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香港六合彩彩色图库 www.sawe9.cn Discover how the University of Cambridge is working with partners across East Anglia to raise teenage aspirations in a region brimming with untapped potential.
East Anglia has long struggled to bridge the gap between school leavers and higher education. The reasons for this are complex but, as a new network of universities, further education providers and schools is discovering, the region does not lack teenage aspiration.
The key to improving social mobility – say researchers and frontline staff – is helping young people to make informed confident choices. And so, in Felixstowe Academy’s sports hall, a 15-year-old finds herself carefully extracting a pig’s eyeball from its socket...
“It’s really inspiring for my art,” she enthuses. “I often draw half-skulls and half-faces.” Liberty Pinner, a Year 10 student, is one of 60 teenagers from Felixstowe and Ipswich who are taking part in a very hands-on operating theatre experience.
Over much of the day, the students dissect brains, inflate lungs and explore intestines under the watchful eye of a trained clinician. “I usually find science boring,” Liberty says, “but I’m really enjoying this. I learn hands-on so much better.”
Liberty has no intention of entering the medical profession but she does have a plan: “I’m focusing on the creative side – I’m thinking Level 3 BTEC.” Liberty leaves little doubt that she will make this happen, but in doing so she will buck a stubborn trend in her corner of the UK.
While the region’s schools performed relatively well overall, it retained five of the worst performing areas indicated by outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals.
For this reason, the region now commands a quarter of the ‘Opportunity Areas’ receiving UK Department for Education funding to improve educational outcomes – in Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Ipswich and Norwich.
Grades remain a significant obstacle to social mobility in the region but this is not the only challenge. Two years ago, the government identified East Anglia as being one of the least successful parts of the country for converting solid GCSE attainment into participation in higher education.
And so, while the region’s story is partly about deprivation, it is also one of exciting untapped opportunity, as Professor Anna Vignoles, from Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, explains:
"Our research shows that, for many, a degree continues to be a vitally important route to a good job and higher earnings. It is particularly important that we make sure that young people who have achieved well at school, and who clearly have huge potential, are made aware of the options that are available to them. They need to be encouraged and supported to aim high.”
The government has taken this on board, and East Anglia is now home to the largest of 29 consortia in England funded as part of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) to deliver projects tailored to the needs of this specific group of students.
For the first time, the region’s five universities and eight of its further education colleges are working together with the common goal of helping young people with little or no experience of university to explore the world of higher education.
Launched in January 2017, the Network for East Anglian Collaborative Outreach (neaco) has been working with more than 10,000 students from Years 9 to 13 who live in areas identified by the government as having low rates of progression to higher education. These include urban, rural and coastal areas of deprivation.
“We’ve discovered that our differences as institutions are our strength,” says neaco Project Manager Tom Levinson, based at the University of Cambridge – the administrative lead. “This brings a huge amount of opportunity to young people in this region.”
At the centre of neaco’s approach is a programme of activities under the banner ‘Take Your Place’, which are delivered to students by 30 Higher Education Champions working in over 80 schools and colleges. The programme includes raising aspirations but also improving students’ understanding of, and preparedness for, applying for higher education.
The project converts research-based educational principles into a set of core teaching techniques such as challenging students to identify the objective of an activity, encouraging them to use and develop problem-solving strategies and providing ‘scaffolding’ to support progress through difficult tasks.
It also draws on the expertise of Dr Sonia Ilie, from Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, who is the project’s lead evaluator. Ilie’s expertise lies in how different aspects of deprivation affect educational outcomes, and much of her work involves assessing the effectiveness of programmes designed to improve the experiences of young people.
“In the past, there hasn’t been enough understanding about what works,” says Ilie. “Together with the other NCOP consortia, neaco is leading the way by placing evaluation and evidence building at its heart,” she adds.
“Our highly contextualised approach compares the outcomes of young people on the programme right now with students from the same schools, year groups, qualifications and attainment level, the year before we started. With this data, we can clearly establish what neaco’s impact is, and this will help to inform how other programmes are designed and evaluated for years to come.”
The Take Your Place activities – Felixstowe Academyʼs eye-removing, lung-inflating event among them – are as diverse as their participants. Earlier in 2018, sixth-formers from Thetford Academy paid a visit to the Norwich office of the insurance company Aviva to gain insights into career prospects.
One of the students, Jacek Lipinski, was so impressed that he applied for and secured one of the company’s 16 apprenticeship roles in software engineering. “I was studying computing and programming but I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Jacek.
“I liked the atmosphere ... they take the time to do things carefully and calmly. Seeing the organisation and the software they use first-hand was helpful.”
A more recent event, organised with the Carers Trust, gave a group of 15- and 16-year-old carers from around Huntingdon an immersive experience of student life at Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge campus. One of the highlights was learning about the marketing of chocolate in the School of Management and, fuelled with samples, the students worked as a team to pitch a new slogan.
Back in Felixstowe, the whiff of offal is growing steadily more pungent but the teenage surgeons remain focused on the gory task at hand. For some, the opportunity could not be more relevant to their intended career path.
Jennifer da Silva, a sixth-former at Felixstowe Academy, is in the middle of dissecting a brain but pauses to talk, scalpel in hand. “My mum works in shipping and my dad works at the port,” she says.
“I want to be a neurosurgeon. This is the first time I’ve had the chance to see brains. I want to be hands-on early in my degree so I’m looking for those types of medical courses and the different unis that offer this type of experience.”
“These students do not lack aspiration – far from it,” insists Levinson. “They just need the right support to make big choices for their lives, and that’s what we’re providing – in a way that has never been done before.”
In addition to its involvement in neaco, the University of Cambridge plays a central role in Accelerate East, a diverse partnership that seeks to equip young people to participate in East Anglia’s modern high-skills workforce. The University also works with schools through its Area Links Scheme, which enables the Cambridge Colleges to provide advice to schools and colleges across the UK.
Read more about Cambridge University research in the East of England in a special issue of Research Horizons magazine