Upward Bound Project UK (London Metropolitan University & Islington Council)

Upward Bound in the UK is an education programme aimed at raising attainment, building confidence, resilience and raising aspirations for young people attending Islington secondary schools who are considered borderline pupils predicted C/D in their GCSEs, from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education, with no family history of university attendance or from lower socio/economic groups
As well as helping students to get at least 5 GCSE grades A-C including English and maths, the ultimate objective is to mobilize a team of specialist teachers, group leaders, student ambassadors and peer mentors work collectively to deliver an exciting alternative education programme that re-engages learners, builds confidence and motivates students to achieve and increase their chances to continue into higher education regardless of disadvantages.

Objectives of the Intervention

Upward Bound in the UK is an education programme aimed at raising attainment, building confidence, resilience and raising aspirations for young people attending Islington secondary schools who are:

  • considered borderline pupils predicted C/D in their GCSEs;
  • from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education; or
  • with no family history of university attendance.
  • lower socio/economic groups

As well as helping students to get at least 5 GCSE grades A-C including English and maths, the ultimate objective is to mobilize a team of specialist teachers, group leaders, student ambassadors and peer mentors work collectively to deliver an exciting alternative education programme that re-engages learners, builds confidence and motivates students to achieve and increase their chances to continue into higher education regardless of disadvantages.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

Originally, Upward Bound was one of the key US federal outreach and student services programmes dating back to 1960s. There is a separate case study on one of the projects in the UK that looks more at this specific experience.

Upward Bound was brought to the UK in 2006 by Sophie Cloutterbuck from London Metropolitan University. After visiting the TRIO conference in New York she was able to learn a lot about Upward Bound in the US and thought it would be great to transfer to the UK, however it would need some changes to fit local needs.

Like the programme in the US, there is no particular theoretical framework. The current leadership of the UK programme sees relevant theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs useful as well as theories on coaching and mentoring for example. They also rely on participatory methodologies that fit well because they look at the student as a whole, and in his or her environment. Reference to this aspect is also made in the US, where the current lead sees the approach as holistic.

The UK lead also emphasises that the programme is ‘all about student voice’. She also uses theories and methodologies linked to developing communities of learning. An example of this aspect is that there is a progression system in which once students finish the programme, they become Peer Mentors. When they are admitted as undergrad students at any university, they can become Student Ambassadors and work alongside student ambassadors from London Metropolitan University. This is slightly different from the programme in UMass Boston, where some of the participants can become interns but also other university students can become interns. In both programmes, alumnus are welcome as team members/staff. Another aspect of empowerment is facilitated by having on board two pastoral support workers and a group leader for every class,  working alongside subject teachers who teach the subject only.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

In London Met it is aimed at young people, year 9, 10 and 11 from Islington secondary schools who are at risk of not being able to continue into higher education. All students in the programme meet at least one of the following:

  • They are predicted to get D and C marks, with the aim to achieve actually As and Bs, which will make it possible to get to university;
  • They have no history of Higher Education in their background (e.g. parents or siblings);
  • Come from low socio-economic groups.

Annually 200 students join the programme, 100 from each year group. The programme started originally with mostly black boys, but now there are more girls and less boys enrolled. There is a general picture at the university of less boys accessing support support at the moment although those who are enrolled are doing very well. The observation is that boys’ sign up is different because they are more targeted for out of school programmes such as football and clubs promoted by programmes tackling social problems.

There has been a decline in Year 11 attendance due to the pressure on pupils to attend compulsory school interventions. This has consequences for attendance which in turn has consequences for group dynamics and effects. The consortium is therefore considering to change the target group to Year 9 and 10. This was supported by the participating schools.

The programme also works with teachers and with parents. Parents are very involved, come often and they organise their own events e.g. cake selling. Tutors speak to the parents regularly: every week, every end of term, at the graduation and so on. The best feedback is that there are often whole families, even as many as four children, going through the programme.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Originally, there were three important factors playing a role in launching the programme at London Metropolitan University:

  • The mission and vision of the university: London Met was established in the 19th century precisely with a view of enabling those from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into higher education. Initially these were mostly working class men, but gradually the target group widened. The universities founding ethos is as an access university and it has always been since 1848 about transforming lives and building careers - for people who would normally not make it to higher education or for mature students. Traditionally, there have been a number of access courses for those who have not finished their A levels.
  • Islington Council had a similar programme with City & Islington College. However, that programme was more pre-college and concerned with preventing early pregnancy and gangs involvement. By contrast, Upward Bound is about improving academic prospects.
  • An additional factor was the availability of funding via the Dame Alice Owen Foundation which provides funding specifically for education in Islington. Islington is known as a wealthy area, but this image is misleading because there are pockets of deprivation alongside billionaire properties – there are therefore a number of young people and schools that benefit from the programme, including some schools which would have failed the government attainment criteria without Upward Bound.

More recently, post-2010 policy has set up that universities in the UK have to conform with the so called Access Agenda . Part of the agenda is the requirement for Widening Participation Programmes (WWPs) in each university which has set their fees above a certain threshold. The WWPs are required to work with schools from certain neighborhoods to improve access to higher education, which does not necessarily include increasing the access to this individual university. WWPs are therefore more an aspect of the universities’ Corporate Social Responsibility. The WWPs requirement has created an additional impetus for the continuation of the programme and for plans to scale up or at least replicate to rural and seaside areas. These outreach events and outcomes have to be reported to HEFCE and OFFA (Office of Fair Access) Ever year. The university also has to detail outreach plans in their Access Agreement.

Another enabler is the schools improvement policy. Local authorities as well as the governmental monitoring body OFSTED measure schools achievements based on robust indicators of attainment. Without the programme one of the schools may not have passed the thresholds. The programme comes as an integral part of the schools, so there is support from teachers too. The support takes also very concrete forms as 2-3 teachers come to work for the programme voluntarily on Saturdays.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Students are supported over the two years of key stage 4 until they take their GCSE exams.

At Upward Bound a culture of achievement is embedded into the programme.

Focus for Year 11 classes:

  • • Maths and English exam preparation
  • • Study skills and revision techniques
  • College application process
  • Gaining work experience opportunities outside of schoo

Focus for Year 10 classes:

  • 3 week induction project
  •  Maths and English classes – based on sharing ideas and work with their groups, Mid-year they present their work to friends and family.
  • Team building day at the end of term 1 thus supporting other ongoing efforts to establish and maintain a community ethos which is central to the project.
  • Focus on careers and opportunities in term 2 and curriculum work also includes topics related to the world of work
  • 3-week ‘passport to work’ project in the Science Centre (including completing specific industry focused experiments and a skills audit test and working with science ambassadors who gave their insight into studying sciences at the university).
  • Poetry Slam

Both Year 10 and 11

  • Upward Bound Careers event attended by 25 professionals from a variety of industries. The students had the opportunity to have ‘speed chats’ with professionals such as a judge, engeneer, design consultant, midwife, business director and others.
  • Workshop on the value of work, work experience and volunteering opportunities.#
  • • on a weekly basis, end the day with class acknowledgements and written pupil feedback.

Staff training (in addition to core teaching skills requirements)

  • Coaching and mentoring Level 3 accredited by the Chartered Management Institute (for group leaders)
  • Coaching practice for group leaders
  • Coaching strategy and code of ethics are currently being devised.
  • Curriculum planning for two years in Maths and English established with input from LBI council

Sessions are interactive, ‘not just seating and writing’ and include videos, documentaries, debating, sports and other interactive activities. Ambassadors and peer mentors work all the time with the participants.

There are regular outdoor activities and trips as rewards for those who have come each time. There is also an actual award that student can take, other incentives include acknowledgements and written feedback.

The participatory ethos is so strong that when teachers are interviewed for the job, they also have to do a lesson with the young people and are appointed taking into account students’ feedback. The endeavour is to create a family spirit, and staff are often called by students ‘Mum’, ‘Uncle’ and ‘Auntie’.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

Sustainability is ensured through the Foundation at present. This is going well at the moment, whilst others have cuts, the programme receives consistent funding and is ring-fenced for Upward Bound..If the money is taken away, they consider charging the school per pupil using a scheme called Pupil Premium that each school manages financially themselves. They are also exploring how  the programme would work in a rural setting to scale up.

Resources used in the initiative

  • £175, 000 from Dame Alice Owen Foundation
  • £100,000  in-kind from London Met University
  • 18 Peer Mentor Volunteers
  • Subject expertise is needed

Works out as £875 per year per student, or £30 per week or £10 per hour as long as a university gives support in kind

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

The monitoring and evaluation is based on students’ records of attainment, including grades and offers for studies and scholarships. Qualitative data in the form of testimonials, successful students’ cases and regular feedback from participants, parents and schools is collected.

In the 2013 results this expectation helped 91% of our pupils achieve grades A*-C in English, compared to the national average of 64%. In Maths, 88% of the students received grades A*-C compared to 57% nationally.

Students have won scholarships to study in the United States and one student is currently studying at Oxford University.

Some testimonials:

“The Upward Bound programme is an integral part of the offer we give to ensure that every girl at EGA is successful. It is a vital intervention that has been successful for many years and is highly regarded by the pupils - there is always a waiting list to get onto the programme! The Upward Bound Project Manager works collaboratively with our heads of year 10 and 11, selecting and interviewing the right young women who will gain the most from the programme.

The opportunity to learn in a new environment with a different group of peers is incredibly important for some young people to redefine who they are and refocus on what their priorities should be for the final stage of their secondary education. There is a notable change in some pupils; one of our young women on th.e programme has made such a significant change in her attitude and commitment to learning this year that we recognised this with a Jack Petchey Foundation Achievement Award for her, following a lot of positive feedback from Upward Bound.” Paul McIntyre’s Assistant Head  EGA  School Jan 2015

“Yr 10 and 11 students from Holloway School have been attending Upward Bound at London

Metropolitan University for a number of years. Although it requires students to attend Saturday lessons the engagement has been really good. The students we have prioritised to attend these sessions are borderline C/D in English, math’s and science but with the support from Upward Bound many of them have succeeded in passing these GCSEs.

Along with the academic side, Upward Bound provides pastoral support which is extremely important for a number of our students as the barrier to success lies in their attitude and engagement with school. Upward Bound is an important intervention that we have and has helped us to get many of our students back on track”. Sharon Kelly Deputy Head Holloway School Jan 2015.