At Leeds Trinity University we have been delighted to welcome younger students back onto campus for the first pre-16 visits since Covid-19. After much planning, cancelling, planning, cancelling and planning again, we finally brought over 200 Year 8 and Year 10 students on site for some Higher Education Experience days – and we absolutely loved it!
The cohorts invited to these trips all meet some sort of Widening Participation (WP) criteria. I also worked with Pupil Premium leads in various schools to ensure that the attending students were those who were least likely to have subsequent opportunities presented to them. We really wanted them to visit our campus, enjoy our campus, and leave feeling comfortable and happy (hopefully along the way they would learn more about HE too).
As outreach practitioners, we know that ‘light touch’ activities like a one-off visit probably won’t impact skills and attainment. It might alter less tangible things like future aspirations or personal development though. Last week, after a day of mingling with each other and learning from our fantastic student ambassadors, I sat with teachers as we watched students present their group-work back to everyone:
“He [a student presenting work to a room of 60] never normally talks, I’m so shocked!”
“They would never usually sit with each other.”
And a personal favourite: “I’d honestly have to pay those girls to do group work with that lot in school!”
With OfS and Access and Participation Plan emphasis so strongly, and rightly, on evaluation, it is so important to reflect on qualitative data like the feedback above and remember the bigger picture of why we do what we do: to encourage young people to reach further; to push themselves; to achieve.
I was a WP student in school and I can’t think back to any single moment where I thought university was for me. What I can remember is visiting a university for the first time, with a mental image of a very intimidating Hogwarts-eque place in my head, and realising ‘hey, I’ve enjoyed this, maybe I could do something like this’. I remember the day and I remember the university. Years later I ended up applying there. That is what we want our visits to do.
Younger students are years off decision making, and obviously equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate these decisions are so important, but hearing teachers and advisors so impressed by how the students applied themselves reminded me of the bigger picture. Students came to university for one visit, for one day, and achieved the unexpected. They left smiling. Imagine what it can unlock for them in the future.
Kim Burmiston, Schools and College Engagement Officer, Widening Participation, Leeds Trinity University