At the end of the school year, we take a moment to catch up with one of our Access Champions to reflect on the programme and the impact it’s been making on students on the ground in Nottinghamshire.
Quarrydale Academy is a school that serves former mining communities in Nottinghamshire, where there are high levels of unemployment: 92% of students live in POLAR Quintile 1 areas, meaning they are among the least likely to go to university. There are 130 students on roll in years 12 and 13.
Leanne Straw is Quarrydale’s UCAS co-ordinator, and the school’s Access Champion. We’ve been working with her over the past year to understand the school’s situation, and identify ways to improve the academy’s support for students when working out what they want to do at the age of 18.
One of the first things we ask Access Champions to do is identify areas for improvement within the school. During her first year with us, Leanne prioritised changing Quarrydale’s approach to personal statements and references, and using OSCAR, our online platform, to personalise Information, Advice and Guidance for students during tutorial periods.
One of our Progression Specialists also spent time in Quarrydale providing one-to-one mentoring to students, an important channel of support for prospective students in Years 10-11.
Leanne told us that being on the Access Champions programme has “helped a lot with planning”, providing structure for, and evidence to support, changes she’s made in the sixth form.
Using our OSCAR system has “completely changed our approach to personal statements and references.” Personal statements are now much more focused on specific courses and all “now include a topic of academic interest”, which helps present students in the best possible light to admissions tutors and offsets the disadvantage that many students face from a lack of opportunity to take part in work experience or placements while in sixth form. This led to one applicant, applying for Nursing at Nottingham University, being told by the admissions tutor that their personal statements was “one of the best applications I have ever read”.
Students have provided Leanne with “incredibly positive” feedback about mentoring, which has provided support that parents may not always be able to provide.
After analysing data, Leanne and her team will be targeting an increase in young male applicants applying for more competitive courses such as Medicine and Teaching in the next UCAS cycle.
We’re delighted to see how well things are going at Quarrydale, and look forward to working with Leanne over the next school year to make even more of a difference.