Widening Participation Stories 

In the 2015/16 academic year, 180 Newcastle University students undertook outreach in schools and community groups, coming into contact with 2400+ young people.
Want to find out about what they got up to? Read their stories below!
 

   


Scott Thomas

BA Hons Politics & History BSc student 


NUSU: Into Schools enabled second year Politics & History student Scott Thomas to run a mock general election at Harrytown Catholic High School, located in Stockport. Scott was the 2014-2015 elected Scrutiny Officer at Newcastle University Students’ Union (NUSU), a role with a remit of leading on fairness and accountability within NUSU’s committees. His aim during the school visit was to share this knowledge and passion for student democracy with pupils from his local town by supplementing their academic study with a practical campaign to improve their teamwork and communication skills. Based in the school for two weeks, Scott organised a full and engaging campaign which mirrored the UK 2015 General Election, covering voter registration, party formation, elections of leaders, the role of the media, campaigning, voting, counting of ballots and the announcement of results. All 750+ students in the school (aged 11-16) participated in some way to contribute towards the creation of the school’s first ever student parliament, with many student volunteers taking ownership of leadership roles during the election.

Four parties were established, with policies researched and implemented by the Harrytown pupils. Pupils then elected leaders and volunteer candidates from each tutor group (acting as ‘constituencies’). Other students were involved in the media team, creating adverts and broadcasts or were volunteer electoral officials, helping to run the polls on Election Day. The ‘Green Mean Politics Machine’ Party were the landslide winners on the day, winning 12 out of 15 possible seats in the first Harrytown student parliament.

Pupil turnout at the election was 72%, dismissing the oft-cited opinion that young people are not interested in politics or the democratic process. Scott also used this event to highlight representation and democracy opportunities at Newcastle University Students’ Union and across the student movement, raising awareness of the extracurricular options available to them as they take the step into further and higher education in their futures.

The Harrytown pupils developed a variety of skills during the mock general election. Ultimately the time spent in the school during the campaign allowed the pupils to witness the results of their own decision-making and to improve their research and critical thinking skills. By focusing on the growth of transferable skills, Scott was able to introduce the students to a variety of university-level topics such as research, prioritisation and data collection and presentation. For the students acting as voluntary ‘Members of Parliament’ the project was particularly beneficial – giving them the opportunity to begin to explore a leadership role and its associated skills prior to graduation – such as delegation, negotiation and motivating others. Assistant Headteacher Conor McCreesh commented on the mock general election saying “it galvanised the pupils well and provoked a lot of discussion and intrigue among them” and called the event “a tremendous success”.

Time spent on this NUSU: Into Schools visit contributed towards Scott being presented with the NCL+ Award, for his involvement in 70+ hours of extracurricular activities during the academic year. He commented: I particularly enjoyed the mock general election which involved huge amounts of work, but also allowed me to showcase to students the joys of and exciting ride that is politics!”
 
   

 


Charlotte Maxwell 
BSc Speech & Languages Sciences alumna (2015)

NUSU: Into Schools funding allowed final year Speech and Languages Sciences student Charlotte Maxwell to develop an extensive outreach programme for students at her former sixth form, Xaverian College in Manchester. As Co-President of the Newcastle University Students’ Union mental health society Mind the Gap and a passionate poet and performer, Charlotte was keen to combine these interests to develop poetry workshops for young people to both raise their aspirations and to give them a platform to discuss the issues important to them.


Charlotte returned to Xaverian College six times during the spring term to coach a group of ten pupils aged 16-18 as they prepared for a live performance at Stirred Poetry, a monthly poetry event based at the Three Minute Theatre in Manchester. Charlotte’s coaching focused on poetry form as well as more practical performance advice such as how to hold a microphone and how to move around a stage. This informal setting also provided a great environment for the students to ask Charlotte any questions they had about applying to and studying at university.

Over 8 weeks, Charlotte worked closely with the Xaverian students to identify and build upon a wide range of skills to benefit them as they approached their A levels. There was a particular focus on introducing the pupils to higher education-level research, library and writing skills in order to aid their transition to university study. By developing these transferable skills, the students were able to present far more powerfully and confidently by the end of the project. Of the students surveyed, all said that they now felt either more or much more motivated to work harder at college to achieve their goals as a result of Charlotte’s outreach project. Hannah Sypula, aged 17, was one of the Xaverian College participants of these NUSU: Into Schools visits. She remarked, “The atmosphere was really relaxed and Charlotte was so lovely and willing to help” and described the workshops as “completely fabulous”.

Charlotte was awarded the ‘NUSU: Into Schools’ Community Impact Award for her outreach work at the Newcastle University Students’ Union awards ceremony on 12th May. The judges commented on her commitment to the project and the creative way that she engaged with Xaverian College pupils to have a strong and lasting impact. Charlotte commented “Taking part in NUSU: Into Schools has arguably been the best bit of my final year at university. I had always wanted to go back into college and inspire young people who have come from places similar to where I have to aim high and think big. The most satisfying part was seeing how the young people have grown in confidence and feel more confident about their decisions to pursue poetry as a side project or as a main part of their studies once they finish their A levels”.
 

 
 

 


Jasmine Walker

Biology BSc alumna (2012) and current York University Students’ Union Societies Coordinator

 

Jasmine Walker, NUSU Activities Officer 2012-2013 and Biology BSc graduate (class of 2012) returned to her former school as part of Alumni: Into Schools. She was welcomed back to Malton School, York as a guest at their post-18 careers evening in April 2015. As a former volunteer Dance Society Secretary, Jasmine entertained attendees with stories of her time leading one of the largest and most active societies on campus to success at competitions all over the country.


Speaking to a room of 40 students and parents about her top tips for success, Jasmine also discussed her journey of election success to become Activities Officer at NUSU and how this has since resulted in her securing a job as Societies Coordinator at the University of York.
Students were also very keen to discuss selecting the right course and city for them, prompting lots of questions to the former Malton pupil about her own experience of studying at Newcastle University and living in the North East.

Her talk was very well received by all attendees with many students and their guardians planning to attend a Visit Day on campus in the near future. She said of the evening, “I enjoyed being able to give something back to students from my school, as well as promoting Newcastle. I love Newcastle (maybe a little too much) so any opportunity so let students know how good it is, is great!