Steps on the ladder

29th September 2000 at 01:00

At Glasgow Caledonian they are setting up a Junior University for P6 and P7 pupils, and the student mentors here will begin training in October after interviews, selection procedures and police checks which are being run just now.

"All P6 and P7 pupils will be invited to enrol as members of the Junior University with the idea of getting pupils from low participation neighbourhoods to think about higher education as a viable proposition, even though no one in their family has ever been to university," says Pamela Abbott who is in charge of the Glasgow Caledonian Junior University.

"You have to remember that many of these kids achieve as much as most other primary pupils at this stage, so it's important to target them before the fall-off in achievement or ambition sets in with adolescence, peer group pressure and the other negative social pressures which can occur.

"The link students and mentors will be drawn from all of the six participating HE institutions. Priority will be given to students who come from similar backgrounds or neighbourhoods to those targeted, so there will be no sense of a 'missionary' approach and they can act as good role models for the pupils."


For S3 and S4 pupils, Strathclyde University is already running special Summer Academies whose popularity with GeneralCredit pupils is such that it is eliciting both tears and offers of cash.

"The Summer Academy runs for two weeks with four cohorts of between 160 and 200 S3 and S4 pupils covering the eight weeks of the summer holidays," says Imelda Devlin, access co-ordinator for Strathclyde University.

"Based mostly at the Jordanhill Campus, we divide the cohorts into groups of 10 pupils with two from each school, so that pupils know someone else but are also mixing with new people. Each group has a male as well as a female mentor because we are very aware of under-achievement among boys.

"Beginning with team building on the first day, we quickly move on to curriculum work covering everything from maths, English and science to music, drama and modern languages. The pupils can write poetry, songs or make up newspaper articles on what interests them. It is designed to be fun and give them access to expertise. For example, one group produced a version of Blind Date entirely in French.

"The pupils are mostly ones that might need an extra boost to get good Standard grade passes, mostly GeneralCredit ones that maybe need that extra bit of motivation.

"It all culminates in a graduation ceremony to which parents are invited and which will include, for example, drama and music show-backs. Each pupil receives a certificate and they are all addressed by a keynote speaker such as the deputy lifelong learning minister, Nicol Stephen, or Glasgow MSP Tommy Sheridan.

"To be honest, a lot of the pupils are greetin' by the end because they've enjoyed it so much. Many come back for other groups' graduations and they often want to attend again. One pupil even offered to pay if he could come back next year!" Strathclyde's Summer Academies are delivered by about 50 student mentors who are the backbone of the project as a whole.


Among the strategies previously developed but now being brought under the GOALS umbrella are Glasgow University's revision sessions.

"From January to June this year we piloted an S5S6 seres of revision sessions tutored by 90 postgraduate students from the participating HE institutions," says Ron Emmanuel, vice-principal of learning and teaching at Glasgow University.

"Some of the tutoring was subject-based but it was mostly to develop learning skills like note-taking and essay writing, to make them become more effective learners.

"About 100 pupils were involved. Their response was very positive and next year it will increase tenfold with around 1,000 pupils involved. The idea is to help bridge the gap between school and university as many new students can struggle in their first university year."


Glasgow School of Art is already showing what can be done in raising awareness of higher education among both upper primary and lower secondary pupils.

Eileen Reid, wider access development officer for the art school, says: "Our particular project is called Artists and Designers in Education, aimed at participating GOALS schools. A team of teachers and student mentors from the art school goes out into the schools to work with P6s and P7s and S2s and S5s to draw attention to art and design among the younger group, and in S5 to concentrate on the pupils' portfolio work. We work on projects and take workshops in the schools and buy extra materials to take into the schools which we leave with them.

"We had a GOALS exhibition in May, which was a great success and was very moving. Sometimes the technique is not what it could be but the sense of expression is both raw and passionate and can be quite humbling for sophisticated adults. Our aim is to target this kind of talent and develop it.

"We worked with 19 primary schools between January and June because we want to raise awareness as early as possible. The teachers in the schools are extremely enthusiastic and through questionnaires which are coming back in now, we are going to work on what the class teachers think is required. It's a real partnership with the schools.

"An example of the kind of teacher response we've been getting is, 'This was an excellent experience for all concerned. The student mentor treated every pupil as an individual and positively encouraged each to give of his or her best. They learned a great deal'."

One participating pupil, Mehtab Hussain who is in P6 at Bellahouston Primary in Glasgow, told TES Scotland: "I really enjoyed myself. I've never done anything like this before. When I went home I got a big piece of paper and made a picture of a rocket in space and a snowman for winter.

"The students were special because they came every afternoon and showed us things we hadn't done before. Then we had a huge beach party at the end."

Louise Mclaughlan, one of Mehtab's student mentors and a third year graphics student at Glasgow School of Art, says: "The children put so much love and effort into the project, it made me really proud to be a part of it."

For Eileen Reid, it is not just the participation of the pupils, but the idea of getting them into an HE environment at an early age which is exciting: "For the exhibition all the pupils came into the Art School which is very important," she says. "For some the Mackintosh Building could seem intimidating, so it's important to get them across the threshhold at an early stage. Not only can they say they've been here now, but they can also say they've been exhibited here!"

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