As Chief Executive of RSA Academies I travel regularly to the West Midlands to work with our four RSA Academies, in Coventry (Whitley Academy), Redditch (Arrow Vale RSA Academy and Ipsley CE RSA Academy) and Tipton (RSA Academy). Yesterday I ventured even further north, to speak at the Academies Conference in Manchester.
In a programme that included some essential but somewhat dry topics such as governance structures and admissions arrangements, I was delighted (and not a little relieved!) to have been asked to talk about an area that lies at the heart of RSA Academies’ work: preparing students for life beyond the school gate. The talk was a timely one, with yet another survey published this week showing that the vast majority of young people don’t feel they received enough information about post-secondary education and careers. If there is a crumb of comfort to be found in the survey, it is that UK students are not alone – the survey found a consistent pattern across Europe, with the possible exception of Germany.
So, what are we doing in the RSA Family to ensure that young people in our schools are informed about and prepared for the world beyond the school gate?
Well, firstly we’re recognising that Universities and employers are looking for more than just good qualifications, and so we’re helping our pupils to develop a range of skills and competences. One essential component is the development of leadership skills. Our annual student leadership conference at the RSA in London are a high point of the school year, and the students themselves are setting the agenda for the year’s work, which has included a series of student voice podcasts, and a student led peer review of the schools in the Family. Students at Whitley Academy recently participated in a debating competition, and this clip of the winning entry shows just how far they have come. Our next step is to increase the number of opportunities for younger children by introducing a Family-wide year 8 leadership programme, which will be targeted at children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who may be lacking in confidence, to develop their skills in this area.
We are also developing a strong partnership with Warwick University, building on their existing widening participation programmes, to increase the number of applicants from lower income families or those who would be the first in their family to go on to higher education. The programme has been informed by children themselves, including those at Ipsley CE RSA Academy. These pupils convinced the partnership of the need to start working with children when they’re young, and so it will give children from Year 7 upwards the opportunity to meet lecturers and students from different faculties, and to visit Warwick, giving them the confidence to believe that a University education really is for people like them.
And we continue to benefit from the generosity of our Fellows and Royal Designers for Industry who give their time and expertise in various ways to bring new experiences to our students. The RSA Academy in Tipton have just had their first student provisionally accepted into Oxbridge following coaching and support from Bill Good FRSA who was on hand to support students at a Post 16 evening before the winter break. Other recent examples include a project with Ben Kelly who has encouraged students from Arrow Vale RSA Academy to think differently about the school's entrance hall. The students successfully pitched to the Governors for funding to realise their designs with Ben coming back to school in the coming months to support the conclusion.
For 2014/15 we want to make it even easier to enable Fellows to connect with our Academies, by developing a menu of things that they might offer e.g. a work-place visit, a careers talk, to be a mentor for a sixth form student. If you have ideas about how this might work, or would like to make an offer, please do let me know.