Launched in 2020, our Future Leaders Programme takes the best bits of our former Scholars and Inspiring Excellence Programme (IEP), and builds on them. Scholars and IEP focussed on supporting talented students from less-advantaged backgrounds to take up places at top-tier universities, both in the UK and abroad. Future Leaders puts the emphasis on enabling young people to see all their “possible selves” and supports them to develop and nurture the curiosity, creativity and tenacity they will need to live happy and fulfilling lives, whether they choose Higher Education or a more hands-on, vocational pathway such as an apprenticeship.
Future Leader Hannah Barnicoat-Hill, 17, has just started Year 13 at Ark Alexandra Academy in Hastings (Ark is an international education charity and a network of 36 UK schools). She’s studying Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Further Maths at A-level. A talented mathematician, she achieved Gold in the UK Mathematics Trust’s national Senior Maths Challenge in 2020. Having started on the Scholars Programme in Year 10, she’s one of our first young people to have made the transition to Future Leaders.
Ringing the changes
With a full year of Future Leaders under her belt, what does Hannah think are the discernible differences to Scholars?
“I feel like I have a lot more responsibility - but good responsibility. There’s a lot more trust being put in us to do things independently, and I’ve definitely developed confidence from that.”
That’ll be our new OPEN Coaching model, which enables our young people to develop the skills they need to identify what it is that they really want. Rather than being guided, as with traditional mentoring, they are supported to find the way themselves, clarifying their purpose and values in the process. Either way, having someone to talk to is something Hannah’s valued about Villiers Park:
“At secondary school, mentoring was really important to me. It helped to talk about my academic aspirations and worries with a professional, but someone unconnected to school. It was also comforting to hear that my worries weren’t unique!"
Aligning aspirations and values
Hannah credits the Leadership Challenge element of our Programme with giving her the agency and confidence to develop her own ideas. Inspired by Trinity College’s Women in Maths programme - something Hannah discovered through our partnership with Trinity - she organised a weekly online Maths Club for girls in Years 7 and 8:
“That was a big thing for me for two reasons: as a maths lover, and as a feminist. Girls and women are under-represented in STEM (women make up 35% of those studying core STEM subjects at degree level, dropping to 24% of the STEM workforce in 2019). They constantly see and hear messages that it’s not cool to be interested in school, or to pursue things intellectually. So the idea of the Maths Club was to give girls a safe space that encouraged them to embrace their inquisitiveness. I wanted them to feel able to stick their neck out and have a go, even if they were potentially wrong, without the scorn of male peers - something I’ve witnessed before. It developed into a really supportive community. That’s another thing I can say Villiers has done for me: helped me to align my career aspirations and my values.”
This is a pivotal year for Hannah: she’s starting the application process for her choice of universities in the UK. She’s planning on applying to Cambridge, Warwick, Kings and UCL in London. All have a great reputation and appeal for different reasons, but one stands out:
“Cambridge! My residential at Villiers in Year 10 - going to see Trinity College, doing the Women in Maths programme - made Cambridge feel a lot more tangible than it did before. The staff are amazing and I love how they teach Maths there. I remember sitting in the canteen [at Trinity] and looking at the pictures of famous mathematicians who’ve studied there - it’s mind-blowing. I felt like I wouldn’t fit in before, but saw such a diverse range of people there. Villiers helped me look at myself in a different way.”
More than just grades
Hannah says Villiers Park has also helped her to redefine “success” and create a newfound belief in herself:
“School talked about “successful” alumni in a very linear, academic way: this person wanted to do this so these are the steps they took. Villiers helped me to understand that isn’t always the case, and helped me see that not everyone has straight upwards progression. That enabled me to look at life in a more holistic, authentic way - not just academic. Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. Being able to respond positively to those changes is what matters.
“Without this programme I would be a lot less aspirational. I think it has made such a big difference it’s hard to put into words. The biggest thing is breaking that wall between what I thought I needed to be like to do these things vs the person I actually am - and realising that wall doesn’t exist. Realising I don’t have to change myself - that I’m good enough - was such a huge thing. Because, at the end of the day, you’re a lot more than just exam results.”