University Tips Blog
School workshop image
A headshot image of the author, Jon Cheek

by Jon Cheek


posted on 21 Jun '19

Delivering in-school university workshops - what have I learned from a decade of event delivery?

I am coming to the end of a fantastic project this year - working with my old secondary school on a year-long university guidance project – running fun, interactive workshops for every single one of their students in Years 7 right through to 12 - supported by university visits and community events too.

Which got me thinking. Having delivered workshops like these for well over ten years now – what are the main things I have learned which may be of interest to school staff and perhaps new university practitioners too?

Running in-school workshops - My Top five:

1 – University guidance will increase the university aspirations of your students - and probably the university progression rate as well

It is absolutely true in my experience that if you provide an increased level of university guidance to students, it will have a positive impact on their university aspirations (and probably the university progression of your students too).

If you are aiming to increase university participation for your school, that would be the place I would recommend starting. Focussing on things like the reason students go to university, how they afford it, how to prepare for it and how to make option choices with university in mind is a good place to start.

2 – Get students learning about university by doing

I am a huge fan of the term university ‘workshops’ rather than ‘talks’. My experience working with students is that they benefit so much more from the sessions that way.

For example, student finance. A really important subject, but if approached wrongly, a very dry one. Don’t make student finance a Maths lesson. Our workshops get students roleplaying – giving them money, and a job – so they see student finance in a practical context. It works fantastically well.

3 – A bit of competition works wonders

At the start of our workshops, students are given an interactive clicker each. Which following on from point (2) lets them know they are going to be doing something!

By giving them a clicker each, they will know that they are not there for an easy hour! But the main thing we use the clickers for, bar a few virtual exercises throughout, is an interactive quiz at the end. Be careful not to call it a ‘test’ though – a quiz sounds more easy going!

I am not suggesting we embarrass anyone who has not done so well (we only mention 1st, 2nd and 3rd) – but things like clickers are a great way to close the session with a competitive spin – without having to use old fashioned quiz sheets and pens! Practical prizes (not sweets) work well too. Especially if students get to pick their prize from a choice. Don’t offer them one thing and expect them to like it. On that note, what is the most popular prize of the options we offer I hear you ask? I wish I could say it is something more exciting, but it is actually the highlighter set!

4 - University guidance should start from Year 7

People have called for university guidance to start at primary school. In an ideal world I would agree, but most schools haven't started by the start of Year 9, so taking that into account - I would go for Year 7. Those 11 and 12 years old are not are not too young to think about university. In the same way people starting work are not too young to think about their pensions. I see great impact with Year 7's.

In fact, I think Year 7 is the perfect time. As they start one education journey, what a fantastic thing it would be do start aspiring towards the next one.

It’s all about aspirations. It does no harm for a student starting Year 7 to have a good idea of where they see their education pathway – before they make choices in Year 9. In our National Review, only 21% of schools were starting their university guidance by Year 7, and only 59% had started by the end of Year 9. We can do better than that.

5 – Make sure you include a session on student fees and finance

Student finance is the biggest barrier to university for students. It’s also the area where I see the biggest gap in student knowledge before our workshops.

The waiting game following the Augar review will do nothing to help there either. I will keep this final point purposely short to provide time for you book something – most, if not all universities, as well as private providers like UniTasterDays will run finance workshops. I would recommend you to book one! It will take you less time than reading this blog to send an enquiry about one from the UniTasterDays event page - there is a student finance event type in the search navigation.

Image of a coffee and a great job post-it note

A final observation

Every time I work with a school, I am always incredibly impressed by the staff working there and how they manage to get everything sorted despite questions from all angles - constantly. For a member of staff in the school, it is, go, go, go. Even before they check their emails! If you work in a school – good on you. I know you won’t get the time for a coffee, so I have included an image of one above for you! Keep up the brilliant work.

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