17 March 2011: A four year outreach programme run by Brunel University to attract gifted students from inner city schools has achieved superb results, proving the value of sustained intervention, providing a model for other institutions – and changing the lives of scores of teenagers.
The forthcoming increase in university tuition fees has pushed to the top of the education agenda the question of how best the UK’s top universities can attract students from disadvantaged communities.
Now Brunel University has provided some answers. Its Urban Scholars programme is an outreach initiative designed to identify bright students, challenge them over a sustained period of time and encourage them to raise their sights and consider studying rigorous subjects at well-respected universities.
‘Urban Scholars’ begins when students are around 12 years old. During regular sessions at Brunel’s west London campus, university staff and visiting speakers stretch them intellectually and enrich their work at school. The students also learn research, presentation and study techniques and develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills.
SHINE funding enabled 100 students to attend the Urban Scholars programme from 2006-10. Results from this cohort show that:
- 83% completed all four years
- 97% of students achieved A*-C grades in English and 95% did so in maths
- more than 43% achieved an A* or A grade in English (41% in maths)
- more than 70% met or exceeded their targets
- students participating for all four years achieved on average one grade higher than those who spent less time on the programme and two grades higher than equally gifted students who were not on the programme
- 41% are now taking at least one science A level – more than twice the national average of 17%
- the number of students expressing a desire to attend university rose from 49% at the start of the programme to 92% at its end
These results demonstrate the value of a properly structured and sustained initiative. Brunel’s Urban Scholars programme now offers a proven model of good practice to other institutions looking to engage and attract students from low income backgrounds.
Sixth form Urban Scholars
A new SHINE grant is extending the Urban Scholars programme to enable 50 of the same cohort to continue receiving support. Brunel had found that Urban Scholars often contacted the university after their programme had finished asking for advice and guidance about university admissions.
The sixth form programme will address these issues by helping students make informed and focused decisions about higher education. It will include:
- workshops on writing CVs and personal statements
- examination training for AS levels
- classes specialising in critical thinking
- English sessions that focus on the literacy skills required at university
In addition, the students will mentor younger Urban Scholars and receive guidance from older scholars now studying at Brunel. We will be following the sixth form programme closely and will share any learning points that emerge.