for the next day. On behalf of KSA, I would like to thank Mr Gallagher for taking the time out of his busy schedule to come to talk to us.
Gianni Fortes, Year 10, King Solomon Academy
TAP Top Trumps #3: Reanna Keer-Keer
Reanna joined us in August 2012, and is a Programme Coordinator at Central Foundation Boys’ School. She studied Psychology at York University, and also worked for 3 years in Mental Health in the NHS.
What made you want to get involved with TAP?
- I love working with young people to maximise their potential, which is exactly what TAP does. It’s great to be in school too, where you can have a real impact.
What has the response been like in your school?
- Brilliant – the students are really motivated and the staff are so positive about the programme. Not a day goes by without someone getting involved!
What unique quality do you think you bring to the team?
- Laughing at inappropriate moments in meetings.
What has been your best/funniest moment so far?
- Seeing how proud the first student to qualify for a tutor this year was (and how he suddenly tried to look cool and not too proud when his friend arrived) – that was both very funny and made the hard work getting the programme set up worthwhile.
‘Watching Brief’ by Andrew Berwick
Around 6 months into my role as Director of Tutoring I realised that I had probably majored on the Directing as opposed to the Tutoring; in fact, I hadn’t yet seen a tutorial.
(I feel at this point I should probably extend my apologies to all of the tutors who I have trained to deliver tutorials up until this point. Sorry.)
So, clearly something had to change. I certainly wasn’t intending to stop Directing, so I decided it was time to observe some tutorials. I got in touch with a few of our braver tutors who kindly agreed to let me sit in on their sessions. Here’s some things I learned:
Durum: More than meets the eye
- Tutorials are different. Some of the tutorials I saw were diagnostic sessions, working out what students didn’t know. Some were troubleshooting: the student had a few issues with a topic, and the tutor picked them off one by one. Still others were straight-forward instruction: the student had never seen a topic before and their tutor walked them through it.
- Small things can be big barriers to learning. In one tutorial, the tutee spent about 10 minutes trying to understand that some organic compounds boil at -20 degrees celcius (I sympathise). Students can often get hung up on misconceptions like this, which can stop them learning: however, in this case the tutor was able to address this issue straight away and overcome the student’s initial error.
- Some plants don’t have pairs of chromosomes (like humans): instead they can have sets of 3, 4, 5 – or even more. Who knew?
I’m going to try to visit a few more tutorials over the coming months. It’s great to see the amount that students get out of the sessions, and it’s also helping us in the central team to think about what additional support we can give to tutors. More importantly, it’s doing wonders for my trivia knowledge, so many thanks.
If you’re a tutor and fancy the idea of me popping into a tutorial then please do get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘The Superstar Tutors of Hong Kong’ by Florence Morton
Tutors as Action Heroes - this ad for an English-language tutorial course takes the action-hero notion one step further.
This week every magazine in the UK will be covering Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, the X Factor, and the not-so-private lives of our many music and film stars. In Hong Kong the gossip columns will probably cover similar fare, with one unusual addition. As well as reporting on the movements of the city’s pop and television personalities, they will also carry stories on some of Hong Kong’s famous “star” tutors.
According to a 2004 report, 27% of UK students have a private tutor. The figure for Hong Kong stands at 85%. The high pressure exam system in Hong Kong has created a culture where it is the norm for students to attend tutorials and after school study sessions, generating a huge demand for “cram” schools and private tuition. And with everyone trying to grab a slice of this lucrative market, some tutors will go the extra mile to make themselves stand out.
It all started when tutor Richard Eng took out an advert on the side of a bus back in 1996. Since then the cult of high profile celebrity tutors has exploded, with the best earning up to $1.5m per year. These “star” tutors rely on personality, looks, and a huge advertising budget to earn their living, with the very best becoming genuinely famous.
And with Hong Kong regularly doing well in the OECD’s PISA tests of national literacy and numeracy, perhaps all of the tutoring is having a positive impact, despite the gimmicks and airbrushed billboard advertising. The celebrity tutors are quick to point out that they must also be good at their job to enjoy repeat custom and tutoring success.
At The Access Project we believe in the positive impact tutoring can have. Our volunteer tutors enjoy a rewarding, fulfilling experience, and one which gives them the chance to genuinely change someone’s life. And that’s got to be up there with a mention in Heat, or an appearance on the side of the tube!
‘An Influential Visitor’ by Shakeel Zaman, Year 10, King Solomon Academy
Mark Easton, Home Editor of the BBC, in a radio van outside KSA!
King Solomon Academy welcomed a very influential visitor on Wednesday 4th December. Just after presenting on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, Mark Easton (Home Editor of the BBC) walked into KSA to give a speech on journalism to the class of 2016.
It was truly one entertaining assembly with elements of humour and a bit of drama. His wonderful life stories, of which every aspect points towards journalism, were absolutely inspirational, sparking a sea of questions from the enthusiastic pupils who were at the same time keen on the topic.
Overall, we all loved the subject of the assembly which was Mr. Easton and his interesting field of journalism. We’d like to thank Mark Easton for coming to our school.
Shakeel Zaman, Year 10, King Solomon Academy
‘Bring your cake to work day’ by Kathryn Busby
It is a tradition in some offices that on your birthday you bring in a cake, so that your co-workers can help you celebrate and you can secure approval and popularity for the forthcoming year.
Last week, as my birthday approached, I considered the fact that in the recent past I have managed to produce:
(a) One flourless cake (this wasn’t a feature of the recipe, I forgot a key ingredient).
(b) Three batches of fairy cakes, all produced in one afternoon, all solid enough to hammer nails.
(c) One spinach piecrust so sloppy I eventually gave up and made it into soup.
(d) One chocolate and beetroot cake that tasted overwhelmingly of beetroot (this is not supposed to happen).
It was, therefore, fortunate that when it comes to cakes, I have a secret weapon.
The birthday cake I produced on Tuesday for my colleagues here in The Access Project office has never failed me in the fifteen or more years I have been baking it. This recipe is so good that no matter how hard I try, it is impossible to mess it up.
So this is my gift to you: The Best Cake Recipe in the World…….Ever. Guaranteed to impress. I would like to credit whoever created it, but as I copied it down from Ceefax in about 1996, that’s not going to be possible. Enjoy!
CARROT, PINEAPPLE & COCONUT CAKE
2 cups of self-raising flour
2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup crushed, drained pineapple
2 cups shredded raw carrot
Cup to gram conversions: http://allrecipes.com/howto/cup-to-gram-conversions/
1. Beat eggs, then add next 7 ingredients and beat well – you get a thick mixture.
2. Stir in coconut, carrots and pineapple – now you get a runny mixture.
3. Pour into a greased 9″ x 13″ tin.
4. Bake at 350 C / GM4 for approximately 50 mins until the centre of the cake has solidified and the edges are shrinking awy from the tin.
3 oz soft cheese
2 oz icing sugar
1 tsp orange juice
Mix well, adding a little icing sugar at a time (NB. icing sugar makes it thinner not thicker).
‘Emoti-scorn: putting on a brave [smiley] face’ by Laurie Martin
The word emoticon is a portmanteau of “emotion” and “icon”, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary first entered our language in the early 90s, which also happens to be the last time it was socially acceptable to use one.
Considered the preserve of tweeny Myspace beliebers, using emoticons in the professional sphere is a one-way ticket to social exclusion (sad face), something I learnt the hard way this week.
For all those who are not au fait with emoticons (or who are simply desperate to know what the emoticon for Chris Putnam looks like)
Having finished writing what I considered a brief, crisp and concise reply to an e-mail, I promptly ratified my message with the ambivalent brother of our smiling friend, the not-so-sure-face. That’s a comma and forward slash for those of you hitherto living in cheerful ignorance.
Spotting my mistake, and being of generally sane mind, I humbly self-flagellated for around about half an hour before flushing my head down the toilet. Suffering from a curious disposition, however, I later set out to find academic corroboration for my computerised faux pas.
Sadly, the internet proved to be an unexpected foe in this piece of confirmation bias research. Numerous blogs wished no end of painful deaths on the user, with one suggesting that my use of an emoticon made me look ‘like a bona fide jerk’.
With my convictions well and truly shot, tail between my legs (is there an emoticon for this?) and my office status at an all-time low, I was just about ready to admit defeat.
Until, that is, I found this intriguing piece of research which turned that sad open bracket into a beaming closed one.
In it, the author – one Mr Franklin B. Krohn – examines the use of emoticons in computer mediated communication (CMC), investigating (yes this is real) whether they are ‘truly nonverbal clues’. Towards the end of the article Krohn prescribes the emoticon’s current usage, which he states are as follows:
Recipients who are ‘Traditionalists (born before 1946)’, claims the author ‘should not be sent e-mail with emoticons; those who are Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) probably should not be sent e-mail with emoticons; those who are Generation Xers (those born between 1964 and 1980) may be sent e-mail with some of the more common emoticons; and those who are termed Millenials (born after 1980 and coming of age after 2000) may be sent e-mail with generous use of emoticons.’
Now, it’s not my position to question the advice of experts writing in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication – particularly those writing for the volumes of 2004, which by all accounts was a vintage year for technical writing and communication research.
Though without wishing to divulge the age of my co-workers, it needs stating that my recipients were all safely within the ‘Generation Xers’, and many indeed fell within the ‘Milenials’ category.
Justice at last! I was well within my rights according to a generational recipient determinism which judged my linguistic indolence to be wholly acceptable.
And if it was OK for President Lincoln it’s OK for me.
TAP Top Trumps #2: Chris Hall
Chris joined us in August 2012, and is a Programme Coordinator at Highbury Grove School. He studied law at King’s College London and Cambridge and also taught for a year in a state secondary school.
What made you want to get involved with TAP?
- Seeing how it created meaningful links between disparate groups
What has the response been like in your school?
- Fantastic – both the kids and the staff are really excited about the programme
What unique quality do you think you bring to the team?
- A healthy scepticism
What has been your best moment so far?
- Getting 25 Year 11 students to debate the morality of war
What has been the funniest moment so far?
- Attending an event with two Sixth Form students and being asked what I was planning to study at university
“Boarding School Blues” by Alex Kelly
Patrick Derham grew up on an estate on the borders of Scotland and escaped a probable life of poverty when he was given charitable support which enabled him to attend a private boarding school. While his sisters stayed at home and went to the local sink comprehensive, he shone at his private school, eventually going on to Cambridge. Now he finds himself the headmaster of Rugby school, a pillar of the establishment, and he wants to do something for children who are disadvantaged like he was. He started the Arnold Foundation in 2003, which he has now developed into Springboard, a new foundation which will provide scholarships to disadvantaged kids so that they can attend boarding schools.
This will help young people reach their full potential. It’s great, isn’t it?
I don’t think so.
I’m not worried that students from disadvantaged backgrounds will struggle to adjust to life in a private boarding school. Young people are highly adaptable, and most private schools are welcoming.
My problem is that while this will be life-changing for a few bright students (we know they will be bright because there will be a selection process for the students getting the scholarship), taking top students out of state schools will have a detrimental effect on the students left behind.
The peer effect in schools is probably the biggest influence on students’ attitudes to education after the quality of teaching. The best research I’ve seen on the peer effect is by PISA, which is run by the OECD. One conclusion they came to is that if you put a poor student in a school which contains only other poor students, the fact that they are poor will have a far greater impact on their attainment than if you put them in a school with a more even mixture of socio economic backgrounds. And anecdotally, any teacher will tell you that students’ attitudes towards learning rubs off on each other – if you teach a class containing a critical mass of students who want to learn, the attitudes of students who have previously had little motivation to succeed will improve.
Instead of plucking out the best students at state schools and parachuting them into boarding schools, what we should be doing is ensuring that these students can excel where they are. This way they will have a positive influence on the students around them. Beyond this, we should be aiming for middle class parents to rate their local state school so highly that they decide to choose it for their own children rather than sending them to a private school. These middle class children will likely have a positive impact on the other children at the state school.
This sounds like a long-term aim, but actually this shift can happen quickly. At one of The Access Project’s partner schools, exam results and university access have improved dramatically, and suddenly we are seeing that the youngest year groups at the school represent a real cross-section of the school’s catchment area. The school is finally becoming comprehensive.
Now we are in a virtuous cycle: the school is better, we are attracting students with great attitudes, all the students are more likely to do well. Do we need to send any of them to a boarding school? Patrick has kindly invited me to Rugby to see the impact of Springboard at first hand, but at this stage I don’t think I’ll be sending tuck to any of The Access Project’s students.
‘Interview Preparation at Bain and Company’ by Chris Hall
With the prospect of admissions interviews looming for some of our students we have been working hard to help prepare them for the rigours of university interviews. Last Friday Access Project students from Highbury Grove School and Central Foundation Boys’ School went to Bain & Company to take part in a series of mock interviews.
Volunteers from Bain gave up part of their Friday afternoon to interview the students, who were matched with volunteers who had studied the subject at university. The students were questioned in a formal setting on aspects of their personal statement, their interest in the subject and on their academic aptitude. After each interview they were given detailed feedback and specific things that they could work on to improve.
All of our students took lots away from the session, even if they did find it a bit nerve-racking. Mae, who is applying for Economics at Cambridge, said:
“Being interviewed by someone who you’re not familiar with was particularly helpful; it made it more formal and serious, and it was difficult to anticipate what questions the interviewer would ask.”
The most important thing she learned was:
“to stay calm and make sure you approach the whole interview with confidence, even if you struggle on a few of the questions they ask.”
Wise words indeed!
We are keeping our fingers crossed that this practice will pay off when the real interviews take place over the next couple of months.
‘The Unexpected Crunch: Why we shouldn’t just be swallowing the unpalatable truth’ by Laurie Martin
We are prone in life to overlook facts that make us unhappy or uncomfortable. Just last week, for instance, I felt an unexpected crunch in a Thai takeaway I’d ordered, which I prudently chose to ignore.
We’re regularly called upon to face up to distressing or discomforting facts, though this so often comes with an ‘out’. Think of the charity advert that exposes us to horrible images before promising us an end to the onslaught, provided a little remuneration.
I’ve nothing against it as a fundraising strategy, but I think it tends to oversimplify our experience of what makes us unhappy and uncomfortable. It says that solutions are instantaneous, easily resolved and quickly forgotten.
But some things won’t go away with the flash of a debit card. Some things require systemic change – change that doesn’t register on a bank balance.
Often those things that are difficult to digest fail to radically alter the way we look at the world. In fact, sometimes we use those things to reinforce the status quo. The fancy psychological terminology that describes this condition is “The Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm”.
It’s a label often used to describe survivors of apocalypse prophecies. It says: All the facts point to my original assumptions being wrong. But these facts are so uncomfortable in their implications that the facts themselves must be false, not my worldview.
Just as 2012 did not spell the end of life as the Mayans predicted, educational disadvantage – despite the protestations of the right-wing media, Independent School apologists, and even university admissions chiefs – is real.
And the point that makes this a doubly difficult dose is that it won’t be solved over night.
This shouldn’t breed apathy, however, but lead us to address our expectations about how issues like this should be solved: not turning away, but confronting a fact that won’t change overnight. And not turning away means letting an uncompromising fact become part of our picture of the world in which we live.
What does this look like? Well, it means embracing the longevity of the project in hand, which is why The Access Project works with students from Year 10 (age 14/15) onwards. It means accepting difficulty as part and parcel of the process. And it means wanting to participate in change, despite there being no immediate pay back.
It’s not some paradigm shift I’m proposing, but an attempt to accept and respond to those nasty facts we tend to ignore.
Because when there’s something crunchy in our food, it says a lot about the hygiene standards of the kitchen in which it was prepared. As a particularly bad bout of food poisoning often proves.
‘Islington: Fair Enough?’ by Kathryn Busby
The North London borough of Islington, home to The Access Project’s central office and three of the four schools in which we currently work, is a notable borough for many historical reasons.
Playwright Joe Orton, author Douglas Adams, satirist William Hogarth, poet Edward Lear and ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair all lived in Islington at one time or another. Many of the suffragettes, including Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison, were imprisoned at Holloway and Dr Marie Stopes, campaigner for women’s rights and pioneer of birth control, opened her first women’s clinic in the borough in 1921.
Present day Islington is sadly notable for another reason. In stark contrast to the great prosperity enjoyed by many of its 176,000 residents, it has the second highest level of child poverty in England. Despite its wealthy image, almost half of Islington’s children live in poverty.
Motivated by the need to address this shocking statistic, two years ago Councillor Andy Hull spearheaded another Islington ‘first’; it became the first borough in the country to set up a Fairness Commission to tackle child poverty and inequality.
After holding seven public meetings (one of which was hosted by Highbury Grove – the school where TAP’s story began) in which different issues were explored with expert witnesses and local residents, the Commission made 19 key recommendations for action. Recognising that poverty and inequality have an impact on many aspects of life, these recommendations spanned education, employment, advice, training, health, housing, public space and community safety.
The Commissioners were also conscious that meetings alone are unlikely to solve many problems, so they committed to making regular progress reviews and earlier this month, on 4th October, the Islington Fairness Commission gave its first annual report into what has been achieved so far.
Among their successes is the launch of a borough-wide project for promoting reading, and they have exceeded their targets for tackling overcrowding in housing, but perhaps most significantly they have become one of the first Living Wage Boroughs in the country. This means that not only does Islington pay their own staff at least the London Living Wage of £8.30 per hour, they use their influence to ensure as far as possible that council contractors do the same (at present 80% do so).
As the Commission notes, there is still a huge task ahead and the council must remain focussed, but this was never a short-term project for Islington and there is already evidence that they are helping to improve the lives of children and adults in the borough.
However, child poverty and inequality in education, health and employment are not just key issues in Islington. So perhaps the most important of the Commission’s achievements is to have inspired others. Since they launched, Fairness Commissions have appeared in Liverpool, Newcastle, York, Sheffield, Blackpool, Leicester, Southampton and Newport. Is there one near you?
‘The Milburn Retort’ by Florence Morton
Last week the government’s advisor on social mobility, Alan Milburn, published “University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility”.
We strongly agree with the report’s conclusion that the attainment gap is a major factor in explaining the relatively small number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds making successful applications to top universities.
Our Director Alex Kelly said, ‘What a great report. We embrace the majority of its proposals, especially the emphasis on long term intervention by universities in schools. They need to do more than just organise open days.’
The report’s recommendation that universities shift their funding focus away from bursaries and fee waivers towards investment in schools and more effective widening participation programmes will, we hope, encourage more universities to get involved directly in addressing the attainment gap in schools.
In a small way, we already facilitate this. For example, postgraduate students at Imperial College are proving to be excellent one-to-one tutors.
Alan Milburn’s proposal that universities make more use of contextual data during the admissions process is also a welcome step. There needs to be a greater recognition of the fact that success at A-level is not the only indicator of the potential for success at degree level. As the report points out, students from state schools do as well, if not better than, students from private schools who have the same A-level grades. Universities need to find some way to uncover this potential during the admissions process.
We look forward to working with universities as they tackle the proposals set out by Alan Milburn.
‘Greetings from Sheffield’ by Edgar, a 2012 TAP Alumnus
Edgar secured a place at Sheffield University through clearing this summer, and is now studying Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.
He’s given us some insight into his time so far:
After the enormous trauma of almost not quite getting here, I’m extremely relieved and happy to finally be at Sheffield. What’s more, I have somehow managed not to miss a single lecture or class yet despite having 3 days with 9 am starts: a feat unparalleled amongst people I know.
I’m really enjoying it. No, not just Freshers’ Week: even my classes too are really interesting. I already have a grizzly workload however and probably should devote a lot more time to that than I currently do! Saying that, I managed to get a 2.1 grade in my last assessment by doing it in ten minutes in the morning before I dashed to lectures, which I was quite proud of.
Being a clearing student is slightly intimidating when pretty much all of your classmates have at least AAB and many AAA, but I think I can keep up. It is pretty scary having assessments that count towards quite a big percentage of our final grade for the year already – but then at least it gets it out of the way…
Sheffield itself is nice, but the weather makes Islington seem like the Costa del Sol. I do miss home, so I am looking forward to being back for reading week; to make myself feel a bit more at home, thankfully I have found some fellow Londoners (and Arsenal fans) and have not missed an Arsenal game on the TV since getting here.
All in all, things are going really well so far, and I’m still pinching myself that I’m here.
TAP Top Trumps #1: Florence Morton
Flo joined us in August 2012, and is a Programme Coordinator at Highbury Fields School. She studied PPE at Oxford University.
What made you want to get involved with TAP?
- The job has a lot of variety which is great. And, while it’s a massive cliché, it’s great to work somewhere where you can actually change people’s lives.
What has the response been like in your school?
- Really positive so far. Lots of students have been signing up and the teachers are keen for their students to get involved.
What unique quality do you think you bring to the team?
- Regular tea rounds and relentless optimism.
What has been your best moment so far?
- Meeting a student whose career goal is Secretary General of the UN – aspiration really isn’t the problem.
What has been the funniest moment so far?
- Trying to make a promotional video with the other Programme Coordinators during our induction. It probably won’t be winning any Oscars.
Video to follow on The Access Project website…
‘The myth of excellence’ by Chris Hall
Top universities are desperate to admit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Unfortunately, accepting more students from these backgrounds would dilute academic standards, a price that universities cannot afford to pay. This trade-off between excellence and widening participation informs much of the debate about access to higher education and frequently provides universities with a ready-made excuse as to why they cannot alter admissions policy to assist potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But whilst it might seem like a self-evident truth that, for example, giving lower offers to students from poorer backgrounds will reduce academic standards, the evidence suggests that this is not necessarily the case. As Alan Milburn puts it in his report on higher education, ‘the distinction between equity and excellence is a false one’. Amongst the evidence Milburn cites to defend this claim are two reports by the Higher Education Funding Council for England which found that students from state schools are more likely to do well at university than students from private schools who have the same A-level grades. The reason for this is straightforward; exam results measure achievement rather than potential, and students who have achieved a set of results despite a lower quality of education probably have more potential than those who end up with the same results after receiving a first-rate education. Rather than undermining academic excellence, giving students from disadvantaged backgrounds lower offers may actually improve standards at that university.
Even if standards did slip as a result of policies aimed at improving access for poorer students it is not clear why this should lead to an automatic rejection of such policies. As important as academic excellence is, it should not be the only goal universities pursue. Like all public institutions they have a broader responsibility to ensure that they uphold basic values like fairness. The entire pre-university education system tempers the pursuit of excellence by recognising a range of other values. The prospect of secondary schools refusing to admit less able students for fear of undermining academic excellence strikes us as unpalatable because we recognise that fairness requires that schools do everything they can to serve as wide a cross section of the local community as possible.
The fact that universities are selective does not absolve them of the responsibility to be fair. At the moment this is interpreted narrowly to mean that they must not discriminate between applicants with equally impressive applications. However, if universities are to maintain their status as progressive institutions of learning they must move towards recognising a more comprehensive notion of fairness, one that takes account of the broader impact that university admissions can have on society and acknowledges that well motivated institutions that fail to take into account the context in which they operate can end up perpetuating disadvantage. It is no longer good enough for them to hide behind the myth of excellence.
‘Success breeds success’ by Florence Morton
Mia Hamm, holder of the record for the most international goals scored by any man or woman ever, and second most capped female player in football history, once said “success breeds success”.
Mia’s own career was littered with success, and this is a sentiment which can be observed in any number of sporting victories. The American basketball teams at the London Olympics were expected to win before they even got there, and they didn’t disappoint. Similarly, Spain was assured of success in the World Cup almost before they started the final such was their confidence and belief in their own ability. The enduring dominance of British cyclists is another indicator that a successful team can just keep on winning. As anyone who’s ever been part of a team will testify, a winning mentality can prove infectious, boosting confidence and producing results far beyond what might be expected.
Moving away from sport, a 2001 article in Economica, by John Ermisch and Marco Fransesconi1 finds that parents’ educational attainments are very strongly associated with their children’s educational attainments. Parental success breeds further success for their children. Similarly, a good school finds itself ever more oversubscribed as desperate parents seek to secure a place for their child in the belief that past successes will impact on the experience of their precious offspring.
For my school, this is a big problem. It is a good school, with excellent exam results and a dedicated teaching staff, and the results are getting better every year. But the sixth form is relatively small which means students have to spend time travelling to the other campuses, and also have a smaller number of subjects to choose from. As a result many of the most able students choose to leave the school after Year 11 and go elsewhere to study for their A-levels. This is a shame for everyone, and means the school misses out on sharing in their students’ future successes. One of my aims for the year is to try and reverse this trend. If a few more of the most academic students from Year 11 choose to stay on and then do well here, more will be inspired to stay the following year. Success will breed success, creating more opportunities for everyone.
1 Family Matters: Impacts of Family Background on Educational Attainment, (Economica 2001), 68, 137-156
‘Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing’ by Laurie Martin
I didn’t think Shakespeare was particularly “cool” when I was fourteen. Myspace was cool. TV was cool. All my friends were definitely cool. Shakespeare was just that guy we had to study in English. He wasn’t cool.
(OK so the more I say the word, the more I’m aware just how out of touch with it I am. When I was fourteen I felt safe using it – now it’s like another language, but one that Rosetta Stone don’t offer intensive online lessons for.)
I give extra English tuition to two year 10s, for whom Shakespeare is so off the cool radar that NASA are due to send CURIOSITY over to search through the dust and rubble of his beleaguered reputation.
Something you discover quickly working in a school, however, is that “coolness” is pretty universal. Its object might change over time, but there are some constants. My task for this term at KSA has been to discover these, and I had been shamefully unsuccessful. Until now.
Last week we were reading Romeo and Juliet, and thinking about how Shakespeare manipulates the sonnet form in interesting and productive ways. The fact that Romeo and Juliet “share” a sonnet was kind of cool (this can’t be happening…). That they exchange a line each in the rhyming couplet was sort of neat (a fluke, surely, this Shakespeare guy is so boring!). But that this rhyming couplet might introduce a sense of emotional union – marking the moment they fall in love – was downright genius.
“That’s pretty clever”, the student smiled, nodding to himself. This was like some kind of miracle. Shakespeare was cool.
‘Tutor training, tattoos and un-deflatable sharks’ by Olivia Ide
This week I’ve been really busy. We’re fully immersed in our latest tutor training drive and I have been sending out forms, booking people into sessions, doing CRB checks and filing like there’s no tomorrow. This is quite fun as it’s a change from what I usually do, but I’m finding that the shine rubs off admin tasks rather quickly, unfortunately. That said, whenever it starts to feel repetitive, I remember the four weeks I spent data cleansing before our Salesforce came online and I start to feel better. In fact, I’m thinking of having a sign made (or maybe getting a tattoo) for those times that everyone gets when you think ‘Gosh darn it, not this again’. It will say: “At least you’re not data cleansing!” On reflection, it had better be a sign and not a tattoo – it’s likely that I’ll end up data cleansing again at some point and then at least the sign could be put away, whereas having a tattoo that said “At least you’re not data cleansing!” while data cleansing would be a bit of a slap in the face.
Dave the Shark in the old TAP office last Christmas.
But I digress.
Aside from funnelling our eager new tutors though training and CRB checks, I’ve also been rejigging Salesforce, practising upserting (in Salesforce, obviously) and helping our new Programme Coordinators to run some snazzy reports.
Rejigging Salesforce has been fun. I’ve even done some things to it this time that other people can see and appreciate, so that’s nice. Usually everyone just has to take my word for it that it’s different and inordinately better than yesterday, but just this once I had tangible proof! It was rather satisfying.
The upserting has been more… painful. I still haven’t entirely got it to work, despite my efforts. I’ll get there though, there are only so many permutations to go through – I’m pretty certain that if I start trying options at random (having run out of sensible suggestions) then it should work by next Thursday, or maybe a week on Tuesday. Perhaps.
The snazzy reports are great! Reanna and I spent about 6 hours hammering them out in her office at CFBS and now they are beautiful. You’ll know when the Steering Committee is meeting because the gasps of “What beautiful reporting!” and “My word, these are snazzy.” will be heard emanating from CFBS.
The last thing I’ve been attempting this week has been to deflate Dave, TAP’s giant, inflatable, remote controlled shark. We took him to Teach First’s Challenge 2012 (pictures to follow when I’ve located my memory card) and he was a huge success, but now he’s looming over my desk in a rather distracting fashion. I spent a about half an hour trying to deflate him, but to no avail. My online research came to naught as well – apparently he deflates very easily, but apparently not if you’re me.
One final, brief aside: are normal found-in-water, tendency-to-attack-bathers sharks also un-deflatable? I’ve never attempted to deflate a real shark, but I bet it would be really hard to do…
‘The Project in Pictures’ by Kathryn Busby
Last month we decided to liven up our plain white office walls with some big, bold reminders of our project’s impact.
Olivia Ide and Alex Kelly have taken a collection of excellent photographs over the past year and we picked the best to turn into gigantic posters which tell the story of The Access Project.
This worked so well in the office that I decided to create an online version for readers of our blog to enjoy:
So what do we do? We help motivated students from disadvantaged backgrounds win places at top universities! There are three strands to our programme:
1. One-to-one tutorials
2. After-school clubs
3. UCAS & careers support, including university visits
All of which helps our students achieve… success!
If you would like to read more about the TAP experience – in the words of the students featured in these photos and others – take a look at our student and alumni case studies.
‘Running the Berlin Marathon for The Access Project’ by Laura Poots
I am so impressed by the fantastic results achieved by the Access Project that I am hoping to raise £1500 to provide resources for more students to benefit from the Project.
I began tutoring my first student last autumn, when her aim was to achieve the English GCSE results necessary to carry on to A levels and, in the future, university. I soon discovered that it can be surprisingly satisfying to help someone understand the finer points of the use of apostrophes! My student was always full of ideas and arguments on every subject we discussed, so my main job was helping her learn how to put those ideas into a structured answer. Come results day, I was delighted (but not at all surprised) to hear that she sailed well clear of the GCSE marking furore to secure her grades.
Having seen how effective one-on-one sessions can be, I would love to help more students get involved. So, to raise these funds I will be running the Berlin Marathon. This will be my first marathon and I am pretty nervous! I am a far from natural runner, so I can’t promise much speed, but I can promise serious effort. A clever app on my phone tells me I have run nearly 300 miles in training. Two weeks ago I was struggling to get past 16 miles, so I am relieved to report that I have now made it, very slowly, to 20 miles. Which means it’s time for ‘tapering’ (a mere 12 mile run next week!) and eating lots of pasta. The thought of hard cash for the Access Project will push me along those final 6.2 miles.
Ed.: if you’d like to sponsor Laura please click here!
‘UN-personal statements’ by Chris Hall
Nobody enjoys writing a personal statement. There is something unsettling about being expected to articulate your strengths and personality on one side of A4. Many students find the prospect of writing one daunting, not least because of the significance that the document has in the university application process. For most students it is their only opportunity to communicate directly with those considering their application and the only way of providing something personal to go alongside the rigid formalism of exam results and predicted grades.
Highbury Grove students at a Personal Statement Masterclass
Having spent my first weeks in Highbury Grove School helping many of our students write their personal statements I’ve ended up feeling quite sorry for them. The whole process is riddled with contradictions. On the one hand they are told that they must produce something that reflects their own personality and character. But they are also expected to ensure that it covers everything stipulated by the particular courses and universities to which they are applying. The message from universities seems to be this: show us who you are, but make sure you show us that you are who we want you to be. The end result is a process that is stifling in its falsity.
Across the country thousands of teenagers, often helped by their teachers, are poring over every sentence of their ‘personal’ statements making sure that each one demonstrates a particular desirable quality. Part-time jobs show good time-management and the ability to work as part of a team. Choosing a particular set of A-levels illustrates dedication to a particular subject or career path. There is no room for admissions that actually the reason you decided to study Maths, Chemistry and Biology was because they were the subjects you enjoyed the most. No, it has to be part of some grand plan to go to medical school, qualify as a doctor and then pursue a specialisation as an orthopaedic surgeon.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the whole exercise favours those students who have been relentlessly coached about what universities want to hear. It also favours those who have benefitted from the widest range of extra-curricular activities. A student from a disadvantaged state school is far less likely to have been President of the school Debating Society or Captain of the Maths Quiz Team for the staggeringly simple reason that they just don’t have these opportunities. Rather than providing a corrective for the arbitrariness of considering exam grades in isolation, the personal statement perpetuates the divide between advantaged applicants and less advantaged ones. Universities concerned about widening access (and frankly that should be all of them) could do a lot worse than start looking at the role of personal statements in the application process.
“Opportunities to Match Aspirations” by Reanna Keer-Keer
The latest all-party parliamentary report suggested that social mobility in the UK has stagnated. There is an often-cited theory that the huge inequalities in British society are due largely to people from disadvantaged backgrounds having low aspirations; this has always angered me – isn’t this just one step away from blame? I hear echoes of criticisms, “They don’t succeed because they don’t want to,” or even, “Lazy!”. Recent research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that social mobility policy needs to move beyond assumptions about low aspirations, and tackle barriers that stop young people fulfilling their ambitions.
Having just started working for The Access Project at Central Foundation Boys’ School, where the project launched last year, I’m pleased to say that the students continue to prove the low aspiration myth wrong.
They are motivated: in my first 9 days in school, I’ve almost met more students than I can count – my room is never empty! They are different ages, have diverse academic records and all want to earn a tutor and improve their grades.
They are ambitious: these students have high aspirations. They want to go to top universities, to Oxbridge, or to study medicine; and they will work hard to reach their goals. Like all young people of their age, they benefit from support in learning how to get there, and fulfilling their academic potential.
They are talented: with a little nurturing, the students show creativity and academic flair. The project aims to support and complement the school’s excellent teaching with tutoring and extra-curricular activities. There are tutored students achieving A* grades and after-school club students writing novels and putting on plays in the West End. The school’s brilliant young people grasp extra opportunities with both hands.
They have the aspiration and the aptitude, but students from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t always get the same opportunities as their wealthier or privately educated peers. The Access Project is working with ambitious schools to level the playing field – the schools bring excellent education, we bring further academic support and opportunities, and the students bring the success.
‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ by Florence Morton
“Faster, higher, stronger”. The Olympic motto embodies the idea of always striving for more. Implicit in this is the idea that the person who does strive for more, who tries hardest, trains longest, and who puts in the most hours, will ultimately triumph.
There is no arguing with the fact that the hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists this summer trained hard for their achievements. The sacrifices made by this summer’s sporting heroes are very real, and very impressive. It takes unbelievable commitment to spend four years of your life training for hours every day of the week, in all weathers and against all odds. And those sacrifices, for the very best, the most committed, and those who train hardest, are rewarded every four years by records, medals, and international recognition.
The top athletes from the richest nations also benefit from full time funding, physios, nutritionists, access to highly engineered equipment and top coaches. At the highest levels athletes are working towards tiny marginal gains. Having the best support team and equipment can therefore be the difference which separates first from second and final from semi final.
Not all athletes benefit from this support. In sport, money talks. And for athletes from some of the poorer nations, even if they put in exactly the same time and energy, and begin with the same natural talent and ability they may not reach the same speed, height, or strength as athletes from richer nations. They are just as committed and competitive, but circumstance means that that commitment and sacrifice doesn’t transform into the same end achievements.
In this there are many similarities with the education system. Some students are able to take advantage of opportunities and support unavailable to their peers, and as a consequence are able to reach heights that can seem impossible to more disadvantaged students. Some students have access to summer schools, tutors, work experience, internships, and comprehensive extra curricular activities, provided either through their school or their network of family and friends. And these opportunities can provide the marginal edge that a student needs when making university or job applications.
In every case these are individuals who are working hard and want to succeed. The well supported athlete and the student presented with multiple opportunities still has to work hard to make the most of those opportunities. They are still striving to succeed, and putting in time to make that happen. The differentiating factor is the support and opportunities available to them. Every one of this years gold medal winners deserved their medal, and every one of the students going off to top universities this Autumn deserves their place. The problem which needs to be addressed is that the support enabling students to get to the top is unequal.
And this is where The Access Project fits in. By providing our students with support and resources we are helping them to make the marginal gains which can make all the difference to exam results and university applications. They already work incredibly hard, are motivated and highly aspirational. And, as in the Olympics, there are already those who triumph without any help. But anything which levels the playing field and allows students to really reap the rewards of their efforts is worth doing. As The Access Project expands hopefully more and more students will be able to use the support available to make the most of their potential and to reach “faster, higher, and stronger” than ever before.
‘Work hard, change history’ by Laurie Martin
The “American dream” may be a founding myth of the New World, but it took a timely hit last week, after research from the University of Michigan revealed that the USA has remarkably low social mobility by international standards.
Recent comments made during the Republican convention which implied that access to wealth was not determined by parental background looked increasingly fantastical, following the publication of research conducted by the sociologist Fabian Pfeffer.
Pfeffer found that parental wealth in America has an influence above and beyond the three factors commonly considered (parental education, income and occupation). The results put paid to Republican sophistry, but asks larger questions about fair access, in a world where the richest 20 per cent accounts for three-quarters of global income.
America’s social mobility failings shouldn’t breed apathy here. According to the 2011 government report, ‘Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility’, which measured the relationship between income of parents and their children, Great Britain is only one place lower than the USA , making it one of the least socially mobile places in the West.
To put that into context, that makes Britain worse than most European countries – including Italy – and better only than the States and Brazil. And to map these out in terms of education: whereas almost one in five children receive free school meals in the UK, this group accounts for less than 1 per cent of Oxbridge students.
I’m Programme Coordinator at King Solomon Academy, where great Orwellian posters adorn the stairwells, inspiring students as they make their way to and from lessons. One of my favourites, in huge blue lettering, calls on the students to “Work hard, change history”.
History unquestionably needs changing, and so far as our kids are concerned – over 40 per cent of them are on free school meals, well above the national average for a state secondary – history is against them.
Here at The Access Project we believe that higher education should be available to all who want it, regardless of who their parents are. And in order to redress the statistics, we need to ensure that kids of low-income households are getting the best education available.
Fortunately we don’t need myths like the “American dream” to change history. All we need is rigorous education, open to one and all.
‘People not paperclips’ by Kathryn Busby
Most people expect to take part in inductions when they start a new job, but not everyone gets the chance to deliver an induction session, just one month after starting work. That was the opportunity that presented itself to me at The Access Project…. and it turned out to be the perfect way to get to grips with my own role and with lots of TAP’s most important internal processes.
To me, this was an exciting prospect. Policies, processes and systems are my forte (the planning spreadsheets I make for holidays at the Edinburgh Fringe are notorious legendary) so I was delighted to get stuck into the detail of how things work here in the office.
The induction sessions were for our four new Programme Co-ordinators – Chris, Flo, Laurie and Reanna – and one of my tasks was to explain my own role to them.
What could be easier? “I am the Office Manager and this means I look after TAP’s office environment, our finances, governance and HR…”
But when I said HR out loud I remembered the words behind the initials and suddenly all I could think about was Dilbert and the fact that ‘Human Resources’ make people sound like they belong in a list with computers, textbooks and the contents of our stationery cupboard.
That’s not really Access Project style, so next time I’m explaining my role in an induction, I’m going to try out “office environment, finance, governance – and personnel”. It might sound a bit 1970s, but at least I won’t be inadvertently conflating my colleagues with paperclips.
‘Exam Pressure’ by Fatos Nacakgedigi
Fatos and her friend Cyan getting their A-level results - no disappointment here!
“We know you won’t disappoint us.”
This is what so many students hear every time they’re about to sit an exam or are waiting for exam results. So many high expectations, so many high hopes – so much pressure!
The student applies to university to study something they love, but by the end of the exam cycle, because of the weight on the student’s shoulders, it’s no longer something they want, rather it’s what the people around them want. The fear of disappointment turns something that was once a hobby into a chore. Is that really what’s supposed to happen?
Students waiting for their exam results in August should be thinking, “Oh, I hope I’ve got the grades!” but more often I hear, “What will my dad say if I don’t get the grades? Oh, he will be so disappointed in me. What will I do?” Should making parents proud really be the priority? When the student doesn’t get the grades they wanted, the thought of disappointing their families overpowers their worry about their own future.
Teachers, families and friends need to learn to take a step back and let students learn from their mistakes. They need to let students do something for themselves instead of for everyone around them. Surely if hobbies stayed as hobbies and students’ studies remained loved, the students would end up getting better grades.
‘Results Day: We smashed it’ by Alex Kelly
Our second cohort has finished their four years on the programme and, as the students would say, they’ve smashed it. Last year we thought we’d done brilliantly when 10 out of 17 won places at Russell Group universities; this year 11 out of 13 managed the same.
We’ve got students going to Oxford, Imperial, Durham (the first in the school’s history), two going to Bristol, one to Manchester, one to Sheffield, and four going to Queen Mary.
We are super proud of them, and also of the teachers and tutors who have pulled together to help them be so successful. Of the two students who aren’t going to top tier universities this year, one got brilliant results but wants to reapply next year, this time for medicine, and the other is re-sitting some modules in January, and will also reapply next year.
It’s exciting that success is breeding disappointment – students want the best for themselves, and if they don’t get it the first time around, they try again. When I think back to 2008, when the Project first started, I remember a time when if one student got into a Russell Group university it was thought of as a good year. Now the expectation is that a great swathe of students will go on to become high-flying undergraduates. It’s not overstating the case to say that this is changing the entire atmosphere in the school.
Next year we will also have results for the schools that have newly joined the programme. We’ve proved that last year’s great results weren’t a fluke; now we’ve got to show that The Access Project is a programme which can successfully expand.
‘Bowled over by fundraising efforts’ by Andrew Berwick
We’re lucky at TAP to have some very dedicated supporters, and I thought we should say thank you to just a few of them this week.
Firstly, big thanks to tutor Chris Allfrey. Although originally stumped for ideas of how to raise money for TAP, he four-t about it for a while and decided that a charity cricket match would be just the thing. Apparently the Magic Circle Cricket Championship is just below the Ashes in terms of international stature, and according to Linklaters lawyer Chris, Linklaters were well-deserving winners. Over £3,000 was raised – all round a great effort.
We’d also like to thank Benedict McAleenan and his chefs (pictured) for their recent pizza evening. I had no idea that pizza and charity could be combined, but happily Benedict’s moustachioed men showed that they could be a great success, raising £288.75.
We really appreciate contributions like this: from a monetary point of view, £288 allows us to buy an additional 15 textbooks to be used in tutorials. More broadly, it’s also a great motivation to know that there are people out there who want to support us. Thank you.
‘Creating Biology tutoring resources’ by Anna Ravenscroft
Ricky Gervais once said the best way to wind up a teacher is to comment on how many holidays they get. Whilst I am adamant that we do deserve our holidays (long as they may be…..), I felt I was able to dedicate some time to creating resources for a very worthy cause. I therefore volunteered to make some GCSE Science, AS and A-level Biology materials for the The Access Project.
Dolly the sheep
Teaching is extremely rewarding and I genuinely enjoy making engaging resources for my classes but unfortunately I do not always have the time I need during term time. I have tried to create a series of interactive, self-explanatory activities that marry up with the content of all exam boards (with the answers at the end of course!). Whilst it is imperative that pupils are confident with the exam content, I have also included some extension tasks (for example, New Scientist articles) that allow pupils to consider the bigger picture and allow them to explore the living world in more detail.
Biology is a very diverse subject and I realised that certain subjects (for example, seed banks) may well not have been a source of regular contemplation for you recently: I have therefore included online clips with questions which are designed to take the key points from the material. Many of the resources I have made force pupils to look at how they could improve an answer and write their own perfect response. Unfortunately the majority of tutors will be unable to participate in the part of the course the pupils like the best – the practicals! I have therefore made sure that I have also included some online “practicals” (PCR and electrophoresis) that you will be able to go through with them.
Time in class is very precious and the time that you give the pupils will be invaluable: they often lack confidence and having one to one support can make a massive difference.
The resources are available on Dropbox – you will find some in the “Science” → “GCSE Science” → “Biology” “Chemistry” and “Physics” resources folder, although most are for A-level and are in the “Science” → ”AS & A2 level Science” → ”Biology” → ”Resources” folder – I hope they are useful.
‘Creating resources for tutoring Physics’ by Phil Lynch
When Alex first approached me at HGS a couple of weeks before the summer holiday and asked me if I would give up some of it to create Physics resources, I must admit, I felt mixed emotions. I do not regret saying yes. I have found the last few weeks to be extremely valuable – not only because I have created a bank of resources which I will definitely be using next year, but also because it has given me the time at the end of the academic year to reflect on my practice (which is normally the last thing I would be doing in the first two weeks of the summer holiday).
My brief was to create some GCSE but mainly A-level Physics resources to be used by TAP tutors. Other than that, I was left in charge as “the expert”. I was however given the contact details of five of the Tutors that the resources were being created for. The first three to get back in contact were from Lloyds Group and as Andrew said at the time – bankers can be nice. They were very helpful in guiding me in the right direction and hopefully as a result of their input and the input of two other TAP tutors, the resources will be used widely in tutorials.
They focused me in the direction of creating focused 10-20 minute activities which can then be strung together by them in their tutorials. It has been a delight to spend 1 hour planning a 20 minute activity as opposed to having to plan a 1 hour lesson in 20 minutes – If only teachers had this sort of time in their everyday practice – all lessons would be outstanding.
Meerkats balancing their centres of mass
The resources are available on Dropbox – you will find some in the “Science” → “GCSE Science” → “Physics resources” folder, although most are for A-level and are in the “Science” → ”AS & A2 level Science” → ”Physics” → ”Resources” folder – I hope they are useful.
‘Tutoring Maths Resources’ by Amanda Whitehead
Having spent the first part of my summer holidays running a summer school, the second part has been working with The Access Project. I love to keep busy in the holidays and not let the empty days roll into one another! The reason for this is that it keeps me up to date, and gets me involved in, the programmes that surround and support education in our London schools – i.e. you and The Access Project!
It was a pleasure to speak to several maths tutors during the first few days of my time with TAP and I was given some great feedback about what the tutors want and need. This spanned from information about exams, to crib sheets full of all the formulae pupils (and tutors!) need to know, to those that just asked for a bank of activities, teaching resources and questions that they could use in their sessions.
I hope that everything I have created supports and improves your tutorials. Most of the resources I have created support pupils that are taking GCSE or AS Level maths (Statistics 1, Core 1 and Core 2). I have focused on the topics that will push the students to A’s and A*’s as they will all have the potential to get there with the right direction from you and their teacher and the right motivation from them! There is also information about the GCSE reforms, so if you have heard a bit about this and want to find out more – or if you don’t know what I’m taking about – take a quick look so you know what the pupils will be tackling from 2014 onwards.
The resources are available on Dropbox – you will find some at “Maths” → “GCSE Maths” → example: “Circles” and some at “Maths” → “AS & A2 level Science” → “AS Maths” → example: “Statistics 1” folder.
I really hope you find the resources helpful and engaging for your tutorials. Enjoy the rest of the summer – I know I will!
‘The New Cool’ by Alex Kelly
A few weeks ago I went to a talk by Alex Bellos, author of the bestselling Alex’s Adventures in Numberland. He explained that in Japan, clubs where school children learn to use abacus are hugely popular. Children graduate to bigger and bigger abacus, and the best manage to internalize the abacus and compete in championships where they add up huge numbers in limited time using an abacus in their mind. Check out this video. What these kids can do is amazing. But what also struck me about what Alex said is that these are not ‘geeky’ kids. In the UK undergraduates often ridicule other undergraduates who are reading maths – they are called ‘mathmoes’ (not sure that the spelling has been standardized yet) and they are stereotyped as spotty and difficult in social situations. But in Japan, it’s always been cool to be good at maths. Alex guessed that the difference might lie in the fact that Japan largely missed the youth rebellion of the 60s. The icons for the UK’s youth in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s almost all got rich by sticking their fingers up to the establishment, accompanied by catchy guitar chords. Most interestingly, Alex pointed out that this is changing. Maths is becoming more popular – hard evidence lies in the fact that entries for maths A-level have increased by over 40% in the last five years. Why? Alex suggested that one reason could be the rise of the computer. It’s still pretty ace to be a rapper, but even Jay-Z would agree that i-Pads are cool. Youth culture now has icons like Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs – yesterday’s geeks are today’s stars – and this is very good for maths.
‘Thoughts on The Olympics’ by Andrew Berwick
So it’s day 4 of the Olympics, and as I write Team GB still has no gold medals/a terrible name, depending on which way you want to look at it. I’d prefer not to discuss our inability to win anything on/in the water/road/mat, however, and rather to make a few Olympics-related and possibly topical points:
Imagine how good we would be if state schools were as good at sport as private schools. 23% of this British squad who were educated in the UK went to a private school. 37% of British medal winners in Beijing were privately educated.
7% of children attend private schools.
The time dedicated to sport in private schools – and the quality of support given – clearly have a massive impact on performance. Another major factor is the expectation and history of success which is a major part of many private schools’ ethos. I feel that this analogue is relevant across education. I have little doubt from my experience of teaching in the state sector that the quality of classroom teaching is as good in many state schools as in the private sector – which makes me wonder whether the ‘missing’ factor is the collective expectation of and pressure on students to achieve the very highest marks and go to the very best universities.
Knowing how to get better can be as important as hard work. Before the start of the 5,000m race in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, French runner Joseph Guillemot was handed a mystery beverage by the French trainer – “Drink this, and you’ll be unbeatable,” he was told. (Presumably in French.) Guillemot promptly defeated the now-legendary Finn, Paavo Nurmi.
Apparently the drink was a mixture of rum, sugar and water.
It’s a great story, once you realise that he wasn’t taking on a load of nandrolone. For me, I think it’s amazing to think of something like that happening today: what athletes eat, drink and do is now measured to a phenomenal degree of detail. Collective wisdom about how to improve performance has developed hugely and continues to develop – meaning that athletes are able to continue to shave small amounts off world records every year. Teaching is aspiring to do the same: measuring performance and working out where each student needs specific support to improve. Tutoring can be a really effective way of delivering this support – so sometimes knowing what to work on can be as important as all of the hard work.
And finally… I watched an interview with John Amaechi yesterday, who is commentating on the basketball for the BBC – he’s one of only a handful of British players to have had a successful career in the NBA. He recounted his Damascene conversion to basketball: walking down a street in Manchester aged 17, ‘Meech’ was eating a pasty when a local basketball coach walked up to him and asked him if he fancied coming to train (he was, and is, 6’10”). The rest is history.
That seems to capture the amazing thing about the students we work with. They all have genuine untapped potential, and they can still realise their dreams: even dreams they haven’t yet realised that they have.
‘The Marshmallow Test’ by Alex Kelly
In the late 1960s, researchers put a marshmallow on a plate in front of 4 year olds and told them to wait. The children were left on their own, and told that if they held on for 15 minutes, instead of one marshmallow they’d get two. The researchers timed how long it took the children to crack. They found that there was a strong correlation between how long the children waited, and their eventual success in life – in terms of how well they did at school, at work, and in their relationships.
The children’s socio economic backgrounds weren’t measured in the research, but I would guess that these would have been significant determinants in how long the children managed to wait. This makes sense to me because richer children are more likely to grow up in households where they have regular mealtimes, they do their homework every night, and what adults tell them is going to happen, generally happens. They learn regularity, and in turn they are able to delay their gratification.
Succeeding in school is all about delaying gratification – the pain of slogging through French GCSE homework on a sunny evening is worth it because it will eventually pay off with a job in a good law firm.
This is one of the focuses for The Access Project’s tutoring programme. The weekly visit to a tutor, who asks the student how last week went and what they need to work on for next week, means the student can deal in units of days instead of units of years. This makes school life easier for the child. In addition, the regularity of the sessions, as well as the child seeing over time that their hard work is paying off through better test scores, hopefully means that they learn a more general lesson about the value of delaying gratification. Perhaps one of the tests for the efficacy of our programme should be a marshmallow test.
‘Residential Summer Schools (and Meerkats)’ by James Cannon
Unusually for this blog, I am not employed by The Access Project but rather I occupy the dual role of tutor and university partner. You may have seen in an earlier blog that in March this year, several TAP tutees visited the Royal Veterinary College, University of London (RVC) to take part in a dissection class. This class was organised by me, and my job overall is to provide visits to the RVC for disadvantaged learners of all age groups.
Last week saw my flagship event of the year, the RVC Summer University. This was part-funded by the Sutton Trust and open only to students from non-selective state maintained schools and with no parental history of attending university. Summer Schools such as these provide a vital experience for less privileged students – a chance to learn exactly what university is like. They cannot ask their parents or their peers and will have largely heard about university in the media as a place to become laden with debt whilst trying to get a degree that might help them get a job in the long run. A Summer School gives the students a chance to see how the teaching vastly differs from in school, how they’ll be learning things that they actually want to and how much they’ll enjoy living with a group of people they’ve never met before.
It took place over 4 days, with the students staying in our halls of residence and completing lectures, seminars and practical sessions. This being a veterinary university, the students were ultrasounding lambs, dissecting dogs and being entertained by meerkats throughout the week! Also included were workshops on applying to university and student finance. Whilst less glamorous, these sessions were rated as the most useful of the week by 32 of the 50 students in attendance. For many of the students, it was their first time away from home and for all of them it was their first real insight into what studying at university will be like.
Personally, I feel that residential summer schools are one of the best tools we have for raising aspiration and attainment in young people. The Sutton Trust have found that, amongst other things, summer schools make the biggest difference to the poorest students – in some cases removing completely the gap in the success in university applications of more affluent students and their less fortunate peers. I only need to look as far as the feedback from the students last week to see the difference that they make:
“Amazing, widened my perspective in uni! Loved every minute!”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who was involved in making this week absolutely amazing! I learned so much, did so much – brilliant! (Totally worth missing college for).”
And my personal favourite…
“James Cannon = amazing!”
I know from previous years that I will see many of these students back here for interviews next Spring and some of them as undergraduates in Autumn 2013. The statistical evidence from the Sutton Trust is all well and good, but seeing it happen and knowing it was our work that gave these students a springboard from which to progress is incredibly motivating.
Some excellent photos (the better ones taken by none other than TAP’s Olivia Ide) of the Summer School can be found here.
‘Tutors and teachers: together at last’ by Andrew Berwick
It was a match made in heaven. Last night Slaughter and May hosted an event for teachers from Central Foundation Boys’ School and the tutors who work with their students on a weekly basis. They even let me go along.
It was great to be in a room with so many people who are working hard to improve educational outcomes for students: the teachers I spoke to described a visible increase in confidence in their students as a result of the additional support they received from tutors. It’s also clear that the one-to-one tuition forms part of the school’s ethos of aspiration to exceptional achievement: one member of staff recounted an overheard conversation in the playground, where Year 10 boys competed to see who had the most tutors.
Andrew talks business with Marcus, the Assistant Head at CFBS
(The ‘winner’ claimed to have 3 tutors –remarkable given none of our Year 10 students have been matched with 3 tutors to date…)
For the tutors, it was clear that they really looked forward to the hour a week they spend with their tutees: in part for the opportunity to return to their university degree for an hour, and in part because of the slightly quirky reality check that comes from working with motivated and talented young adults.
For us at TAP, the evening illustrated the case for putting tutors in contact with teachers on a more regular basis. At the moment, we are cautious around giving tutors a direct line to teachers: teachers can often have multiple students who are being tutored, and we are wary of creating a deluge of emails for them to respond to. However, there must be a way of managing this effectively for both sides: the plan is to start a pilot in September to see how this could work. If the pilot is successful, then in the next 6 months or so we’ll aim to put all of our tutors in contact with subject teachers. This should help tutors to understand more precisely their tutees’ areas for development, and could also help teachers: a number of teachers were clearly interested to hear from tutors what students want to focus on in tutorials.
In the meantime, thanks to all at Slaughter and May and Central Foundation for their openness, enthusiasm and dedication to the programme. And, as ever, for inviting us to drinks.
‘Why don’t students from disadvantaged backgrounds win places at top universities?’ by Alex Kelly
Ask a politician or a journalist, and they’ll normally say the problem is a lack of aspiration on the part of the disadvantaged kids. They’ll add that this stems from the parents, and is reinforced by the teachers.
I realized that this was rubbish pretty soon after starting to teach in a school at which more than 60% of the students were on Free School Meals (the national averages is about 15%). It was 2005, and the government at the time was pumping tens of millions into Aim Higher, which as the name suggests, was all about raising aspirations.
Aspiration was clearly not the issue because every student I spoke to at the school – and I mean every one of them – from those in the top set to those in set 7 – wanted to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Sure, most of the boys’ first choices were to be a footballer, and most the girls’ first choices were to be some kind of film or pop star (frankly, a very sensible first dream – you wouldn’t find anything different at a leading public school), but ask again, and the kids’ more earth-bound aim was to graduate from a top university.
The parents were even more aspirational. At parents’ evening it was clear that Oxbridge wasn’t enough – medicine or law was what they wanted for their kids.
I get angry when people bang on about the need to raise aspirations firstly because it’s patronizing to families from lower socio economic backgrounds. I sat on a panel last week with a journalist (who’s won the Orwell Prize for journalism) who said that what was so tough for working class kids going to top universities was that they had to leave their families’ values behind. What a fool. She should go to any parents’ evening up or down the country, and try to put paper between the values of parents from different economic backgrounds.
The second reason I get angry when people say that the big problem is aspiration, is that it makes inequality of access to top universities seem much easier to solve than it really is. All you’d need to do would be to show disadvantaged kids how great top universities are, wheel out a few undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the problem would be solved.
How could this be enough when 25% of students from the poorest backgrounds fail to meet the expected attainment at the end of primary school, compared to 3% of students from the most affluent backgrounds? Our challenge isn’t to switch on desire in disadvantaged students’ minds, it’s to demolish the fact that in the UK a student’s background determines how well they do in school.
‘To code or not to code?’ by Olivia Ide
I am The Access Project’s resident IT guru. This is fantastic news for me as it gives me plenty of opportunities to practise some skills that, if I’m honest, I didn’t have before joining TAP. I have been teaching myself about code, as and when it becomes necessary and, while I quickly outstripped everyone else here with my fancy coding skills, I’m painfully aware that, in real terms, I’m barely an amateur.
The problem is that there are so many different sorts of code. I had, in my previous blissful ignorance, assumed that code was code – one all encompassing, beautiful language in which anything and everything could be expressed and understood. My, but I was wrong. There appear to be many different sorts (dialects, perhaps?) of code, all excitingly similar but then bafflingly divergent. I imagine, at this point, that anyone who actually knows about code is thinking something along the lines of “Well, duh…”, but I did not see this coming.
My forays into coding are very much an adventure; I now pretty much have the basics down and the majority of the time I can achieve my rather unsophisticated ends with little fuss. Occasionally, however, I will stray, without realising, into completely unknown territory and spend hours fighting my way out, armed only with the club of Trial and Error and the pointy stick of Google. A couple of days ago I decided to improve upon a process in Salesforce and found myself wrestling with the underlying code for a good four hours.
This may or may not be the rapier of Knowledge. Personally, I feel it's heading more in the direction of the sword of Asking Your Mates, but maybe that's just me.
Which brings me to the crux of this post: is it worth it? Should I struggle on, learning and improving as I go but haemorrhaging time, or should I have the experts weigh in, which takes a fraction of the time but will ultimately cost us more?
Despite the times when I end up frantically searching for a missing closing bracket or screaming “Why won’t it work, WHY?!” at the skies, I think it’s probably worth it. I am improving myself, after all and – despite the somewhat frustrating picture I may have painted – I am actually rather enjoying myself. I do think, however, that it will probably be even more fun once I’ve reached the stage where the club of Trial and Error is upgraded to the rapier of Knowledge, and I can mount the pointy stick of Google on the wall, nice and safe in the armour of Having Done It All Before.
Those will be good days…
‘Brains on steroids’ by Alex Kelly
When someone has a brain injury, the brain swells up. Because the skull is hard, the swelling can lead to the brain pushing itself down onto the pointy things at the top of the neck. When that happens, the person normally dies. Until fairly recently, when someone arrived at an Emergency Room with a head injury, they would be given a steroid injection. This made sense because it’s well known that steroids reduce swelling. But had anyone actually tested this hypothesis? No, because it was unethical to withhold a patient an anti-inflammatory treatment, solely in order to see what would happen to them. At The Sunday Times Festival of Education last Sunday, Ben Goldacre told us that his boss (a surgeon) was faced with this dilemma. The surgeon decided that he wanted to do a randomized trial on the effectiveness of steroid injections in treating brain trauma. He was blocked by his colleagues. Eventually he got his way, and the ensuing randomized trial found that the steroid injections were actively harming and killing patients.
This story teaches us a few things which can inform education practice and policy. Firstly, it isn’t good enough to do something just because it seems like a good idea: interventions need to be tested. Secondly, the only worthwhile way of testing an intervention is through a randomized trial. Using background information (like, ‘we know this will work because steroids reduce inflammation in other parts of the body’) is not as good as randomly assigning some people a certain intervention, and randomly assigning other people to be a control group. Thirdly, the argument that it’s unethical to do this because it will mean some people will miss out on support doesn’t hold any water. Without testing, you will never know that the intervention isn’t in fact harming the people you are trying to help.
So how could we use a randomized trial to test the efficacy of our tutoring programme? Probably the best way would be to encourage students to attend after school clubs and thus qualify for a tutor, but then randomly assign some of the students a tutor, and randomly assign some of them no tutor at all. Any problems with this approach? Well, yes. I don’t want to tell the students not getting a tutor that they don’t get the help because they’re part of a very useful trial. A further problem could be that students not assigned a tutor would learn that extra effort (ie attending the after school clubs) doesn’t actually pay off – so they might be less likely to perform well than if they’d never met us at all – apart from damaging these young people, we’d not have an accurate control group.
Any other ideas gratefully received, but what we are doing as a next-best alternative to a randomized trial is tracking the attainment of Access Project students against the attainment of students nationally, and then controlling for background and previous attainment. It’s not perfect, but measuring impact isn’t easy!
‘The bigger picture’ by Andrew Berwick
We’ve been busy here over last few weeks – we’ve spent lots of time getting ready for our two new schools coming on board in September. Sometimes when you are working on logistics and details for something like this, where you want everything to go ‘just so’, you can lose sight of the bigger picture. So today I took some time out to re-read the Coalition’s Social Mobility Strategy, Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers.
To be fair, I didn’t need to read very far to find some inspiration. It’s there on page 9 (from a Sutton Trust report published in 2009):
Clearly, there are a few caveats here. Not every young person wants to be high court judge, for instance – they might want to be, for example, a teacher or to pursue a non-‘professional’ career. In addition, these figures are heavily influenced by historical routes into these professions, and don’t necessarily reflect all of the efforts that are currently being made by those in e.g. the legal profession to address historical barriers to access. However, it is still stark: such a massive inequality of outcome is a reminder that the Coalition’s goal of equality of opportunity remains some way off.
So, I guess that’s my mind refocused. One of the things that really excites me about having joined The Access Project is that many of the professions in the list above (and many others) are represented amongst our tutors. It feels like an intuitive and pragmatic way of addressing this issue: if there aren’t enough students from poor backgrounds making it as top medics, how better to address this than for top medics to give students the support they need?
The other thing that excites me about having joined TAP is the fact that we don’t need to twist too many arms to make this happen. On a weekly basis our tutors take time out of some pretty demanding careers and schedules to give back, and to try to make those bubbles on the right that bit smaller in a few years’ time.
‘Making a mountain out of molehill’ by Olivia Ide
I have always been amused by the phrase ‘to make a mountain out of a molehill’. It must take a fair number of molehills to make even small hill, let alone a mountain, and I’m also reasonably certain that molehills are made almost entirely out of topsoil, whereas mountains (or so my vague memories of GCSE Geography tell me) are mainly made of rock. All in all, I thought, it’s a metaphorical analogy that works, at best, superficially.
- Think of this, but made of staplers and CRB checks and then times a MILLION.
That was until I started working for The Access Project.
When I joined The Access Project in April 2011, I was the sole employee – the lone indian to Alex’s chief. We were working in a single school and were tentatively thinking of branching out beyond Alex’s group of friends to look for tutors.
Now, we are working in two schools with four more on the horizon (two for September 2012 and two for January 2013), there’s a core team of five of us with new recruits waiting in the wings (look out for our new Office Manager – coming soon!), and we now have several corporate partners lined up to follow in Slaughter and May’s footsteps in our new schools.
This is brilliant, but alongside all of the big exciting things we’re working on – like budgets for the next five years, recruitment and training plans for a crop of new Programme Coordinators and the revamping of our entire database of tutoring materials – there are the tiny things that, it turns out, you just have to get right.
Part of what I have done so far at TAP involves making sure that all the small things are running smoothly so that the big things can be focussed on. These are the molehills that I have discovered, and the only word I can use to describe them is ‘mountainous’. Who knew that Salesforce naming conventions would turn out to be so important? Or that someone has to keep track of how many ink cartridges the printer is getting through? Or that life is made a lot easier if the stickers that adorn the textbooks we give out are all placed in the same place? Or – most frustratingly! – that phone number conventions need to be followed to the letter, in case of some unforeseen catastrophe years down the line?!
There are a myriad of minuscule matters (like why the shredder has become increasing temperamental and will currently only work for Andrew) that, together, can seem insurmountable.
We’re going to scale them though, whether mountain or molehill. And I think I’m just going to have to get stuck into the shredder with a fork.
‘Meeting tutors at Tutor Meet Ups’ by Andrew Berwick
Last Thursday was our June Tutor Meet Up. We started doing these relatively recently as a way of meeting tutors and giving them an opportunity to share experiences and ideas with each other. We are still trying to work out some of the details of these events – primarily whether we should think up a new name for the events and, if not, whether ‘Meet up’ should be one word or two (or indeed hyphenated).
Anyway, leaving all this to one side I can report that it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Our guest speaker, Michael Rabinovitz, spoke on ‘The Paradoxes and Paralysis of Too Many Choices: When Limiting Choices Can Expand Potential’; this sparked some interesting questions on how to use goal-setting in tutorials, and also how tutors can simplify choices for tutees when it comes to things such as choosing A-level options.
Following Michael’s talk, drinks continued and we moved on to discuss the best format of the Tutor Meetups/Meet-ups/Meet Ups in the future. The conversations centred around what content might be helpful, and there were a number of suggestions that we will take on board (e.g. having events targeted at specific sections of our tutor community, such as those who have only just started tutoring).
As always when meeting our tutors, I was impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm shown by all; I look forward to continuing the conversation in July.
‘Data, data everywhere…’ by Olivia Ide
This week, in and amongst getting mildly sunburnt shoulders and filing the superfluity of paper on my desk, I have been looking at the data we’re collecting from our tutors. Every piece of data we collect has a reason behind in, but often it’s possible to cut the data in a way that we hadn’t originally intended. This has led me to mine the depths of our data (in the name of testing the system, of course) to discover things that not only did we not know before but – according to some of the less data-minded TAP staff – we don’t care about now.
TAP Tutors - percentage of male (53%) and female (47%)
I’ll admit, it has not provided the sort of revelations that will shake the known world, but it has given me, from the lofty vantage of my desk, a much better understanding of who our tutors are.
We ask our tutors what their preferred subject to tutor is. Easily the most popular answer is ‘Maths’, followed by ‘English and History’ with ‘Maths and Physics’ as a close third. I think this is a little odd – I was not aware that English and History were such comfortable bed fellows – but it certainly explains why, at our monthly tutor meet-ups, I always end up speaking to someone who is really enthusiastic about Maths.
Following on the Maths theme: because we ask our tutors where they studied at university, I can tell you that our Maths tutors are more likely to be male and have studied at Oxbridge than not. I can also tell you that we expect (and achieve!) the same high standards from everyone – regardless of sex or the university they went to – so this makes no difference to the tutorials, but I still think it’s fun to know these things.
Equally, English tutors are twice as likely to be female but both Biology and Economics are split equally between the sexes. I have just been informed that my coworkers could have predicted this, but surely it’s nice to be proved right?
Finally, whatever the subject, tutors are most likely to work as a consultant or a lawyer – apart from those tutoring French, and then they almost certainly work for the Government. I’m sure there’s something to be read into that, but I certainly don’t know what.
So, as we gather more data (and I have to test more and more random parts of the system) more of these snapshots will emerge. I am aware that, on their own, they are not the most interesting of facts – although I do plan to test this at social gatherings – but, when considered together, they allow us to start humanising the data and to relate it back to our tutors and students on the ground. And that can only be a good thing.
‘Student Summer School Success!’ by Dorrie Spencer
I recently found out some excellent news… one of our students has been accepted on to the Fulbright-Sutton Trust US Summer School scheme! The Fulbright Commission contacted The Access Project in March to ask us to promote it, and two months later one lucky student found out he has been awarded this amazing opportunity.
Tahmid Chowdhury beat off the competition from 600 other eager candidates, and will be one of 65 students being sent on a summer school to Yale University in the USA. He will be part of the first cohort of students ever to take part in this unique outreach programme, and is really excited to be going.
Last year's crop of British students on the Fulbright Scholarship look they had a pretty good time!
As part of the programme, Tahmid will be attending a pre-summer school preparation weekend where students learn more about what will come during their week in Yale. They then get whisked off for the trip of a lifetime to Yale, experiencing what life can be like at an Ivy-League university.
The experience doesn’t stop with the trip to the USA though – in the autumn, students get support in applying to American universities, including information on bursaries, scholarships and admissions tests. Costs of the trip and associated support are completely funded by the programme, making this a really wonderful chance for students like ours.
The Fulbright Commission encourages exchange programmes between the UK and the USA, and are keen to encourage the brightest young students to apply to top American universities. The financial support available is extensive, so this could prove to be an excellent opportunity for students like Tahmid to have the chance to experience American universities without the enormous price tag.
Thanks to the Fulbright Commission and the Sutton Trust for giving Tahmid this brilliant opportunity!
Tahmid – have a great time… don’t suppose there is space in your suitcase for a small one is there?!
‘Creative Writing’ by Stephanie Williams
Last Monday I watched a group fourteen year old boys take the first, and most important step in becoming professional writers. They sat down, and after a minute or two of thinking, began to write. And they wrote. For twenty minutes, non-stop.
They had just jumped the biggest hurdle writers have to face when they confronts their desks in the morning: actually putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and writing.
Since the beginning of March I have expanded my role as Chair of the Access Project. Every Monday afternoon after school I teach a class in creative writing to a group of eight boys from Year 10 at Central Foundation Boys School.
Fourteen-year-old boys and creative writing? We start with a chat about an issue of the day: the record sale of Munch’s ‘The Scream’ at Sotheby’s in New York. Or the freeing of Sam Hallam – who once went to the school – who had been wrongly imprisoned, accused of murder in a gang stabbing on a nearby estate.
We talk about words and feelings, about what people have gone through, about what makes a character. We make lists of words on the board. We ask questions. Everyone has something original and surprising to say.
Then we think about how we can use the words and ideas we’ve talked about to write about a person, or even, to tell a whole story. For 20 minutes there is silence, while everyone, even me, sits down and writes.
Then we take the second key step in becoming a good writer: we read what we’ve written to each other out loud.
Instantly we know whether it’s good or bad. And everyone gets an idea for what to try next time.
‘Working Time Breakdown’ by Andrew Berwick
I understand a number of you have been wondering what I have been doing in the last 2 weeks. Breakdown below.
So, as you can see, the division of my considerable labour has changed significantly since I pitched up as a fresh-faced Director of Tutoring 2 weeks ago. I have made major reductions in the amount of time spent looking confused and asking stupid questions, bringing this down to only 20% of my time. There is some speculation in the office as to whether I can continue this downwards trend in the coming weeks.
In other news, I have also learned a lot about Salesforce, our CRM software. I can now go for minutes at a time on my own, without having to ask for help with setting up an event or a new contact on the system. My tea-making has also remained relatively consistent, although early feedback suggests I may need to increase time spent cleaning cups.
In an exciting development in Week 2, I also spent a lot more time talking to teachers and to tutors. Loretta and I had a great day with some of our current tutors at Booz & Co on Friday, hearing more about their experiences of tutoring and their suggestions about what we could improve on. I’m going to be doing more of this through the next few weeks, and hope to get a range of views from tutors to inform the type of support we will give them in the coming months.
You will also see that I have returned to my teaching roots and spent a lot of time in the classroom – fortunately not in a teaching capacity, as I suspect my board handwriting would be very rusty after several years out of practice. I have instead been speaking to teachers about their thoughts on where targeted tuition can have the biggest impact on students’ performance: this has been really insightful and will make sure that we focus on the right areas when we produce content for tutors over the summer.
So, definite progress – although I am very much still in listening mode at the moment. It’s exciting to be hearing so many positive stories about the impact that our tutors are having on students, and I hope we’re able to give them the tools they need to have an even bigger impact through our work over the next few months.
‘When best friends argue’ by Olivia Ide
Salesforce and I have had a falling out. It’s one of those stupid, teenagery arguments – Salesforce has taken the hump over an assumed slight and I honestly don’t know what it was I’m supposed to have done!
We've gone from total harmony...
...to having a bit of a cat fight.
In short: while exploring the finer points of Salesforce, I must have changed a setting or switched something from on to off without realising, and now a reasonably crucial part of the system doesn’t quite work. It’s incredibly frustrating because it was working perfectly before my exploration, so it must be my fault. The vast majority of the things I’ve done have worked out marvellously – I’ve added fields and moved them around, and got things to update automatically and calculate averages and the like, but somewhere along the way I messed with something without realising, and now I’m stuck.
It’s only a minor thing – a tiny glitch in the system – but I’m not quite good enough to sort it out myself. This adds the insult of a bruised ego to the injury of the glitch, and is really rather annoying. I’ve been quite pleased with my progress so far, but this is Salesforce reminding me that, in language terms, I can ask where the swimming pool is or order a baguette, but I’m still some way away from discussing the current political situation or monologging on my favourite philosopher.
I think I’m going to have to just put my tail between my legs and head back to our old, trusty intermediary, Westbrook. I know they’ll be able to fix the problem without breaking a sweat, but I was sort of hoping not to need to go back to them for help until it was something epic. Then they’d know that I needed their help, but still be suitably awed by what I had achieved in the meantime. Clearly, this was always unlikely to happen, but to have to go to them over something this simple is throwing my fantasies of global-Salesforce-domination back in my face.
That said, with any luck Westbrook will explain where I went wrong while they fix it and then Salesforce and I can emerge from this hiccup stronger than before and closer than ever!
‘The pitfalls of overconfidence…’ by Dorrie Spencer
“Blimey, what a… um… lively group!” said a somewhat shell-shocked volunteer at the end of a night of interviewing coaching. “They were certainly more vocal than we’re used to!” Yes, that’s right, students at Central Foundation had once again exhausted an unsuspecting volunteer with their limitless energy and love of high spirited debate.
Tuesday night saw OxFizz at Central Foundation school leading joint sessions with Year 12 students from Central Foundation and Highbury Grove, focussed on interview skills. This is part of The Access Project’s UCAS & Careers Support strand. Students learnt about the four most common pitfalls of interviews: being too quiet, rambling, fidgeting and overconfidence. Where Highbury Grove students were most concerned about fidgeting and being too quiet, Central Foundation students seemed to have the opposite problem – it turns out they all have confidence issues. As in, “too much confidence” as an issue.
However, this session really made them re-think things. One student, who in his interview explained his ambition for studying medicine is to find the cure for cancer, confessed afterwards he may need to work on phrasing it a little more carefully next time. Another realised that in the future he’d need to actually read up about the course before telling his interviewer all about it. One student was somewhat put-off by how much the interviewer would know about the subject – he said he definitely needs to do a bit more learning before going through it again!
The aim of the session was to get students motivated to prepare for their university interviews, and realise what the reality of them will entail. It certainly did the job – hopefully this will have encouraged students to have a firm knowledge base as well as the sprinkling of confidence required to ace the real thing.
Thanks very much OxFizz!
Presenting: Andrew Berwick, new Director of Tutoring!
Hi, I’m new. I joined The Access Project this week, and will be working here in a brand new role. I’m quite excited about this.
The role is a fairly broad brief to work on improving the Programme for stakeholders: students, tutors and staff in schools. Clearly, we all think TAP is working pretty well at the moment; however, we all believe that the standard of tuition provided to students on the Programme should be in line with the best provided by professional tutors: after all, our tutors are on average brighter, more motivated and have better dress-sense than private tutors. (That last bit might not be quite true.)
This leaves two pretty big questions: why should I come in and do this? And what exactly am I going to be working on?
Well, in answer to the first question, I’m hoping that my experience of developing strategic plans with corporate and PE houses from my current job at PwC Strategy will be of use. I also have 2 years’ of teaching experience in the not-so-distant past with Teach First, which should help me to make sensible decisions about priorities for us to work on.
In terms of what I’ll be working on, I can give half an answer at the moment. There are clearly some things which just need improving as soon as possible – for example, updating the content that we provide to tutors is a pretty big job that we’ll spend a lot of time on over the summer. And then there is a long list of things which we feel could be better, but which might not have an obvious solution right now: like how we can interact best with classroom teachers in the future. On those questions, my role for now is to speak to as many people as possible to work out what the issues are, and then work with everyone at TAP to come up with a sensible way forward.
So, if you’re involved with the Programme, you will hopefully hear from me soon.
‘The joy in having a shiny new toy’ by Olivia Ide
I am in charge of Data and Impact for The Access Project. This is a catch-all term for gathering information – deciding what to collect and why, how best to collect and store it, and how to show it off (both to ourselves and to anyone else who might be interested). It is, alas, a topic that, when I bring it up a cocktail parties, makes most people invent reasons to suddenly be elsewhere.
You may ask why I feel it necessary to bring it up at cocktails parties and the answer is this: Salesforce!
The Access Project has, just this week, taken ownership of our own shiny, new, expertly crafted Salesforce platform. It has taken our IT consultants – the marvellous Westbrook – some three months to fashion, and on Monday we unveiled it in all its data-and-impacty glory.
Not only does it store information on everyone we work with, but it tracks all the tutorials: the students and their academic data; the tutors and how they feel about The Access Project; the teachers and what improvements they’re seeing in the classroom. It even does charts and graphs.
This is the feature that has me most excited. I am, and have been for a while now, all about charts and graphs.
Chart showing percentage of TAP students by status
This is only a very basic chart that took mere seconds to throw together, but it (and hundreds like it!) have changed the way we at The Access Project view The Access Project.
It shows what percentage of our current students are at what stage in the programme. So, 10% are in the process of being matched with a tutor, but 30% are only one stage behind, and they’ll need tutors soon. This helps us plan ahead and see when we’ll need to recruit more tutors. We’ve also got only a relatively small number who are at the very beginning of the process and this might be a problem, were it not for the fact that we’re not in the run up to exams and everyone needs to be knuckling down to their revision.
This is, as charts go, an extremely simple one. If you – like me – can see where we could go with all of this, then check back later for regular updates on my progress navigating the landscape of Data and Impact, accompanied only by my new trusty sidekick, Salesforce.
‘Tutoring Lawrence’ by Mark Stafford
I meet Lawrence in a branch of Leon around the corner from my office. I order a cup of tea; nothing for him. It’s 6pm on a Monday and we must look like a strange pairing to the scattered customers and lone server behind the counter. I’m a 35 year old white City worker in a suit and tie and he’s a black teenager with a smile and a decent size afro, wearing jeans and trainers.
We’ve been introduced by The Access Project, a charity set up by Alex Kelly, a young Oxford-educated schoolteacher in Islington who concluded that the reason the kids in his school weren’t getting into good universities wasn’t because they are not clever enough, or because the universities don’t make enough of an effort to recruit them, but because they don’t get good enough grades. His solution? Get some amateur tutors to help the kids with further understanding their subjects and also exam technique. So far, so obvious, but Alex’s real stroke of genius comes next. Having been at Oxford, he knows dozens of people like me: smart graduates who are now professionals working in London and reckon they’ve still got enough of the ol’ exam hall magic to teach their degree subject to A-level students. The best bit of Alex’s idea is to have the students travel to the tutors’ place of work so all I have to do is skive off the desk for an hour a week to do a tutorial rather than having to schlep halfway across London. It’s very efficient for the tutors which is why I’m involved.
This is going to be fun. I take a sip of tea and ask Lawrence what he wants to study. “Physics at Manchester” comes the reply. Great. “Who is Manchester University’s most famous physicist?” I ask, thinking of Ernest Rutherford, the Nobel Prize-winning father of nuclear physics, widely credited with splitting the atom, the man who basically invented the proton and for whom the 104th chemical element is named. Rutherford is buried in Westminster Abbey, not far from Sir Issac Newton. “Brian Cox” comes the reply, quick as a flash. There is clearly a generational gap here.
We move on to grades. A clutch of respectable, if not spectacular, GCSEs and some pretty worrying AS-level grades: a D in physics and C in Chemistry. I explain that Manchester is one of the best places to study physics in the country and that he’ll need to get three As at least, probably an A* in physics. He counters with a ‘foundation course’, a one-year pre-undergraduate course run by the university for applicants from non-conventional backgrounds. Apparently he can get on that with a mixture of Bs and Cs. I’ve already learned something today.
We arrange the first tutorial for later that week and I ride my bike home, lost in thought and already worrying. Lawrence is in the second year of the sixth form. It’s October and he wants to retake one chemistry and one physics module in January, as well as the scheduled modules. He got an E in the last Chemistry module, so we need to get him from an E to a B in four months, as well as doing the current module and getting a B in that too. On top of that, he still needs to do physics and maths. He’s going to have to work very hard.
I’m going to have to work very hard. The next day I read the syllabus and look at some past papers, all of which I’ve downloaded from the Access Project’s website. It turns out that I left much of the ol’ exam hall magic in the exam hall. I signed up for this without really checking if I could remember much and now my wife struggles to conceal her glee at my predicament: I’ve over-reached and now if Lawrence doesn’t get the grades to go to Manchester it’s somehow the fault of me and my big ego. Luckily I injure my back and need to rest it so I ditch the bike in favour of commuting by train, gaining an hour a day of quality textbook time. I need it.
The tutorials progress. Lawrence’s mind is a mess. He’s never made a revision sheet and has no experience in organising his thoughts. I understand why Alex set up the Access Project. Lawrence is smart, he’s just not really been pushed and no-one’s taught him how to learn, or how to approach an exam, or raised his standards to a level a bit above his ability. I focus on revision sheets and getting Lawrence to become more intellectually rigorous. This has the happy side-effect of buying me a couple of extra weeks to read the textbook. It’s starting to come back.
Meanwhile, an unexpected development. I’m the boss in a tight-knit team who tend to work late and so I need to explain where I’m going at 6pm on a Tuesday evening when everyone else is still working. Clearly I’ve hired people who rate their academic ability as much as I do: within a few weeks one of my team-members is teaching physics to a girl in the lower sixth and another is teaching GCSE maths. We compare notes and trade advice on lesson plans. In the quiet run up to Christmas everyone on the floor who passes by has a go at a few GCSE maths questions. Another piece of genius in Alex’s plan: I can see how something like this can spread like wildfire through a workplace or a group of old university friends. One person starts tutorials and then a few others think ‘if they can do it then I fancy my chances at being able to teach X or Y’ and it snowballs from there, pretty soon everyone is doing tutorials and the receptionists at the front desk start wondering if this building is still a bank or has turned into a sixth form college.
Lawrence makes progress with the chemistry and we develop a routine. We spend a session going over a topic then he does some homework questions, writes a revision sheet and reads ahead about the next topic. However his homework answers still lack rigour and he’s dropping marks because he hasn’t thought the question through or lost concentration or simply just not tried hard enough. His understanding of the subject is much better, helped by the fact that I’m now back in the groove so my explanations are clearer and more concise. We switch the focus back to exam technique and I time him doing questions while I watch. His technique improves at the expense of our evenings: tutorials stretch from 1 hour to 2 ½ hours.
My bank announces a round of redundancies. For the first time in my life I’m not scared about getting shit-canned. I kind of like the idea of becoming a chemistry teacher, it’s just that the pay in banking is much, much better. In my mind’s eye I gloss over the huge difference between teaching one smart child on a one-to-one basis and trying to keep the attention of thirty students sat in a room stocked to the ceiling with bottles of acid, fire, breakable glass stuff and taps with rubber hoses. I survive the layoffs and go back to banking by day and teaching by night. Realistically both I and the schoolchildren of London are probably better off under this arrangement.
Exam-time approaches. I set Lawrence a timed past paper for homework. He comes in the following week and I ask him how it went. He says he can’t remember how long it took him to do it and when we look at the paper together he’s missed entire questions, only answering 70% of the available marks. What he did answer was actually pretty good but it is two days before the first exam and I freak out. I tell him if he pulls a stunt like that in the exam he’s not going to university, period. I tell him that most of what I value in my life now came as a direct result of going to university: my home, my circle of close friends, my job. I even met my wife there. My daughters owe their very existence to my A-level grades. It is possible I over-egged this speech a bit, but I wanted to make my point.
I calm down and send him a good luck email the day before the exam with a more encouraging tone. He knows enough to get a B provided he answers all the questions, I just hope he doesn’t do anything dumb. He replies after the exam saying he answered every question and thinks it went well. I am happy.
This is where we are now but it is not the end of the story. He doesn’t have his results yet and he still needs to sit the final modules in June. If he gets the grades to do the foundation course at Manchester he should be OK for that year but once he gets onto the actual physics undergraduate course he’ll be one of the least qualified there, up against smarter students from better schools with 3 or 4 A grades. He’ll have to work twice as hard as them just to keep up.
If I’m honest I’ve written this now because I’m scared he won’t even get the grades and this story only really works if it has a happy ending. However, thanks to Alex and everyone else at the Access Project, Lawrence has a realistic shot at being the first person in his family to go to university. And not some crappy poly to do Pointless Studies either: physics at Manchester University, the home of Ernest Rutherford, and Brian Cox. But he’s still going to need to work for it. I’ve given him a week off tutorials after his exams but we start again the following week for the final module. My back is better and I ride my bike home smiling. I have some lessons to plan.
‘The marathon looms…’ by Alex Kelly
The Paris marathon is this Sunday. And I’m running in it. The scariest thing is that at the end of mile 23, I’ll still have 3.2 miles to go. I reckon in terms of preparation I’m not doing badly relative to the rest of The Access Project’s team. Chris has a stress fracture and is strictly not allowed to run. Last week he sent us all an x-ray of his over-trained ankle. There were bits of solid white that clearly weren’t where they’re supposed to be.
Oualid and Nicky picked up classic runners’ injuries a few months ago and have only been clear to take part for the last month. My dad is in a state – after a spate of injuries (most likely age-related) he can just about run for half an hour, and his friends have unsuccessfully pleaded with him to be sensible and pull out. So my shin splints – which put me out for a couple of weeks – are hardly worth mentioning.
But they sure were annoying. When you have an injury it’s as if your body is being disloyal to the rest of you, and you kind of hate it. And as you hobble along the street to and from work, you look at people nonchalantly strolling past you in disbelief – can’t they feel the pain too? It’s hard to imagine not being injured. I’m back on the road now. Last week I did my first (short) session on the road for a month and the next day felt no ill effects – so I’ve forgiven my body. One thing about running a marathon which I didn’t know previously is the need to rest in advance – for the last few days there is really no running at all. It seems weird as (please stop reading any Access Project students) before big deadlines like exams I’m used to cramming until the last minute. There’s none of that now. I’ll find out soon if my preparation has been enough or not enough. For now I’m just waiting… and checking our fundraising page every couple of hours. £21,505 so far! Thank you everyone. With this much raised at mile 23 the marathon will be a doddle.
‘Highbury Grove Medicine Society visits the Royal Veterinary College’ by Shona McIntosh
On Friday, I took a group of students to the Royal Veterinary College to dissect rabbits. Having never studied Biology, even at school, the whole dissection experience was new ground for me, and I must admit to feeling some trepidation as we entered the room and I saw the rows of dissection tables, each with a sad-looking rabbit stretched out on it waiting to be opened up!
The students, who have all been regular attendees at our MedSoc workshop for budding doctors, were in general less squeamish than me, although the smell of the rabbits’ insides did lead to quite a few amusing facial expressions as they got, em, stuck in (for want of a better expression)…
Working in small groups, it was interesting to see the different ways they approached their task. They were given an actual workbook that first-year Vet students would use to carry out their own dissection, and apart from an introductory safety talk from the senior technician, Andrew Crook, they were left to their own devices. The technicians wandered round each group, pointing out interesting pieces of anatomy and answering questions, but what the students did with each rabbit was left up to them, which was a great introduction for them to the kind of independent learning that they’ll do at university. One group had opened up their rabbit and laid most of its internal organs on the table before another group had even finished skinning theirs!
The staff were absolutely brilliant, responding to most questions with hints to help the students figure out the answers for themselves, and really drawing out the students’ existing knowledge to help them understand the anatomy in front of them. At one point James managed to get the group to understand why rabbits eat their own poo, entirely by asking them questions about things they already knew (it’s something to do with the cell structure of grass having to pass through the digestive system more than once to break down entirely. Not that I already knew any of that, but the students did!). The students took away a more detailed understanding of animal anatomy and digestive functions (I hope), and had a really great experience of university facilities and teaching styles.
Unfortunately I got home to find my boyfriend had visited the farmer’s market and bought a rabbit for dinner. It is going to live in the freezer until I have forgotten everything I learned about rabbits on Friday…
‘A furore over postgraduate funding’ by Shona McIntosh
It was an interesting week last week for news stories about postgraduate funding. Mica Ertegun, whose late husband was co-founder of Atlantic records, has just established a scholarship programme that will fund 15 students a year to study postgraduate degrees in Art and Humanities at Oxford University. And as though trying to get in on the act, the government also announced it will review postgraduate funding (which barely got a mention in the Browne report or any of the subsequent furore over fees).
About time too, I’d say! Astonishingly, at the moment, universities aren’t even obliged to monitor the backgrounds of their postgraduate students, so nobody really knows whether there is a noticeable class divide among people doing graduate degrees. I am willing to hazard a guess that there is, and that it’s considerably worse than the class divide that sees thirty per cent of Oxbridge students come from private schools.
At the moment, if you want to do a post grad course, and you want to have some help with fees and living costs, you have to apply for a scholarship from a research council. These scholarships are massively over-subscribed: last year’s AHRC figures show that only one in five applications for PhD funding was successful. That’s a lot of well-qualified rejects – and if you come from a wealthy background, you may be able to say, ‘well, I’d have liked the funding, but I’m going to do it anyway.’ I know from personal experience that university departments rely on and actively try to recruit self-funded doctoral students. Even at £3k a year, these fees mean that only those from privileged backgrounds could afford this option. If you were less well-off, you might just be able to manage to do the degree part-time, while working to support yourself and cover the fees. At £9k a year, this will be out of the reach of all but the very rich.
This is a total waste of talent, apart from the clear social inequality of the situation. Given how popular post-grad qualifications (especially Masters degrees) have become, it is vital to establish a comprehensive system of funding that allows all those with the ability to do well in post-graduate education the chance to enter it. The student loan system should be extended so that all those who achieve a First or a high 2.1 should be eligible for funding to cover postgraduate fees and living costs. It is time we started talking about widening participation in postgraduate education, and a fair and sensible funding system is the first step towards making this happen.
‘Valentine’s Day Debating’ by Shona McIntosh
Is this offensive to your religion?
In honour of the season, last week’s motion in the Senior Debating club was ‘This house believes that Valentine’s Day is a cheap ploy to sell tacky goods.’ My students have a noticeable tendency to come up with a point that shows how the motion – any motion – is offensive to someone’s religion. I had thought this motion would make them think outside the box. However, the first argument put forward by the proposition was that St Valentine was a lecherous old child abuser and that therefore celebrating him was both morally wrong and – you’ve guessed it – offensive to religious people.
However, once they’d moved on from this slightly shaky argument, both teams came up with some great points. We heard that Valentine’s Day was likely to increase suicides among lonely people, countered by the proposition’s point that it was good to have a day to celebrate love, and anyway, lonely people could always go speed-dating. We heard that love should be celebrated every day, not just on February 14th, that Valentine’s Day is good for the economy, and that the relentless focus on hearts and pink teddy bears infantilises women (OK, I admit I sort of fed them that last point).
Perhaps surprisingly, given that they had the harder task, the opposition won! Their logical defence of the tradition on the basis that it was a bit of harmless fun, good economic sense, and a positive celebration of love in all its forms, left Valentine’s Day safe for another year…
‘The Highs and Lows of Risk Assessment’ by Dorrie Spencer
The monster of Dorrie's nightmares
In about week 2 of my arrival at The Access Project I (somewhat rashly) agreed to take a group of students on a trip over half term. As the date grows ever nearer, the dreaded term “RISK ASSESSMENT” has reared its ugly head, and I am faced with my most major test yet.
The document I have to fill in is 26 pages long, and it’s designed to make you think of the worst that could possibly ever happen to you and your students on the trip. And whilst this is probably a good idea, it is an unbelievably depressing document to fill out.
What WILL I do if one of my students falls under a bus whilst crossing the road? What on earth can I do if someone falls off a cliff?! And my trip isn’t even a high risk one – it’s only a day trip to a university campus. Heaven help me if I actually try to do anything more complicated with the students involving (cue: sharp intake of breath) an overnight stay! The risks involved in that are just too overwhelming to think about. Oh dear. I think it’s time for a calming cup of tea.
‘Universities target most AABle students’ – by Niamh Quille
At a time when ‘A’ grade A-levels are increasingly common, the recent government reforms to higher education – allowing universities to take on an unlimited number of students who achieve AAB grades or higher – are having interesting effects on university recruitment. According to Peter Scott in the Guardian this week, universities are “sifting the wheat – students with AAB grades at A-Level – from the chaff – those who missed their grades or never had the opportunities and resources to aspire so high in the first place”. As part of the changes, some universities are refocusing their recruitment strategies to target AAB students by offering sizeable financial incentives to the top applicants.
Take, for example, the ‘excellence’ scholarship at the University of Kent and the Chancellor’s scholarship at the University of Leicester, which both offer £2,000 for each year of study to students who make them their firm choice and go on to achieve AAA at A-level, regardless of family income.
Scott has an ethical objection to this. Whilst, in itself, there is nothing wrong with universities offering financial incentives to high performing applicants, offering 17 year olds thousands of pounds as reward for choosing a particular university, only to take it away if they miss their target grades is not only dubious, as Scott argues, but also is a real distraction for disadvantaged applications who may already have financial worries on their mind when choosing which universities to apply to.
At the core of The Access Project’s tutoring system is the belief that raising academic achievement amongst disadvantaged young people, rather than aspiration alone, is the key to widening participation in the UK’s top universities. Many of our students will be in that ‘AAB’ category with a wide range of university courses available to them. The real difficulty with bursaries like the ones above is that they divert attention away from the message that finance is not a barrier to accessing higher education – no fees are paid up front and you don’t pay a penny back until you’re earning over £21,000 – at a time when young people are more concerned than ever before about the financial commitments of higher education. What’s really worrying is the idea that an applicant with top grades might choose a university because the short-term financial rewards its offers rather the quality of the course or the university itself.
It is true; ‘A’ grade A-levels are becoming a common commodity but this is the message we want our students to take away: Don’t sell yourself short and don’t get short changed.
‘The Watford Half Marathon’ by Shona McIntosh
Shona coaching the TAP runners
This Sunday I’ll be running the Watford Half Marathon, along with some of TAP’s marathon team. What with Crispin getting injured about 2 weeks in to a training schedule I suggested, I’m loath to push the remaining runners too hard! Still, I know Alex and Nick are both aiming for fairly ambitious times in Paris, so I’ve given them target paces for this weekend that would set them up nicely for the longer run. Alex wants to run the marathon in under 3 hours, and Nick is aiming for three and a half. With the big race only 10 weeks away, if they want to achieve those targets, they should be able to run a half in 1.25 and 1.35 respectively.
I’ve given them some standard tips – ease down on the training this week, eat lots of carbs on Saturday, and don’t have too much booze beforehand (afterwards is a different matter!). And on the day I’ll be stressing that they shouldn’t go off too fast. I suspect Alex might set off like Usain Bolt and suffer for it a few miles in. Actually, I’m sort of hoping he does do that, firstly because it would be quite funny to watch, and secondly because it will teach him the importance of a measured start before he runs the marathon! A couple of years ago I made a similar mistake in the London marathon. I did my first 5k in pretty much my 5k PB time, and then by mile 8 was starting to die a slow painful death. And I still had 18 miles to go! It was really unpleasant, and my time in the end was fairly embarrassing. A half marathon at this stage in the training is a good opportunity to practice racing strategy and learn how to pace your running steadily. And if you do make any mistakes, at least you only have to stagger round 13 miles rather than 26!
I’ve run Watford before, and it is a really nice course with lots of rural roads and quite a few hills! Most importantly, tea and biscuits are available at the finish. Watch this space to see how we all get on…
‘A day in the life of a Programme Manager (AKA a Manic Day)’ by Dorrie Spencer
The end of school draws nigh and I heave a sigh of relief – it has well and truly been a manic day.
The boys argue as passionately as these guys, but they're rarely dressed quite as smartly!
Kids have been accosting me in corridors to find out more about the Project, and students have been lining up outside my office to sign up for tutors. This morning I ran a workshop on media and current affairs, and I have just finished policing an extremely lively debate club full of 20 very bright, very vocal boys.
I think it’s safe to say that the Project is really starting to kick-off. Over 35 Year 10 students have signed up to take part, 23 Year 12s are on the books as potential tutees and 13 Year 11 students are about to be matched up with tutors (with plenty more banging on the door to get in on the action too – these are the ones that have been lining up outside my door!).
Add to that an important Progress meeting first thing, and it’s safe to say that it’s been totally action-packed.
So when I say a manic day, I actually mean a super-awesome day. Being a Programme Manager is immensely rewarding and it’s brilliant to be starting to get to know the students better. They are a really lively; an interested and interesting group.
But I have to admit, I am looking forward to going home, putting the kettle on and getting some peace and quiet!
‘Coffee’ by Alex Kelly
For someone who quit caffeine earlier this month, I drank a lot of coffee last weekend. On Saturday I met a retired secondary school headteacher who I was asking to join our advisory board, and with the help of two blow-your-head-off filter coffees it took us just 45 minutes to put the education system back on track. Still shaking slightly, on Sunday morning I met a retired derivatives trader (I think he’s around 30, by the way), and had a flat white and then an expresso while we discussed his plan to research how state school students perform in their undergraduate degrees compared to independent school students. With the plan sorted, I chased the other coffees with a latte while chatting to one of The Access Project’s trustees on the phone, and was still nursing the dregs when I was joined by an economics graduate who wants to run a series of 6 weekly after-school economics workshops in a gap he has between two jobs. When I got home (I know this is weird) I ate some instant coffee granules. Then I watched giant snails come out of the wall, and lay on my bed unable to sleep. Today I’m on hot milk.
‘The Summer School Effect’ by Shona McIntosh
It was encouraging to see research published today on how summer schools can help students get into top universities (and not just because I’m about to write a funding application to finance a TAP summer school, and am actively seeking evidence of their impact!). 76% of children who gain entry to a summer school then go on to an elite university, and the Sutton Trust’s summer school scheme is set to expand this year, putting new partnerships in place with Imperial, UCL, and Durham. I will certainly be encouraging our students to apply for these, but I do wonder how much of the success of the students this report looked at is down to the intervention of the summer school, and how much of it is to do with the fact that those who are performing well already are more likely to go to the summer school. With 7 applications for every Sutton Trust place, the universities can afford to be almost as picky with who gets into a summer school as they are about A-level results!
- A TAP trip to the University of Oxford in 2010 for Year 11s and their parents
The Sutton Trust has previously calculated that around 3000 students each year get the grades to go to an elite university, but go instead to a less prestigious institution – these are sometimes known as ‘most able, least likely’, and it certainly seems that the summer schools have an impressive success rate in reaching out to students from this group. Why are they so much more successful than, for example, open days on campus or HE fairs in schools? It is probably common sense that immersion in campus life over several days will have more of an effect than a fleeting visit, but I don’t think their success is purely down to this more intensive approach. Summer schools involve the students actually doing academic work, and experiencing a university learning environment. Attending lectures and seminars, and actively participating in them, is about more than just aspiration-raising: it gives the student a preview of what university-style learning and teaching methods, and should hopefully also teach them something tangible about their chosen subject. Highly-able students from all sorts of backgrounds respond to that with the same enthusiasm and excitement that any fresher would.
This is a lesson that universities could apply to their other types of outreach work too. I’m currently planning some campus trips for our students so have been researching the different activities on offer at different universities. Time and again I see the same menu of options – talks on student life, on personal statements, on how the application system works. While it is great for school pupils to hear about this stuff from current undergrads, I can’t help thinking that they could get all this information without actually leaving school premises! If we’re going to go all the way to a university campus, I want the pupils to be able to experience some actual learning while they’re there – all universities should be building into their outreach days some taster classes, whether it’s a lecture, mini group project, or seminar. Giving students an actual experience of what it’s like to be taught in a university is far more beneficial to them than offering advice they can get from a multitude of other sources. Note to WP departments everywhere: spread the summer school effect more widely, please!
‘If you’re not moving forward, you’re stationery…’ by Alex Kelly
After the Christmas break we’re back in the swing of things, only now we’re a little bit more organized and grown up.
2B or not 2B?
Shona is now an autonomous agent running the Project at Highbury Grove. She’s playing a benign Akhmad Kadyrov to my Vladimir Putin. So I’ve stepped back entirely from running weekly workshops like debating and creative writing, and Shona is doing it all on her own.
And Dorrie is settling in very well to her new role running the Project at Central Foundation Boys’ School. She keeps sending me positive messages, like, ‘Just wanted to let you know that I have met my first Year 13 student, and we had a great chat. It also sounds like he has had a great experiences with his tutor so far, so we could definitely think about a second tutor for him.’ Thinking about expanding into our first new school prior to the event, I never expected things to go this smoothly – so I’m left twiddling my thumbs back at TAP headquarters.
Well, not quite, because I’m now turning my attention to deciding which three schools and corporate partners we want to start working with in September. This means lots of cycling across London from meeting to meeting. On my travels I’m accumulating an impressive collection of corporate-branded stationery. If anyone needs an industrial supply of propelling pencils branded with the logos of leading legal, strategy consulting and banking firms, I’m your man.
‘A Programme Manager’s diary: Day 5 at TAP, Day 2 in school’ by Dorrie Spencer
Coming in to the staff room on my first day at school, I picked a seat and got cracking with introducing myself to the teachers around me. It was only after about five minutes that I realised I had disturbed the natural order of things and that the teachers were looking a bit confused - I had stolen someone’s chair! Oh dear…
Today was my first full day in school, and it was really exciting to see everything in action. I have met so many members of staff that my head is awhirl with names, job roles, and faces. It’s going to take a while to get it all straight in my head, and I haven’t even started with the students yet! Some of the teachers have tried to give me tips on remembering it all, but I have a feeling that they’ve honed their brains over many years in the classroom. Sadly I am some way off that! Still, it’s always something to aspire to.
How funny that I have only been part of The Access Project for a week, it seems much longer (in a good way of course!). Last Wednesday when I showed up at the office, I knew next to nothing about The Access Project or Central Foundation Boys’ School. Just look at me now… after five days of induction, watching Shona run the show in Highbury Grove, and speaking to anyone who’d give me the time of day (which, as it turns out, is most people – they are a very friendly bunch), I have finally been let loose on the school to get started with the Project. How exciting!
All being well, I will launch the programme next week for Year 12s, which will involve me speaking in their assembly. Apparently they can be “a bit of a rowdy group, but as long as you’re an engaging speaker you’ll be fine”. Guess that’s the next challenge then… but you know what I say? Bring it on!
‘Tutoring Obaid’ by Coralie Colmez
My first lesson with Obaid was a nightmare of organisation, seeing as there are three Starbucks cafés in Angel. Once we managed to be in the same one, however, he turned out to be the nicest boy I had ever met, as well as not too bad at plotting polynomials of degree 3, though he needed a fair amount of guidance.
The author, but not while tutoring.
Obaid didn’t do well in his AS levels last year, and decided to retake them. At the start of our next lesson he announced that he had resolved to work really hard, and he had gone through all the exercises in our chapter. As the weeks went on I could feel that he was getting a lot more confident with the maths, rather than simply learning it.
When you see someone every week, you really do get to know them, and them you – my tutee last year, Matthew, suggested we move a lesson to 12pm “because I know you don’t like getting up in the morning miss”. Well, getting to know people like Obaid is one of my favourite things about tutoring for TAP, and it’s enough to make you look forward to Wednesday afternoons.
The very best bit about the whole thing, however, is when you feel you’ve made a difference somewhere. Recently in a lesson, Obaid was going through a past paper with no need for my help apart from an occasional glance. “I can see you’re bored miss”, he said, and he looked pretty pleased with himself.
‘The Bain Winter Event’ by Shona McIntosh
Yesterday afternoon Highbury Grove School was buzzing with various different events, all of them involving large numbers of visitors! Downstairs in the hall, various primary schools were coming together for a Christmas Carol Concert, and up on the top floor we had 30 volunteers from Bain and Company come in for the afternoon to offer one-to-one careers advice to our Year 12 students. There was an atmosphere of controlled chaos as we took over 3 rooms, each room hosting two different workshop stations which the students had to move around in groups.
We had provided the volunteers with background information and activities to get the students thinking, and the various topics included how to write a great CV, what to include in a UCAS personal statement, choosing a course and university, careers with different types of degrees, and student finance.
After some initial confusion, especially during the first station changeover, everyone got into the swing of the sessions, and it was great to wander round the rooms and see every single student in a group of 30 engaged in deep conversation with the volunteers. And while I think the educational activities were useful, perhaps even more important is the experience it gave the students of connecting with a world of graduate professionals who can offer some of their own life experience.
Most of our students have no family history of higher education and so lack the contacts that middle class teenagers take for granted. It is truly valuable I think for students at this key stage in their life, with so many important choices ahead of them, to be able to talk to a range of people about possible paths into the professions. Possibly my favourite sight of the afternoon was when, at each changeover, a room full of inner-city pupils enthusiastically shook hands with their volunteers a chorus of “nice to meet you” sounded from all sides. It provided a pleasingly warm and fuzzy end to term for all involved!
‘This isn’t going to get better on its own’ by Alex Kelly
According to the OECD, income inequality among working-age people has risen faster in Britain than in any other rich nation since the mid-1970s.
The annual average income in the UK of the top 10% in 2008 was just under £55,000, about 12 times higher than that of the bottom 10%, who had an average income of £4,700.
This is up from a ratio of eight to one in 1985 and significantly higher than the average income gap in other developed nations, where it is nine to one.
I find it troubling that inequality of pay is rising – as a believer in the human race I like to think that over time we make progress.
And as a patriot it’s embarrassing that inequality of pay is rising faster in the UK than in other rich nations.
I would like to think that before anything else I’m a libertarian. It shouldn’t matter to me that people’s incomes are very different: this is a free country and people need to have the chance to succeed as well as the chance to fail.
However it is horribly obvious that the libertarian position doesn’t stand to reason. This isn’t a free country.
Having taught in an inner city school for five years, and now running a charity to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds win places at top universities, what’s been staring me in the face since stepping out of the home counties and in to the classroom is this: worse than inequality of pay, inequality of health, inequality of aptitude, worse than any other kind of inequality, is the appalling inequality of opportunity in this country.
Just over half the Access Project students speak English as a second language. Only a very few of their parents have been to university. On the flip-side, these students’ independently schooled peers are brought up by parents articulate in English, who have been extensively educated themselves.
Our students are at an impressive disadvantage before they get to school age, but while our students do their learning in classes of 29 or 30 full of students from exactly the same background (their schools are comprehensive only in name), the independently schooled do their lessons in classes of 15, full of students exactly like themselves. The end of the school day for our students is at 3pm. For the independently schooled it is 4.30 or 5pm. Our students go home to play on computer games. The independently schooled go home to a private tutor in an academic subject or a violin.
Many of our students struggle to gain a ‘C’ grade at English GCSE, which is the national target. But - speaking as an ex English teacher – you barely need to be literate to get a ‘C’ grade at English GCSE. On the other hand, as the headteacher of Eton once put it, his students pick up GCSEs like boy scouts picking up badges. The bar is so low that many independent schools have abandoned GCSEs all-together.
I believe that inequality of pay is sustainable only as long as it is the case that with hard work and aptitude, anyone could earn the top levels of pay. I’m not at all convinced that this is the case in the UK. One’s level of education, and therefore one’s life-possibilities, is ordained at birth.
I’d like to be a libertarian but we can’t let the disparities in our society continue to grow. Inequality of pay is growing, and so is the much more dangerous inequality of opportunity. Over the summer we witnessed the complete breakdown of law and order in the UK’s major cities, and many commentators are warning that a repeat of these riots is inevitable. We have to act to fix the inequalities that feed resentment and violence: the writing is on the wall.
‘Are students really ‘at the heart of the system’?’ by Shona McIntosh
I have mixed feeling about today’s news that a fifth of universities are applying for a last-minute reduction in their fees. Obviously I welcome the fact that this will mean many students will be leaving university in summer, 2014, with thousands of pounds less debt than they would have done. But at the same time, today’s announcement is the result of wrangling between the government and the university boards of management, and it leaves me wondering who’s listening to the students in all this? Considering that ‘students at the heart of the system’ was the rather nebulous promise of the White Paper that started this all off, neither the government nor the universities seem to be particularly concerned the fact that tens of thousands of students have already submitted their UCAS application, and now the goalposts are being moved around them. Again.
This year’s cohort, if they thought about university in their early teenage years, would have been perfectly reasonable in assuming that they would be applying and attending university under a system that charged them around £3000 a year. This changed dramatically with the publication of the Browne review in 2010, and in the fifteen months since then we’ve been treated to a steady stream of universities announcing that they’d be charging the maximum £9000 a year. After some desperate efforts from certain coalition politicians, we now seem to be witnessing a partial reversal of this pattern.
None of this is fair on the applicants themselves. The UCAS process is enough of a gamble as it is, given students are applying without certain knowledge of what grades they’ll achieve: it is unfair and unrealistic to expect them to negotiate the process without having the full range of fee information in front of them. Whatever the politicians and the universities ultimately decide about fee levels, the most important things is that the decisions are transparent and easily understood by university applicants and their families. Chopping and changing in the middle of play just heaps confusion onto an already confusing process.
‘Up North’ by Alex Kelly
Yesterday I met with Charlie, Head of Year 10 and a PE teacher at The Canon’s High School in Queensbury – which is at the northern end of the Jubilee Line. She approached us after seeing the Telegraph piece, saying that her school was interested in running The Access Project.
Alex was worried that he was going to have to fight his way through herds of these to reach the school, but we assured him that it was not that far north.
As a teacher and now running the Project I’ve always been working in inner-city London. It’s been 6 years now, and I’m embarrassed to say that this was the furthest out of the centre I’ve ever ventured! Queensbury is full of low-rise semi-detached 1950s houses with car parking spaces and leafy roundabouts. It’s a different world from what I’ve been used to and I felt a little disorientated making my way from the tube station to the school. At the school, most of the students are from families of Indian and Pakistani origin – again something new for me – there was not a single student from this descent at Highbury Grove in the years I taught there. Kevin, a Deputy Head at the Canon’s High School, was also at our meeting, and when I asked about which firms they are already in contact with who he thought might like to sponsor The Access Project at the school, he explained that the school does not have any partnerships with corporates. Again, a culture-shock: visit a school in Tower Hamlets and typically they will have long-standing relationships with several blue-chip firms whose offices are in their back yard.
However, our meeting proved that the key characteristics that make The Access Project useful are present at Canon’s High School: motivated but disadvantaged students (roughly 40% of the students are on Free School Meals), a committed and dynamic teaching staff, and university access that could be improved. Currently students at the school have excellent university access – most leave the school to go on to Higher Education – but this is mostly to local universities rather than institutions in the Russell Group. The school is ambitious to change this and, as far as, I’m concerned, it would be great to expand The Access Project into a school which is so different from the ones we work in at the moment. We want to keep piloting the Project in different environments, so that when we are ready to scale, we will have a wide range of experiences and expertise to draw upon.
‘Speaking at the Oxford Union’ by Alex Kelly
From left to right: Martha Mackenzie, OUSU President; Alex Kelly; James Freeland, treasurer of the Oxford Union Standing Committee and chair of the panel; Linda Jones, Partner, Pinsent Masons; Jonathan Bond, Director of HR and Learning, Pinsent Masons.
On Tuesday evening I was part of a panel discussion put together by the Oxford Union to examine how to get more students from disadvantaged backgrounds winning places at Oxford and Cambridge.
I was the first to speak, and my opening gambit ruffled a few feathers among the audience and other members of the panel. I inadvertently caused a bit of a furore when I said that the way to improve access to top universities is not to focus on raising aspiration, but to focus on raising attainment. I said that universities doing Open Days, and law firms giving work experience, was more or less useless unless these efforts are accompanied by focused, long term intervention to help students from lower socio-economic backgrounds get better grades.
To my right was the president of the Oxford University Student Union, who organises a lot of Open Days, and to my left was a partner from a law firm, who is in charge of the firm’s work experience. We had a heated but thoroughly productive discussion about the way various different issues interact to place barriers in the way of disadvanataged students achieving their full potential. But by the end of it I felt that I had won over most of the audience, who agreed with me that the achievement gap is more intractable than the aspiration gap, and that corporates and universities need to get real and address the more difficult problem head on.
Alex and Martha in a heated discussion
Full marks to The Access Project’s partners – firms like Booz and Company – who are doing just this. Their employees are signing up to become one-to-one tutors in their dozens. They start tutoring students for an hour a week when the students are only 14, and they stay working with them until the students are 18. Not some flash-in-the-pan, feel-good sound-bite! This is meaningful intervention!
‘First week at Highbury Grove’ by Shona McIntosh
I’ve just finished my first full week as the Programme Manager at Highbury Grove School. It has been exhausting but fun! The main task I’ve had this week has been to match all the students up with their tutors. My lovely colleague Deborah had organised the pairings in advance, but this week I’ve had to meet with all the students to make sure they understand we expect them to work really hard in the tutorials and to check what textbooks they’re using so we can order those for their tutors. Then I’m emailing students and tutors to introduce them to each other and get them going.
I am meeting lots of students for the first time in these meetings, so it’s been great fun getting to know who everyone is and asking them what their hopes are for the future. It’s been really inspiring seeing how motivated many of them are to do well, and I am excited to be part of a project which hopefully will be helping them on their way! I know the tutors are all raring to go too, so hopefully this half-term break will see lots of tutorials getting underway in offices and coffee shops all over London!
The other big thing on my desk this week has been UCAS applications: our final year students are sending their applications off, which makes for a slightly frantic atmosphere in school as they make the final tweaks to their personal statements and the teachers rush around writing references for everyone. I’ve been helping many of our students edit their personal statements and in a lot of cases I’ve been really moved by how much they’ve achieved already, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. I think am going to be as nervous as they are come results day. But that’s a long way away yet – there’s a whole school year to get through first!
‘Back to School’ by Alex Kelly
After a summer of hard work developing tutoring materials and infrastructure, we are getting back to what we do best: working with kids to help them achieve their potential. We’re resuming our work at Highbury Grove School next week (our next blog will tell you all about how that’s going) but I am also really looking forward to starting The Access Project at Central Foundation Boys’ School.
We’re doing some work supporting their Year 13 students with their UCAS applications at the moment, but we’ll be launching properly in January. Yesterday I had a multi-hour planning meeting with the Headteacher and an assistant head, as well as FOUR people from our corporate partners. We discussed everything from the kind of students we want to target the Project at (we agreed to select students based on their motivation) to the make-up of the advisory board.
I’m super pumped to be embarking on something with such a dynamic and committed team. Jamie the Headteacher is a force of nature and is determined to get the best for his students. Our corporate partners have the highest standards imaginable and are dead-set on making the Project an outstanding success! Also exciting is that this partnership is truly unique: The Access Project will be fully embedded in the fabric of the school, and our corporate partner is putting their full weight – from their HR team to their Managing Partner – into helping the students excel. Awesome!