HE Can shows South Yorkshire boys that they CAN progress to higher education

Group of four teenage school pupils in uniform, smiling

HE Can, a project to increase the participation of men from underrepresented groups in higher education, is inspiring a group of Year 9 students across South Yorkshire to believe that they can take that step into higher education.

HE Can is a project from the Higher Education Progression Partnership South Yorkshire (HeppSY). It responds to a key priority to address the underrepresentation of young men from areas that have very low rates of participation in higher education (HE). Following a successful first year of delivery, a second programme was launched this month with a new cohort of eager participants.

The project has been based around three key aims:

  • to build confidence and develop social/teamwork skills which can be applied when navigating a higher education environment
  • to impart reliable knowledge about higher education and graduate careers through positive role models
  • to provide opportunities to experience the world of work and broaden cultural capital.

Research into the barriers to accessing higher education for boys and men from underrepresented groups suggests that a lack of access to graduate role models, from whom they can informally receive information, contributes to the formation of misconceptions about what higher education is like and who can access it.

With this in mind, a defining feature of the HE Can project has been the opportunity for the students to regularly engage with positive role models, including HeppSY funded graduate Higher Education Engagement Assistants who are based in their schools.

In 2018, targeted students from six secondary schools across Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield immersed themselves in a sustained and progressive programme of activity. This included workshops at six different higher education institutions, a range of social experiences, a residential visit and reflective mentoring led by graduate role models. This model proved successful and a second cohort comprising of five schools and 60 students began in March 2019.

Emma Nicholls, HeppSY schools programme manager and HE Can project lead, stated that,

'the HeppSY interns have been crucial to the success of the HE Can project as they provide a personal, approachable and sustained element to the programme, which is unique and has proved highly successful. Specifically, they have been able to build relationships with the participating students and their parents through a series of confidence boosting and reflective workshops which take place between the university campus visits.'

Due to this personal approach, 140 parents have engaged with HE Can through launch and graduation events. This is a testament to the rapport that is developing between HeppSY, parents and carers from the HeppSY target wards.

Another significant element of the first phase was the three-day residential trip to London which took place in the summer. This was also a great example of a successful collaboration between two Uni Connect consortia: HeppSY and AccessHE (a key delivery partner in the London Uni Connect).

Jamie Mackay, Deputy Head of AccessHE at the time, was thrilled to collaborate with HeppSY on the HE Can project:

'When HeppSY approached us to explore the possibility of working together, we jumped at the chance. Moreover, because the focus of the HE Can project involved more than just the Summer School and over a longer period of time, we were keen to add value to by working with our partners to highlight some of the exciting higher education opportunities unique to London.'

Colleagues from both consortia worked together to coordinate three days of activity which included interactive workshops at Ravensbourne University London, the University of Westminster and UCFB Wembley. A highlight of the event was the Dress to Impress workshop delivered by the charity ‘Suited & Booted’, where the students learnt about different business attire.

Many of the students said that the London residential trip showed them that studying at university can be enjoyable and is now achievable.

What the students said

'I enjoyed learning about higher education because I was unsure and now I have more confidence.'
'I enjoyed all of [the HE Can trip to London] because most of the things we did, I've never done before.'

The project came to a wonderful conclusion at a celebration event, where students brought their parents to watch them 'graduate'.

Commenting on the impact HE Can has had on her son, one parent said:

'It has given my son the belief that university is a possibility, that he will be able to interact with others and he now knows that no matter what his background he can achieve this.'

The impact of HE Can on students' aspirations has also been noticed by Ofsted during a recent inspection of one of the participating schools. Their report of the school appraised the project for 'focusing on raising the expectations of boys [which] is appreciated by the pupils and is enabling them to see options open to them'.

Project lead, Emma Nicholls, explained:

'It is important that the project didn’t come to an abrupt end after the graduation. The students need the opportunity to reflect on why participating in HE Can mattered for them and what effect it might have on their futures.'

In order to sustain their engagement with higher education after the project, the first cohort engaged in one-to-one careers interviews with the HeppSY Higher Education Progression Advisers (HEPAs) who are independent ambassadors for higher education.

These interviews enabled students to reflect about how the experiences and skills they have gained by participating in HE Can have helped them make choices about their education and employment.

HE Can has equipped these South Yorkshire students with the confidence and knowledge to start making positive choices for their futures based on the belief that they can take the step into higher education.

He Can has also stimulated a SHE Can project which landed in February 2019. This involved 46 girls at four schools, embarking on a sustained programme of activity to develop confidence and help them 'find their voices'.

The Higher Education Progression Partnership South Yorkshire (HeppSY) works in partnership with

  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • the University of Sheffield, and
  • South Yorkshire colleges and schools

to increase the number of young people progressing to higher education.

Visit the HeppSY website

Twitter: @HEPP_Yes

Last updated 29 January 2020

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