Rising to the challenge

With Maths and English at the heart of the secondary school curriculum, it is important for pupils to achieve success in these core subjects.

Some find it harder than others to reach their academic goals and need additional support. Now, a new initiative launched by the Black Country Children’s Services Improvement Partnership (BCCSIP), part of the University’s Education Partnerships department, is offering one-to-one mentoring for pupils to help boost their confidence – and their grades.

Student coaches

University of Wolverhampton Maths and English students are trained to go into schools across the region as academic coaches. The main aim is to improve results and academic focus but because of the positive nature of their work, it is proving beneficial in many ways for all involved.

Professor of Education, Mick Waters and Jan Roman, Deputy Director of Education Partnerships, wanted to support schools in the Black Country in improving standards. Along with Gayle Cosnett, Project Manager for the secondary strand of Black Country Challenge, a partnership to boost regional educational performance, they decided student coaching could have very positive results.

They approached Matt Bates, who works part-time for the University as Student Mentoring Co-ordinator and also independently as an Educational Consultant, about the possibility of using students to work in schools on a part-time basis, with a view to providing additional support with English and Maths.

A pilot scheme was initially set up last year with 13 students. It proved so successful that it has since been expanded. There are now more than 60 academic coaches trained to go into 30 schools across the Black Country. The initiative is also raising aspirations for youngsters in the region. Students talk about coming to university and encourage pupils to think about their future and consider higher education.

Training for the role

The students undertake training, which takes place at the weekend so they don’t lose valuable lecturing time. It covers areas such as not making assumptions, building rapport and relationships, personality types and profiles, communication, questioning skills and listening skills. They combine these important skills with their subject expertise to offer individual help to pupils.

Once trained, the coaches work with Year 10 and 11 pupils and spend up to 16 hours a week at their placement school.

Role models

Matt says: “The coaches are role models to the young people and we’re finding that pupils relate well to them. We’re really pleased with the feedback we have received; all the schools have been really positive. They say it has helped the children and their results were better.”

Gayle has been working closely with the schools involved to devise appropriate programmes for them to ensure the initiative meets their needs. She has been very pleased by the comments from schools who say the coaches are a very valuable asset and teachers are grateful for the additional support.

Improving results

They have also seen an improvement in their results.

“The biggest impact we’ve had was in one particular school where an academic coach was working with a pupil who was predicted a Grade D. Her positive experience led to her achieving a B Grade, far exceeding early expectations.”

Developing life skills

In addition, Matt stresses the benefit to the student coaches themselves, who are able to earn money while gaining experience in schools, as well as developing their life skills. 

“They have found it really excellent. The skills they learn are transferable to other areas of their lives.”

He says there is no typical academic coach; a diverse range of students have been keen to  take part, aged from 18-50.

“It’s a great experience which is really rewarding, particularly when  they can see that they’ve helped someone reach their potential.  The scheme has made some of them consider teaching as a career – some have even been offered permanent jobs within the schools.”

Among those who have benefited is Sadia Shariff, who is extremely enthusiastic about the scheme. She had been passionate about getting into teaching and found her experience as an academic coach very useful.

She says: “I joined BCCSIP half-way through my second year. This really encouraged me and I am continuing at Bristnall Hall Technology College and enjoying my time there very much. I have come to know the students and staff there and feel free to communicate with them. I have now decided to take my Graduate Teacher Training Programme at that school.”

Raising aspirations

The academic coaching scheme is one of many run by the University with the aim of raising aspirations and supporting Maths and English.

Another scheme, Maths Futures, focuses on gifted and talented youngsters, with the hope that they will become mentors themselves in the future.

Matt says another positive aspect of the academic coaching is that it encourages pupils themselves to become coaches or mentors to younger schoolchildren.

“It’s a very positive waterfall effect,” he says. With role models like Sadia and her fellow academic coaches, pupils are sure to be inspired in more ways than one.

For more information about the work of Education Partnerships see www.wlv.ac.uk/educationpartnerships.