The programme, which is designed to raise aspirations amongst students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, was launched with a pilot group of United Learning schools in July. The programme consists of a series of residential events which take place twice a year for four years.

The programme participants, who are currently in Year 10, enjoyed a meet-up event at Caterham School at the end of last term along with their parents and carers. The students had first met at the launch event in the summer.  This was an opportunity to reconnect in person with their individual mentors – who are current students from Oxford, Cambridge and Sussex Universities – and present on their summer projects.

Over the summer, students were asked to write a letter to their future selves, imagining the person they would want to be in four years’ time and what they would like to have achieved. This follows on from initial work on developing their ambitions and future plans with their mentors, and will be handed back to them when they graduate from the programme in 2020 so they can see just how far they have come.

The cohort has also been conducting independent research chains – exploring a topic that they each have a particular interest in and using as many different media as possible to develop their understanding. Students presented on their findings, which ranged from physiotherapy to forensic science, aviation to psychology, in front of a captive audience of their peers, parents and mentors during the meet-up day.

Following the students’ research presentations, parents got fully involved and provided useful feedback and encouragement – as well as asking a lot of questions! They also took part in a session on UCAS, the national university application process, led by Caterham staff. This covered the key role that parents can play alongside schools in supporting young people to access Higher Education, such as helping them apply for summer schools, looking into open days, finding the right work experience and meeting deadlines.

The university mentors were also on-hand during the day to catch up with parents, answer their questions and to discuss they can help with their children’s progress throughout the course of the programme.

One parent said of the event:

“The presentations were great! Seeing the children stand up and speaking with confidence about something they are passionate about was incredible.”

Another added:

“The UCAS presentation was very informative. It opened my eyes to something I had not previously considered. I also really enjoyed meeting the other parents and the mentors again.”

United Access aims, through the twice-yearly residential events, to expose students to new concepts and ideas through lessons designed to challenge their skills and understanding further than the curriculum. This academic work is supplemented by a range of exciting extracurricular adventures and activities including drama workshops, high ropes courses and motivational talks.  Importantly, students have a mentor to work alongside throughout the four years – giving them access to first-hand guidance and advice about navigating the Higher Education system and excelling in their ambitions.

Initial feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive, with all students rating their first residential as good or better. They reported enjoying the lessons and the inspirational guest speakers, and that they had a much better understanding already of the future options open to them.

Mohammed, a student from The Totteridge Academy, said of the programme so far:

“All the lessons were really fun. I have learned new stuff and have also overcome my fear of heights through rock climbing! I have learned many inspirational lessons, most importantly to be ‘PROACTIVE’, and it has changed my mind-set and approach.”

Katie, a student from The Hurlingham Academy, also said:

“I enjoyed bonding with people I would never have before, people who have actually and honestly enhanced the experience for me and made it all the more interesting. I also enjoyed the lessons, particularly psychology, because it was interesting throughout and surprisingly different from normal classroom studies.”

Martina Montecchiarini, Project Lead at United Learning, said:

“We have had an extremely encouraging start to the programme and, following their first residential in July, it is clear just what an impact it has already had on students. As staff, we thoroughly enjoyed hearing about all the work that participants had done independently over the summer holidays, with the support of their university mentors. We now look forward to seeing them continue to develop in confidence and understanding as the year goes on as we approach the next residential at Caterham in the spring.”

The schools currently involved in the programme are Lambeth Academy, Midhurst Rother College, The Hurlingham Academy, The Regis School, The Totteridge Academy and Wye School.

The programme has been modelled on the AAF’s current flagship programme, the University Access Programme, seed funded by the Sutton Trust with continued support from The Garfield Weston Foundation and private donors. This programme has been running in Kent for several years already and has shown early positive results which have been evidenced in a report prepared by the Centre for Evaluation Management at the University of Durham.

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United Access


(This article was originally published on the United Learning website and has been reproduced with their permission)