This summer, over 3,500 students will have taken part in a Sutton Trust intervention, such as our UK Summer Schools or one of our Pathways residentials. Part of my job is to make sure our programmes are as inclusive as possible and no student faces any barriers to attending.
We work with our partner universities to adapt our programmes to the needs of the students.
The process starts on application. We ask students to disclose whether they have a disability so that we can make sure we’re making the adjustments needed to ensure they can fully take part in the residentials. This year 3% told us about a disability, and 1 in 3 had a mental health need.
Examples of the adjustments we made include providing British Sign Language translators, tailoring timetables for students with anxiety, providing specialist equipment, or adjusting travel and accommodation for students with a disability or mental health need.
This year we recommended that all our partners trial having a mixed gender accommodation option. This provides a more comfortable option for lots of our students for many different reasons, including wanting to get a realistic insight into university living and increasing inclusivity for students who don’t identify as either gender. We saw 40% of students on Pathways Conferences take up this option and gain an insight into university living.
We know that students who are the first generation in their family to go to university can feel really nervous before attending our programmes. So this year we asked some of our alumni to host a live Q&A on Instagram to answer the questions of students who were about to embark on our UK Summer Schools. We also trialled sending students postcards and letters from alumni prior to the programmes to help them feel part of a community before they arrived. We received some really great responses from these communications with students, with many reporting how reassuring and calming it was to hear from someone who understood their fears.
On the residentials we run directly, we included mental health-based scenarios in our training for pastoral staff and encouraged our staff to think about what the students may be worried about as they arrive. We also make sure that there’s always a staff member who is Mental Health First Aid Trained at our residentials to ensure that there is always someone there to support both students and staff struggling with a mental health need, as well as a friendly face to signpost them to specialist organizations for longer term support if needed.
At a wider level, we work with employers to recommend ways for them to make work experience placements as welcoming as possible for students. For many students, this may be the first time they have worked in an office environment, and the rules of etiquette can be baffling. Pathways students attend a pre-placement preparation day to address some of these issues. We also provide employers with guidance to encourage a friendly atmosphere and understanding of the wider context of the students’ lives.
We hope that these steps go some way to making sure that any students can take part in our programmes. I would encourage any Sutton Trust student who needs a bit of extra support to get in touch with us so that we can put provisions in place to make our programmes as comfortable as possible for every individual.