Reflections on this term’s training event…

Guest Blogger: Network Member, Dr Michael Subialka (Junior Research Fellow, Modern Languages)

“The Early Career Academic Outreach Network Training event for Hilary Term was excellent in both theoretical and practical terms. I was impressed that the session spanned from presentations on new data and ideas informing widening participation to a practical workshop showcasing a new method of combatting the disadvantages that sometimes face non-selective state school pupils.

Anne-Marie Canning, Head of Widening Participation at King’s College London, presented a trove of information. She pressed beyond the well-known facts and put new focus on issues that get less press. Chief among them is growing awareness that bursary schemes alone do not overcome disadvantages and that geo-demographics and gender are among the largest hurdles facing universities’ wider participation efforts today. I was especially shocked to learn that up to 42% of state school teachers report that they never or rarely encourage their highest-achieving students to consider applying to Oxbridge. Canning suggested this shows the importance of coupling outreach to students with outreach to other figures who influence their educational decisions, especially teachers and parents.

She also highlighted the need for going beyond ‘aspiration’ (an old buzzword) to look at the practical steps that will enable students to proceed with confidence toward higher education. It was thus ideal that Canning’s presentation was followed by a workshop with Rachel Curzons and Tom Wilks of The Brilliant Club, a non-profit education organisation dedicated to ‘ensuring students leave school with the skills, confidence and ambition to secure places at highly selective universities’. A quick immersion into their method of ‘concept mapping’ revealed the pragmatic way they train researchers to make their work accessible and inspirational for young students. I’m now very eager to learn more, and I would definitely recommend their model (and them – they’re recruiting) to my colleagues who are interested in helping to build a fair and accessible future for higher education.”

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