Widening participation: a case-study

Author: Catherine Watts


This paper summarises a case-study which was carried out during 2004/5 involving the School of Languages, University of Brighton and Addington High School in Croydon, South London under the former's Widening Participation programme. This paper first details the nature of the two visits and outlines some of the lessons learned along the way based on data collected from the four parties involved (staff and students/pupils from both institutions). It subsequently proposes a working model which could usefully underpin future visits of this nature and highlights ways to integrate successfully the parties from both sectors.

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Table of contents

Conference 2006

This paper was originally presented at our conference: Crossing frontiers: languages and the international dimension, 6-7 July 2006. Download print version: this paper is also available as a pdf (125Kb)

The case-study outlined in this paper was based around two visits involving Addington High School in Croydon, South London and the School of Languages, University of Brighton during the academic year 2004/5. The pupils from Addington High School all had refugee status and were users of English as an Additional Language. The broad aim of the visits from their perspectives was to raise aspirations regarding future study in Higher Education.

Students in the final year of the BA in Language Studies (BALAST) degree at the University of Brighton following an optional double module entitled 'Language Teaching and Learning' (LTL) hosted the two visits. The visits from their perspectives aimed to provide contact with non-native speakers of English to support the taught components of the module and to raise awareness of possible career routes upon graduation. The accompanying teacher from Addington High School was in fact a former BALAST student who had, herself, completed the LTL module in 1997. Her post is currently the Ethnic Minority Achievement (EMA) co-ordinator at Addington High School in an underprivileged part of Croydon in South London.

Initial approaches were made by the teacher at Addington High School who proposed an informal visit with her pupils in the autumn of 2003 to the School of Languages at the University of Brighton, home of her first degree. This visit was successful and was followed by another in the summer of 2004. The broad aims of the two exploratory visits were:

  1. to provide familiarization with the context of Higher Education and encouragement to aspire to a university education (Addington High School pupils);
  2. to provide some experience of working with and talking to this particular type of pupil all of whom have English as an Additional Language (EAL) (School of Languages students).

The main outcomes of these initial visits were that it was felt by all concerned that:

  • a valuable and worthwhile experience had been offered;
  • more formal evaluation by >all parties should occur;
  • the format for the visits should follow the model introduced with the pilot project.

As a result, the University of Brighton put these exploratory visits onto a more formal footing by establishing a series of Widening Participation Projects across the university, two of which were located in the School of Languages (one in 2004/5 and the other in 2005/6). The first project round involved two visits from Addington High School (January 28th 2005 and 15th April 2005). This paper details the nature of the two visits and highlights some of the lessons learned along the way. It proposes a model which could serve to underpin similar visits of this nature and reflects on the experiences as a whole.

First visit (January 28th 2005)

The programme for the day was based on that organised for the above-mentioned pilot visits.

Programme for the day (January 28th 2005)
Time Session
10.15 BALAST students and staff meet
10.25 visiting students arrive
10.30 brief welcome from the Head of the School of Languages
10.45 tour of the campus led by BALAST students
12.30 Self-Access Centre tour for visiting students
12.30 feedback session for BALAST students with language tutors
13.00 buffet lunch in the Teachers' Professional Centre area
14.00 short talk by the Student Recruitment Office
15.00 end of visit

Twelve BALAST students were involved in hosting this visit and their presence was the key to the success of the day. They were given a task to complete during the visit which related to the LTL module input they had received over the past semester (see Appendix One). Each student also received a written statement from the School of Languages detailing their involvement with the day which could be used to show potential employers.

Thirteen students from Addington High School arrived by minibus and were accompanied by two staff members, one of whom was the former BALAST student. The pupils from Addington High School all had refugee status and were users of English as an Additional Language.

At the end of the day, all parties were asked to complete short questionnaires (see Appendix Two for a sample). The main purpose of this evaluation was to obtain more formalised feedback to help facilitate the organisation of future visits.

Summary of responses (first visit 28/1/2005)

In brief, the visit was successful from all perspectives with two main improvements suggested. These were better catering arrangements and tighter organisation of the facilities available for visiting on the campus tour. The first of these concerned the issue of the lunch provided (a finger buffet). Some of the visiting students described the lunch as "posh people's food" and "not our type of food". There were many requests for "more junk food" and/or "sweets, crisps, biscuits, chocolates". In response to this, the canteen facilities were used on the subsequent visit (which reduced administration) with each student (both visiting and undergraduate) receiving a voucher to enable them to buy a hot meal.

The second suggested improvement concerned the timing of the visit. The end of January is an assessment period at the University of Brighton and consequently several of the buildings were either locked or simply deserted. The timing of such visits is an obvious consideration, but finding the ideal slot for both institutions is not easy as schedules at both ends are very tight.

The BALAST students noted on their evaluations that they had particularly enjoyed: communicating with the students; meeting students from different backgrounds; finding out about the visiting students' backgrounds and their "learning needs and experiences"; "the positivity from the students"; "meeting students that I wouldn't normally meet". One student found the 'slang' used by the visitors hard to understand which, in turn, impeded communication. A final additional comment received was: "I really enjoyed the task and the two students were marvellous. They wanted to know everything about university life."

The visiting students evidently enjoyed their visit and mentioned the following as particularly enjoyable: information about the university; the visit to the Self-Access Centre and the lunch; "meeting new people, going on the tour, playing pool and the food was nice"; "meeting the people I was given to show me around"; "going around (x 2) and talking to students"; "friendly and helpful people (x 2)". Comments such as the two following ones were particularly heartening: "everything was excellent. I really enjoyed myself. Thank you very much"; "I enjoyed everything. I loved it!!! Thanks!!!"

Negative comments were received about the weather and the countryside, both of which were outside our control! All staff involved in the visit were positive in their comments with one of the visiting teachers commenting on the "extremely well-balanced and thought-provoking elements" throughout the day. One mentioned the need for a 'toilet stop' and refreshments on arrival rather than plunging straight into the programme. These suggestions were incorporated into the subsequent visit. Two e-mail comments were received from the visiting staff after the visit which were particularly encouraging: "Thank you so much again. You have made us very welcome. Charming students"; "Many thanks for a lovely day on Friday. I know it was very beneficial to many of our students."

On reflection following the first visit it was felt by the university staff involved that: the overall framework and structure of the day had been largely suitable; the BALAST students had appreciated the writing task which provided a structure to the day for them and enabled the visit to be followed up in class with greater focus; the involvement of the BALAST students had greatly enhanced the success of the visit and was obviously appreciated by the visiting students and their teachers; attention needed to be paid to the timing of the next visit and the lunch arrangements.

Second visit (April 15th 2005)

Bearing in mind the reflections outlined above, a similar format for the day was arranged. Lunch vouchers were organized for the canteen (which unfortunately experienced a gas supply leak on the day resulting in only cold lunches being available!). The BALAST students had a similar task to complete as before and questionnaires were again distributed at end of the visit to all parties.

Programme for the day (April 15th 2005)
Time Session
10.15 BALAST students and staff meet
10.30 visiting students arrive (soft drinks and biscuits will be served)
10.45 - 11.00 brief welcome from the Head of the School of Languages
11.00 tour of the campus including TV studio
12.15 Self-Access Centre tour for visiting students
12.15 feedback session (BALAST students with Cathy, Kirstin and Trevor)
13.00 - 14.00 lunch in the Westlain canteen
14.00 - 15.00 talk by Student Recruitment Office
15.00 end of visit

This second visit was perhaps more successful than the previous one: all parties were hugely positive in their evaluation of the day; it was really felt that now a workable model to underpin future visits of this nature was established.

The timing of the second visit was perhaps not quite ideal as, due to final-year workload pressures, only five BALAST students were available. It appears that there is really no ideal time during the increasingly busy academic year to host such visits. Those five BALAST students who did attend found the following most positive: the TV studio visit; the visiting students themselves who were described as being "interested [and] had lots of questions and enthusiasm"; visiting the student halls of residence; the refreshments and lunch; meeting students of different nationalities. No substantive negative comments were made.

The eleven visiting students likewise had no substantive negative comments to make and evidently enjoyed their visit. Particularly positive comments made concerned: the tour of the Self-Access Centre; the library facilities; going into the lecture theatres; the food; looking around the university in general; the student accommodation visit; the computer room (2 mentions); the canteen; the TV Studio; "everything" (x 3). This additional comment was particularly heartening: "I think everything is excellent and thank you so much for the support given to us because it was helpful and friendly people as well".

All staff concerned (both 'home' and visiting) thought the organisation for hosting subsequent visits was now right and there were no suggestions made as to how things could be improved. Perhaps the following comments sum up the views of the two visiting staff: "The whole visit was (again) very worthwhile for all concerned". It was certainly felt by the staff involved at the University of Brighton that a solid model for hosting such visits had been established and, indeed, all similar visits hosted during the academic year 2005/6 were organized along the lines of the second visit documented here.

Key lessons learned from the experiences outlined in this paper are the following. First, it is obviously crucial to keep in contact with students when they graduate from university, as they can become useful role models in terms of career pathways for current undergraduates. The role of Alumni groups can not be underestimated in this context.

Second, the links made between institutions must benefit all parties concerned, but particularly the students involved. The task distributed to the BALAST students for example (see Appendix One), provided a solid focus for the visit which was appreciated by the undergraduates involved and made follow-up work after the day more targeted. If visits such as those described above can benefit educationally both students as well as the working lives of the staff involved, the greater success the visits will have.

Third, it is evident that personal links between institutions are crucial, particularly in the early days of establishing contacts. This was underlined when the former BALAST student took maternity leave during 2005/6 which left contacts with the school hard to sustain. It is crucial to establish and maintain formal contact lists with at least two staff members in place from each institution.

It may appear that many of the details reported here are self-evident, but it is hoped that the final model and subsequent reflections will serve some practical purpose in helping the planning of similar visits in order to widen access to institutions of Higher Education across the country.

Appendix One

Task for BALAST students

BALAST YEAR 3 LA 372 (Language Teaching and Learning)

Visit from Addington High School on Friday January 28th 2005

Background information

A former BALAST student is now responsible for helping with the education of refugee students in the EAL department at Addington High School in an underprivileged part of Croydon in South London. She, and one other staff member, will be visiting the University of Brighton at our invitation and this will be a good experience for you to meet the students and talk to them about your experiences of higher education in this country. The main reason for this visit from the visiting students' perspective is to see that it is their right as much as any other student's to go to university if they so choose. They need a lot of encouragement and the visit is concerned with 'raising aspirations'.


There are about fourteen visiting students aged between 14 and 15 years old and they will arrive at the Falmer campus at 1025 am on Friday January 28th. They have been asked to go to T209 which is opposite our normal classroom to meet you. Please go to the classroom at about 1015am to organise yourselves into small groups (two or three of you per group) and get ready to show the visiting students (one or two per group) around the campus. You can go anywhere you think might be of interest - the canteen, the library, halls of residence etc but not the Self-Access Centre (SAC) as this has been arranged separately.


You should aim to answer any questions the students may have and find out about their particular needs. As far as your own task goes, we would like you to find out as much as you can about your student(s). This might include their age, country of origin, mother tongue, particular difficulties with learning the English language. You could also think about how you might, as a future English language teacher, go about preparing a course or programme of study to help these students. Sarah and I would like you to write up your thoughts in about 300 words and hand this in before the start of the second semester please.

At 1230pm please take your student(s) to the SAC for a guided tour. Please come back yourselves to T209 for a short debriefing session with some of the staff. Lunch for everyone has been arranged for 1300 outside T209.

In the afternoon starting at 1400 there will be a short talk in T209 by the Student Recruitment Team which will last for about one hour. The visit will end at this point. Please feel free to attend the talk after lunch as the 'more the merrier' and you might learn something of interest as well!

Hope you enjoy the day

Cathy and Sarah

Appendix Two

Example of evaluation questionnaire


Please answer the following short questions to help us prepare for future visits from your school

  1. In general, did you enjoy your visit? (Tick one of the faces below that best describes how you feel)
    tick box of faces

  2. Was there anything in particular that you enjoyed? (Please use the lines below to indicate your answer)

  3. Was there anything in particular that you did not enjoy? (Please use the lines below to indicate your answer)

  4. Is there anything that you would suggest we include when we are planning future visits such as yours? (Please use the lines below to indicate your answer)

Thank you very much for answering these questions and we hope you had a good day with us!

Cathy Watts and Sarah Varney-Burch (28/1/2005)