There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth when the Government cut funding for AimHigher in it’s first tranche of cuts. This was the UK higher education sector’s flagship widening participation scheme. supporting outreach activities and community partnerships. I suspect AimHigher fell foul of what happens to so many HE initiatives; the failure to produce clearly defined indicators and measures of its own success and impact.
I certainly don’t think its demise marks the end of widening participation; it shifts the onus on to Universities to innovate and do the heavy lifting on WP themselves.
On my Christmas Wish list I asked for 12 academy schools to sponsored with direct links to universities. (I wasn’t just toadying the Coalition Government’s attempts to get Universities to sponsor free schools, I’ve got nothing against that but I worry that it has more to do with Michael Gove et al desperately seeking establishment endorsement for their flagship policy than anything else.)
Given the expectation that all universities commit a significant amount of their £9k fee income on outreach activities, why not use some of it to target a failing school in their local community? What better way to demonstrate your commitment to unleash the academic potential of all people than to make it part of your mission to take a school that is failing to provide a decent start in life to its pupils and make it successful?
A university could quite easily use its networks and human capital to pull together the requisite funding and expertise required:
- A PVC or Dean could act as chair of governors, providing genuine leadership and management expertise;
- alumni expertise and networks could be exploited to help support good governance arrangements and build business partnerships;
- innovative research into learning and teaching could be put in to action;
- University finance and legal teams could provide advice and support;
- students could volunteer at the school to support teachers and encourage aspiration from the pupils
- until the school is taken off OfSTED ‘special measures’ all able students completing their A-levels could be guaranteed access to the University
How often do you hear academics and University leaders bemoan the quality of primary and secondary school education, and blame that for their failure to meet WP targets? Well here is an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is.