In the summer of 2020, I began a small, qualitative longitudinal study with three teaching professions from a year 11-16 secondary school in the English Midlands. Located in a medium sized city, the school draws on pupils from a range of backgrounds, including those from more deprived neighbourhoods. The aim of this on-going investigation is to gather the views and experiences of these teaching professionals during an especially turbulent time for those involved in educating and preparing young people for the next steps. In this regard, all three professionals were involved at either a strategic or operation level in careers education.
The initial round of conversations took place in the summer of 2020, with the findings reported in a Society for Research into Higher Education news blog (Raven, 2020). This short article is based on the first of our (virtual) follow-up meetings. This took place in early January 2021, as the school, like others across the country, was entering a further period of lockdown with an uncertain end date. Consequently, much of our conversation was concerned with the impact of school closures on outreach plans and whether there was still a role for outreach during lockdown.
The immediate consequences of the new lockdown for outreach were judge to be quite stark. Planned university visits had to be ‘abandoned’. In January, it was observed, ‘our year sevens (11 to 12 year olds) would normally go to the’ nearby university, with the aim of ‘raising aspirations and dispelling myths’. The local universities, it was added, had offered ‘so many amazing projects but because we are in lockdown it has come to a halt.’
Even the online outreach provision that had been scheduled, and which included sessions aimed at helping inform GCSE subject choices and providing revision support, had to be postponed. ‘The logistics of having someone to present online when the students are in school is relatively straight forward to organise’ it was observed. However, it becomes altogether more challenging when they are studying at home. Moreover, it was noted that much of the current focus is on ensuring that students continue to engage in the live online lessons that the school is providing.
Despite these challenges, the teaching professionals were quick to identify a potential opportunity for delivering outreach within the online, home-delivered school timetable. Specifically, during the hour that is devoted each week to Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE), which is concerned with preparing young people for life after school (GOV.UK. 2020). Whilst a number of topics needed to be addressed in these classes, there could, it was acknowledged, be room for some short, engaging (bite-sized) videos that would support next steps thinking. In particular, mention was made to supporting pupils in their post-14 and 16 choices.
In terms of the post-14 preparation, the idea was raised of a video featuring university students talking about what subjects they had chosen for their GCSEs, and why. Similarly, undergraduates could provide insights into post-16 options by discussing the A levels, or other level 3 qualifications, they had taken, along with their reasons for choosing to go to ‘sixth form or college’. Beyond this was the idea of series of short recorded talks that explored the application of the subjects pupils were pursuing at GCSE and where these could lead, in terms of further and higher level study, as well as graduate careers. These short presentations, it was noted, could constitute a more advanced version of the ‘posters we have in school’ that inform students about ‘the jobs you can go into’ if you take, for example, ‘history, geography or languages’. In being pre-recorded there was also the potential that students could watch them ‘with their parents’, especially if the videos were made available on the school’s website. In these ways, it can be suggested, online outreach could have a very positive impact on generation that is in danger of missing out on so much.
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My thanks to Suzanne Whiston, Deputy Head, Jan Woolley, head of careers, education and guidance, and Tim Taylor, careers lead, at Murray Park School, Derby, for their time, insights and expertise.
GOV.UK. 2020. Guidance. Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/personal-social-health-and-economic-education-pshe/personal-social-health-and-economic-pshe-education
Raven. N. 2020. ‘More important than ever: the school perspective on outreach in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic’, Society for Research into Higher Education, News Blog (26 August), https://srheblog.com/2020/08/26/more-important-than-ever-the-school-perspective-on-outreach-in-the-wake-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/.
Neil Raven is an independent consultant and researcher who specialises in working in a wide range of widening participation projects across schools, colleges, universities and various consortia. He is a member of the FACE Executive.
Photo: Priscilla Du Preeze