It’s been a great year for students on the Villiers Park Scholars Programme in Swindon, the initiative to help disadvantaged young people aim for the highest level of further education.
More students than ever achieved the Gold Standard, two students won the prestigious Brightside Mentoring Awards and now 74% have achieved A-level grades A*-B, 83% are going to university and 73% to a leading university*. This compares to the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s report** which shows that only 24% of Swindon students progress to higher education compared to a national average of 35%.
Ashleigh Hemmings who is a former student of Lydiard Park Academy and Cirencester College, as well as a graduate from the Scholars Programme. She’s achieved A*A*AB A-level grades and has won a place to read Biomedical Science at Oxford University. She is the first person in her family to go to university.
Through the support of the programme Ashleigh has gone from not thinking about what to study at university “I was a bit unsure of what my future would hold. I never really aimed high because I didn’t feel I could achieve high”.
Now Ashleigh says she plans “to go into medical research. I also plan on teaching Biomedical Science within universities later on in my career. Villiers Park is unique! The programme doesn’t just support you academically, but it supports you in all aspects of life. You develop skills such as confidence; the confidence to believe in your academic abilities, the confidence to aim high, and the confidence to become the best student you can be. This programme helps to make the doctors, teachers, scientists, writers of tomorrow.”
Another Swindon student who is the first in her family to go to university is Laura Daley. Laura has just received A*AB A-level grades and is now taking up her place at Warwick University to study English Literature. Laura was a student at St Joseph’s Catholic College and Cirencester College as well as a Scholar.
“Villiers Park has definitely left me aspiring higher than I would have without them. I think more than anything just because my mentor and the five-day residential helped me realise that my true passion really is English, and that I absolutely need to get to the best possible place for me to study it. Thanks to Villiers, I’ve accepted an offer from the University of Warwick to study English Literature in September, which I’m really excited about. Villiers has helped me be certain about what I want to do and helped me choose my dream course.
“Villiers Park has helped me so much over the past four years. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their help. They’ve helped give me more confidence and to work better in teams, as well as given me lots of other skills. It has also been so rewarding by helping me know that I can achieve what I want to and to aim as high as I want. The thing I love most about the programme is the fact that they care equally about every student – it doesn’t matter if you like science, English, languages or maths…They will help you as long as you are a hard-working student. There aren’t many other groups willing to do that, so I appreciate everything they’ve done for me. They really do manage to change lives.”
Finally, Bethany, who prefers not to be name, received her A*AA results and is starting at the University of Southampton this Autumn, studying Medicine. Like Ashleigh and Laura, Bethany is the first in her family to go on to higher education, studied at Lydiard Park Academy and Cirencester College and is a Villiers Park alumnae.
Studying to become a Doctor is a natural progression for someone who describes herself as “passionate about helping others and making a difference in people’s lives”. Beth’s long term ambition is to become a surgeon. She said: “Applying to study Medicine is insanely competitive, and they [Villiers Park staff] have been able to give me the extra edge I needed. I was lucky to join the Medicine Society which enabled me to begin studying for my entrance exam, the UKCAT, earlier than I would have, and enabled me to gain valuable work experience in a GP surgery that I would not have otherwise got. My Mentor was extremely helpful at preparing me for the application, by helping me book university open days and with my personal statement.”
Beth added: “Villiers Park is such a unique programme that helps students like me reach their goals. It offers help to students who are lucky enough to be a Scholar and without it I would not be who I am today. This programme makes a massive difference to every Scholar in different ways. This programme is rare as it focuses on children who are not struggling in class as such, but have high aspirations and are often forgotten about.“
The Villiers Park Educational Trust Scholars Programme has been working with six schools and colleges based in Swindon and Cirencester for six years. The programme works with able students from less advantaged backgrounds, raising their aspirations and attainment, as can be seen from the stories above. Jeremy Reynolds, Director of the Scholars Programme says, “I’m delighted to see how well all of our Scholars have performed in their recent exams and that so many are going to university or a centre of excellence. Many of the students we work with initially don’t consider university as a viable option for them, either because they don’t realise that they have the ability or because they don’t have any role models to encourage them. The success of our Scholars is not only life-changing for them, but as they also act as Ambassadors and role models for others in their schools, it encourages all students to be like them – aim as high as possible, believe in themselves and do the very best they can to fulfil their potential. We wish all our students every success for the future.”
Pictured top, Ashleigh and Beth holding up the results of their hard work which will take them to the next stage of their lives
*Impact Data (correct at time of going to press):
Year 13 Scholar feedback and results, August 2015
74% of A-level results were grade A* – B
83% gained a place at university and 4% are having a GAP year before going to university
90% increased their self-confidence and communication skills
87% increased their enthusiasm for learning
81% increased their resilience and their passion for a subject
100% were from a disadvantaged background
Independent evaluation of the Villiers Park Scholars Programme by the University of Sussex (October 2011) found the programme had:
Improved Scholars’ knowledge of higher education
Increased Scholars’ motivation, aspirations, self-esteem and confidence
Provided opportunities and experiences that would not otherwise have been experienced
Contributed to changes in academic and study skills that would improve attainment
Transferred successful everyday classroom practice to benefit the wider school
**The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) data comes from their POLAR 3 report, 2010-2011, this report is the most up to date data available
Villiers Park Educational Trust is a registered charity with over 45 years of experience – inspiring young people to fulfil their potential by helping them develop a passion for learning and raising their aspirations. The charity is committed to fair access – enabling students from less advantaged backgrounds to gain places at leading universities and to thrive once there.