Laura Bruce, Programmes Manager at the Trust, explores what we’re doing to support teachers to support their pupils.
We know how important teachers are in shaping the route that young people take after school. Last year our summer school students said that, when it comes to making decisions about universities, the opinions of their teachers are more important than their family and friends combined.
My own academic experiences and choices were shaped by some great teachers. My school – the local state school – was a target school for the Trust on every measure. Aside from four of my closest friends and the lyrics to “O Tannenbaum” (O Christmas Tree), what I remember most about my school are the individual teachers who supported me and helped me to gain a place at university.
Miss Hutchinson, who pushed me academically and introduced me to the concept of Russell Group universities; Mr Robertson, who taught me to believe in myself and look beyond the boundaries of the school; and Mr Tristram and Miss Keller, who supported me both personally and academically for seven years.
It’s only now – ten years after I left for university – that I can fully appreciate the challenges that the school, and individual staff members, faced. I can see the pressures they are still under and how each one of those teachers went beyond their duty to support me.
As a Programmes Manager at the Trust, one of my challenges is to work out how best we can support teachers to support their brightest students to win places at leading universities.
This summer, the Trust will run their final year of Teacher Summer Schools, generously supported by HSBC. 240 state-school teachers will go to residential conferences at four leading universities: Durham University, University of Oxford, University of St Andrews and UCL. The conferences are free to attend and allow teachers to meet university staff, admissions tutors and build networks.
We know that intensive courses like this can have a great impact on individual teachers. Previous attendees have described it as the “best course in 30 years of teaching” and said they “feel incredibly lucky to have experienced these two days”.
But we also recognise that there are several factors that make getting to a residential conference difficult for many teachers. We are, therefore, committed to exploring creative ways of supporting teachers in school.
To support change across the system, we’re piloting Access Champions with the Higher Education Access Network. The programme trains individual teachers to offer high-quality advice on UCAS and university and course options and provides financial support to enable them – an Access Champion – to train teachers within their schools. It also gives sixth form students access to online resources and support.
Two months into the job and one thing is clear: while there is a still a long way to go to find the best and most practical solutions, there is a strong commitment from schools, universities and charities alike to support those who have the biggest impact on the futures of our young people.