Raising Aspirations and HE

Joined in with the Call Kaye programme today on Radio Scotland where they were debating inclusion to University. I manage a programme called “The Graduate” at work that aims to do just that. You might have read about us in TES Scotland.

I get passionate that young people from “deprived” areas are not looking for lowered academic expectations to get into University – How patronising is that? I believe we need to up aspiration and belief and self esteem.

I’ll give you an example; an ex pupil of mine who left school with excellent academic qualifications was chatting to the Heidie when she was choosing her Dux prize. The Boss asked her why she was doing an HN and not a degree – Her heart breaking answer was “I didn’t think it was the right place for me” – she didn’t believe she belonged. How much rubbish is that in the 21st century.

Now that girl has her choice of University courses to go to in September so – she HAS achieved.

I grew up in Gallowhill, a relatively poor area in Paisley in the 70s and 80s. Both my brother and I went to University. But, in a Neil Kinnock stylee, we were the first Robertsons in hundreds of generations to do that. Was I better than my pals I played football in the street with? Certainly not. The difference was my parents (a Cooper and a shop worker) would use language like “When you go to Uni”… It was the language that mattered. I always knew and believed I was going.

That’s why our “Graduate” Programme starts by running PX2 by the Pacific Institute. Because it HAS to be about the language our pupils hear daily. It has to be about them talking about HE as a serious positive destination.

Yes – Attainment is essential – but it’s belief and hope that need to drive that attainment – and equipping our young people with the skills and resilience to get to University.



2 thoughts on “Raising Aspirations and HE

  1. Philip Graham

    Hi Graham
    I agree that those who are not surrounded by those who regularly engage in conversation about University entry are unlikely to consider it as an option. However, the flipside to this is that far too many young people are being failed by an education system which promotes University entrance as the pinnacle of achievement. Our system encourages schools to create “exam passers” and not much else. A school which gets good exam results is apparently a “good school”. I heard you speak about the Graduate programme and what hit me was when you said “Will all the pupils involved go to university? Maybe. Maybe not. But now they know they are capable and it is an option”. My challenge to schools is this: Do you feed the aspirations, skills and lifelong potential of those pupils who are both going to university and those who are not with equal fervor? What are schools doing for the Paul McCartneys, the Charlie Nicholas’, the Billy Connollys and the Robert di Niros of this world? I wonder what their options choices would have been and the advice they would have been given? Would their have been any recognition of their skills or their personal passions? Or would it be “You did quite well in the end of unit tests in Chemistry. You should pick that”. Let’s stop the timetable(r) deciding what the curriculum should be and try it the other way around.

  2. Peter

    I agree we need to encourage pupils from deprived areas to look at university as a viable step in their life however the work does not stop when they leave high school. I went to Craigroyston Community High School in Edinburgh, a very deprived school by any measure. My year group was quite successful as far as the school goes, we had five pupils go straight onto university, of those only two finished uni, the rest didn’t stay in past 2nd year.

    The jump from school to university is massive for any young person. For a person from a deprived background it is even more so, its not even about aspirations, its the different life experiences. Students from deprived backgrounds need support to stay in university the whole time they are there.

    A final point, there is always a need for people in the economy for people who don’t have lots of qualifications, as educators we need to accept that not every pupil has the ability to achieve academically and it is still our responsibility to help them to achieve the best possible outcomes, these can be as simple as learning to be places on time and with the right equipment.

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