Improving access in STEM subjects

Villiers Park Educational Trust

Back to Activities with learners

Targeted activities

Most of your activities are probably targeted in some way, maybe by age or type of school or at a specific hard-to-reach group.

Are your activities right for the group at which they are targeted?

  • Are they accessible yet stimulating and challenging?
  • Do they inspire youngsters to want to go to university?
  • Do they encourage active learning and a passion for the subject?
  • Are they an opportunity to meet role models?
  • Can youngsters meet like-minded peers?
  • Do you use them as an opportunity to build a learning community?
  • Are they age-appropriate?

What we do at Villiers Park

We believe these two types of activity are particularly effective.

Think about applying aspects of our practice to your context

Feature that contribute towards the success of our five-day residential courses Suggestions for applying it to other contexts
They are subject-specific. Beware spending too much time on finance, the application procedure and life at university – it is more important to engender passion for the subject because once they have that they will be motivated to overcome any barriers in their path.

Do not worry too much, if at all, about linking to exam specifications – it is more important to access your tutors’ passion.

The tutors are academics or researchers in that subject.
The content of the course is chosen by the tutors, so that they are passionate about it.
The tutors and the 26 students live and breathe the subject from lunchtime Monday until Friday afternoon. You may not be in a position to run a residential course. If not, can you introduce aspects of it?

You can make sure that the tutors stay with the participants during breaks and meals – so much is gained from informal conversation. What about including breakfast and/or the evening meal?

Could the course run across a number of days? If the days are separated, could you establish an online learning community to bridge the gaps?

The tutors are role models.
The tutors and the students form a learning community for the five days of the course and often beyond.
The tutors have a pastoral role, living in our residential accommodation for the five days and four nights.
It is often the first time that these young people have spent time with like-minded peers who share their interest in the subject. Make sure the participants share a common interest, for example in the subject. If all they have in common is being the same age, the purpose of the experience may be lost.
Participants are encouraged to think, discuss and do rather than just listen and write. Don’t think you have to give them a ‘real taste of university’. Concentrate on capturing their interest and making them think. The more hands-on experiences you can incorporate the better.

Remember, we learn as much from each other as from teachers and lecturers. They will develop their interest and understanding by working problems through with their peers.

Each course includes a project to be completed by pairs, trios or teams of students during the course and presented on the Friday.
Most courses include a visit that is relevant to the subject.
Each course has at least one speaker other than the tutors. Do you have volunteers who struggle to communicate with the age of youngster you are targeting? Would they make excellent speakers or interesting consultants?
Tutors are found by the Course Manager and, if necessary, given guidance on teaching and learning. Who chooses the ‘tutors’? Do they check that tutors have good communication skills? Have the tutors had some training in teaching and learning?

Can you spread any expertise, for example by pairing new tutors with more experienced colleagues?

Make sure that every activity is talked through with someone with experience of working with the target population. If you haven’t got someone, find a teacher to consult with.

Tutors and Course Manager work together on the programme.
It is often the first time that these young people have spent time with like-minded peers who share their interest in the subject. Make sure the participants share a common interest, for example in the subject. If all they have in common is being the same age, the purpose of the experience may be lost.

Remember that to study a STEM subject at degree level the young person will need good grades in one or more STEM subject. Have you thought of giving teachers guidelines of who would benefit best from the activity?

The courses are targeted at a specific group of young people, namely those studying relevant subjects and capable of an A or an A* at A-level (or equivalent).
We have two Course Managers, who each manage half of our courses – they are also responsible for quality control, evaluation and year-on-year improvement. Is there are ‘manager’ for each activity?
A Course Administrator works with the Course Manager to prepare for the course and ensure everything runs smoothly. Who does the administration?