A scheme designed to give a leg-up to pupils who might not consider higher education is succeeding by leaps and bounds.
LEAPS (Lothians Equal Access Programme for Schools) is a partnership between West Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian councils and four local higher education institutions - Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Napier Universities and Queen Margaret College. Elspeth Turner, its co-ordinator, told West Lothian education committee last week that the programme was "a success story, particularly for West Lothian".
Three years ago only seven students from Deans Community High School in Livingston, West Lothian, went on to higher education, headteacher Richard Pietrasik told the committee. But last year around 20 pupils went to college or university.
Richard Pietrasik said: "We have a lot of pupils who have had no contact with people who have been in higher education. That doesn't mean that children who come to the school are any less capable. It simply means they don't think of themselves that way and aren't rubbing shoulders with pupils who go on to higher education. Working with LEAPS, we have managed to persuade children that higher education is something worth aiming for."
Two former Deans High students told the education committee about their own experiences of the scheme. Elizabeth March, who followed the schools programme and is now studying at Sheffield University, said: "I'm really glad now that I got involved. I'm enjoying my course in physiology." She praised a student tutor from Heriot-Watt University for particularly encouraging her.
Gordon Glasgow attended the LEAPS summer school last year, a nine-week, part-time course which is taught and assessed at first-year undergraduate level by university staff. It offers a foretaste of student life and aims to boost self-confidence and help pupils develop their study and social skills. Said Gordon: "A lot of the work was difficult. You don't just go and mess about. They put you through the mill but the tutors gave you a lot of information. "
Elspeth Turner likened pupils entering higher education to the high jump. LEAPS aimed to encourage the participants, lengthen their run-up and give them a leg-up. The schools programme was delivered by specialist staff and trained student volunteers in collaboration with teachers and careers officers. It included specialised workshops, a student shadowing scheme, advice on subject choices and individual interviews with pupils with the potential to go on to university or college.
The summer school provided an additional opportunity for students to demonstrate their potential to succeed on a degree course if they did not meet the conditions set on their SCE exams.
The higher education institutions participating in the scheme were committed to holding open places until the summer school reports of applicants were available for consideration. Many other HEIs also agreed to take summer school reports into account in reaching their decisons. University admissions staff pledged to offer places on courses to students attending LEAPS schools if possible.
Eighteen of the 70 students who attended this year's summer school came from West Lothian schools, said Elspeth Turner. Seventeen of them have won places at university and one was going to a further education college. Significantly, 11 of them required their summer school assessments to achieve admission.
She admitted that, although the increased number applying for entry to university through the summer school was impressive, much more could be achieved. Future plans include pursuing sponsorship for summer school students and increasing the involvement of ex-summer school students in the schools programme, workshops and tutoring schemes.