HE Can Graduates Celebrate at The University of Sheffield

Tuesday 25th September 2018

On 12th September, nearly 50 young men from six schools across South Yorkshire attended an Awards ceremony at the University of Sheffield to mark their personal development on the HE Can programme.

The HE Can initiative funded by the Higher Education Progression Partnership South Yorkshire Plus (HeppSY+) – part of a national initiative from the Office for Students – focused on giving boys aged 13 to 15 who are most at risk of missing out on higher education an opportunity to explore their options and build their confidence.

The targeted group was selected from six schools in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield: Chaucer School, Ecclesfield School, Mexborough Academy, Wath Comprehensive School, St Pius X Catholic High School and Trinity Academy.

The young men selected to participate undertook a six-month programme of activity designed to give them a taste of the kinds of opportunities and benefits available to them in higher education. Experiences included:

HeppSY+ Schools Programme Manager, Emma Nicholls, devised and led the programme. She said: “As a former teacher I have seen how a lack of confidence in their own ability can affect students, especially those who come from a background where progression to higher education might not be the norm. It is a personal passion of mine to help students achieve their potential and know about the options available to them.”

She explained: “Across the UK, twice as many women go on to higher education as men. The HE Can project has therefore focused on young men across South Yorkshire who might achieve good GCSEs but not think of going on to A Levels and higher education.”

Asked about the benefits of the HE Can project, Sharon Woodward-Baker, HeppSY+ Programme Manager, commented : “Through targeted activity the HE Can project has helped students to build their confidence and develop transferable skills such as teamwork, communication and resilience, which are vital when accessing higher education and progressing into the workplace. The various activities have equipped students with factual knowledge about higher education and helped to dispel myths for both students and their parents.”

At the graduation ceremony, students were awarded a certificate in front of their parents and enjoyed a slide show of memorable highlights from the programme. There was an opportunity to socialise and talk to friends from other schools, illustrating now the programme has helped to develop the students’ soft skills and confidence. Many of the students said how much they had enjoyed the residential trip to London which included a show and a trip to Wembley Stadium, as well as a ‘suited and booted’ workshop, where students learnt how to dress to impress.

Emma Nicholls said: “The reaction to the HE Can programme from all those involved has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had feedback from teachers saying how behaviour has improved and thanking us for giving students opportunities the school cannot provide.

Many parents have told us how they wanted better opportunities for their children, and they have shown appreciation for opening their children’s eyes to new experiences and challenges.”

She added: “I think my highlight was the London residential. The student feedback we received was so positive, they really embraced all the activities and new experiences we threw at them. It was so pleasing to hear from some of them that after the residential they’d changed their minds and wanted to go to university.”

Jacob from St Pius X Catholic High School said, “I enjoyed the trips we did in London, especially the one to the Business School at Westminster University. I’ve learnt general skills that you need for a university like listening, note taking and how to dress for an interview – basically, general skills for life. I now want to go to university and become a forensic scientist, an accountant or a lawyer working for big firms.”

Jacob’s father Joe said: “The HE Can project has had a good impact on Jacob, it’s given him more confidence and a focal point to work towards. He now knows through the programme what he wants to do.”

Sharon Woodward-Baker said: “The difference in the students since the start of the programme and now is just amazing, we’ve seen a real change in confidence. Some students at the beginning were afraid to ask questions and engage, but now they are speaking to new people and are full of questions. The students have developed the skills and willingness to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new things. I think seeing the realisation in these students that they can achieve, and that higher education is for them is really special.”