As we reflect on 2020 we asked Access Project staff, tutors and students to tell us what this year has been like for them and how TAP has given them hope for a better future.  University Access Officer, Matthew explains how school closures and exam cancellations have impacted his students…
A chaotic and tumultuous year nears its end. A new year is on the horizon and it brings with it hope of a return to normality; it is an invitation to reflect, take a deep breath  and contemplate the struggles and successes of the year.

I joined The Access Project as a University Access Officer in April. Beginning my role during a national lockdown meant meeting my colleagues virtually, trying to build rapport with my cohorts of students from a distance, and encouraging engagement during a difficult time for everyone. Starting in my role when I did my resilience and patience were often tested. It helped to list the reasons I joined The Access Project:

  • I believe in educational equality;
  • Fair Access is essential;
  • My role contributes to structural change in Higher Education;
  • and I am here for my students.

My students. From year 10 through to the end of year 13, I work to support them in various ways. Long-term goal setting leads to actions, leading to progress and increased academic outcomes. Interactions in workshops and 1-1 sessions lead to advanced knowledge about their options for university, raising their aspirations and broadening the scope of their understanding. Overseeing and managing their tutorial pairings promotes positive relationship building alongside developing diligence, time-management and skills for professional communication.

In a normal year, this work is hugely impactful. This year, it has been vital. Maintaining the pace and quality of my provision with students has been challenging as I have been working from home. Coordinating times to host virtual workshops or 1-1s has meant working around school timetables, extra-curricular activities and unforeseen events. These logistical difficulties are hugely outweighed, however, by the benefits. As an Access Officer I am an expert advisor, confident guide and supportive ear.

When I think back to A Level results day in August I am still stupefied. The turmoil and upset felt by my students – caused by the rapid switch between algorithm grades and Centre Assessed Grades – was difficult to watch. Many of them missed out on their Firm and Insurance places, entering the uncertainty of clearing. The emotional impact on disadvantaged students was huge.

Some months on there is reason to feel proud. The students I worked with around results day are now all thriving at university, many of them subsequently secured places at their Firm or Insurance choices. Those who missed out on their university places before the government U-Turn felt inadequate. Navigating the following couple of weeks after results day took work, flexibility and a will to succeed, but working with these students to ensure they weren’t short-changed by the system is the greatest reminder that my work matters.

At The Access Project, we acknowledge the unavoidable truth that social, demographic and economic disparities exist within education. But, we do not accept that this truth is unchangeable. We believe that these factors are external forces that act on a person, and that no one should be limited by them in what they can achieve.

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