Call for Plymouth schools to join unique Inspire2INVOLVE programme

Published: 31 Aug 2018

State schools across Plymouth are invited to join a unique programme that aims to raise aspiration and develop vital transferable skills in young people in the area.

Downing College, University of Cambridge, and Villiers Park Educational Trust, a national social mobility charity, launched Inspire2INVOLVE in Plymouth in 2017. Students who participated in the programme’s first year claim it’s boosted their confidence, allowed them to grow and learn how to overcome challenges. Eleven Plymouth schools have already signed up for the programme’s second year, but the partnership would like to further increase the number of participating schools – and students – on the scheme.

The Inspire2INVOLVE programme is for high-ability students in Year 12, who have the potential to succeed in academia but who are from a less-advantaged background, for example, being the first in their family to think about applying to university.

Typically, this group under-achieve in their GCSEs and A-Levels when compared to students of the same academic ability but from more privileged backgrounds, reducing aspirations and opportunities when applying for university or apprenticeships and limiting career choices.

Inspire2INVOLVE aims to tackle this inequality. Working alongside schools, the students are supported with the development of key academic and personal skills through a range of activities throughout the year.

Aggie Zmudzinska, 17, from Plymouth, is a pupil at Marine Academy and took part in the programme last year. She attended a week-long neuroscience Inspiring Excellence residential course at Villiers Park in early 2018, studying topics such as schizophrenia and artificial intelligence and taking a tour of the Medical Research Council labs in Cambridge.

Aggie said, “I caught the 5am train to start my course in Cambridge, but the long journey was totally worth it,” she said. “Throughout the week, I got to make friends from all over the UK, who I still keep in contact with. Our lectures were intense but that’s what kept them interesting, especially when the subject is something you’re passionate about. By the end of the week, I didn’t want to leave. I enjoyed myself so much!”

Since then, Aggie has been running a science club in her school with her friend Kyle Leppard, who is also on the Inspire2INVOLVE programme. The development of a new enrichment activity such as a subject-specific club or arranging a special assembly is a key part of the programme, as it helps boost organisational, problem-solving and communication skills and also adds to learning opportunities available to other students.

Aggie and Kyle set up Quirky Science and Beyond, a science club for Year 6s, which saw students learning about topics including light, the chemistry of baking, and evolution, through creative, practical experiments to inspire them. Feedback was very positive – with the club’s members rating it for enjoyment and the teachers as informative and high impact in engaging children in Science.

Reflecting on the past year, Aggie feels she’s learnt to overcome challenges and says she’s more motivated, confident and independent.

“I’ve had an amazing experience from the project,” she said. “Being able to overcome challenges and adapt to each situation effectively has helped me a lot and I’ve loved everyone part of becoming a leader as well as a team member. Inspire2INVOLVE is honestly a once in a life time opportunity for pupils, it’ll help them massively as it’s something they can put down on their university application or talk about in an interview – you gain so much experience from it.”

Other students on the scheme give similar feedback, stating they’ve noticed a large improvement with skills such as risk-taking, team playing and effective communication.

Diane Henderson, Assistant Vice Principle and Head of Sixth form at Marine Academy said her students who have completed Inspire2INVOLVE have benefitted immeasurably.  “Young people can only benefit from this programme,” she said. “It fosters independence, raises aspirations and greatly enhances self-esteem. It enables young people to glimpse the possibilities which await them and widens their horizons. It is an invaluable programme to get involved in and the Villiers Park team make it extremely easy for facilitating teachers. There is really very little to do other than signpost students, encourage them to take part and enjoy seeing them blossom!”

Dr Kamran Yunus, Downing College Fellow and Inspire2INVOLVE lead said, “This is part of our ongoing initiative to support outreach and widening participation to higher education prospective students in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, as part of the University of Cambridge Area Link Scheme.  Inspire2INVOLVE aims to work closely with schools to raise aspirations and encourage academic success for students.  The key focus is supporting students with the development of their self-esteem, study skills, life skills, and attainment, and to encourage them to consider studying at a high-tariff university.  We also hope to raise awareness of the University of Cambridge and strive to encourage applications from students from this area”

Students from the South-West are some of the least likely in the country to apply to university – around 23% of 18-year-olds from Plymouth Moor View applied for university this year compared to 37.4% in England.

“We think it’s frankly unfair and a tragedy that your postcode or the circumstances you are born into still play a huge role in the opportunities available to you,” added Matt. “We hope to complement the work already going on Plymouth’s schools who we know are already dedicated to making a better future for their students – come and discover how Inspire2INVOLVE can make a difference in your school.”

The Inspire2INVOLVE programme is fully funded and there is no cost to either schools or students. The partnership are holding a launch event at The National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, on Friday 12 October that schools are welcome to attend to find out more.

“We’re hugely excited about the launch of the second year of Inspire2INVOLVE – we want to engage as many state schools, students and parents from Plymouth as possible,” said Matt Diston, Assistant Programme Director at Villiers Park. “The afternoon will give schools and students a chance to explore the programme, with the evening event offering parents a chance to find out more.”

Plymouth schools interested in Inspire2INVOLVE should contact Matt Diston, Assistant Programme Director at Villiers Park – matt.diston@villierspark.org.uk