Scholars tackle Journalism thanks to the Mike Baker Memorial Fund

24 January 2014

SP - image - Journalism course, Jan 2014Forty seven of the brightest sixth-form students from Swindon and Hasting got to grips with the pressures and pleasures of journalism during two-day residential courses held at the end of January thanks to the memorial fund set up in the name of award-winning BBC education correspondent and trustee of Villiers Park, Mike Baker.

Following his untimely death in 2012, a fund was established to keep his memory alive and to support the work he believed in.  The funds are specifically being used to sponsor two courses and provide for annual prizes for the most diligent and promising Scholars.

Mike Baker believed in the Scholars Programme.  In July 2012 he commented: “The aim of the Villiers Park Scholars Programme is simple: to ensure students get the grades to win top university places entirely on merit.  It does fantastic work.”

The courses at Villiers Park Educational Trust were led by freelance journalist and teacher Jerome Monahan. They explored everything from interviewing to constructing a news story while also examining some of the current issues affecting the industry, including the increasing impact of Twitter and other social media as well as the Leveson report.  However, the aims of the courses were not simply to develop an appreciation of different types of journalism and its relevance and application in society but also to develop independent learning skills including problem solving and decision making, research, teamwork, communication and presentation skills.

“Any insight into new professions is really useful for us at this point in our school careers just as we come to make decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives,” said Lewis . “The course has been great fun, and has definitely changed my attitude to journalism,” said Keegan.  “It was something I had previously dismissed.” It was a comment echoed by a number of other students in his group.  “The course has definitely sparked an interest in journalism,” said Ellie.  “I did not know much about it as a possible career path.”   For Bethany, it was some of the broader issues raised on the course that struck a chord: “It has shown me the importance of mass-communication in modern day society, but also the kind of story manipulation that can go on particularly when it comes to certain tabloids.”

Such reinvigoration is essential given how many promising students can lose their way in the sixth-form years.  According to the Villiers Park chief executive Richard Gould a third of ten year olds that gain top 5% SATs results fail to fulfil their academic or vocational potential.  “The Villiers Park Programme, which combines a mix of mentoring and extra-curricular courses, is designed to ensure young people of their ability stay focused and don’t “sell themselves short” when it comes to higher education,” he explained.

“In 2013 we saw the completion of the first four-year cycle for students we first met at the start of Year 10 (aged 14) and are now at university,” added Mr Gould.  “Their A-level results were excellent with 71% of grades achieved by our Scholars being grades A*-B.  Over three-quarters (78%) went off to university and just under a half (48%) gained places at leading universities.”  He added: “schools and parents speak of the transformational impact that being chosen as a Scholar has on students, many of whom have developed such loyalty to the programme that they want to maintain the link by becoming e-mentors to younger students or playing an ambassadorial role for it later on.”