Inspirational engagement programme wins Widening Access Initiative of the Year

Inspiring Minds, the University’s pioneering engagement and outreach programme designed to encourage and support local students to study STEM subjects, has won a prestigious national award.

The inspirational programme was named the winner of the NEON Widening Access Initiative (OutreachAward in recognition of its success in engaging young people with Higher Education, raising aspirations, boosting confidence, and helping to increase GCSE subject attainment of students attending.

Presenting the award, NEON Director Professor Graeme Atherton highlighted the University’s long-time commitment to widening participation. Speaking about the programme he praised the specific subject focus of Inspiring Minds on STEM and recognised the aspiration and attainment raising success that the programme has had on individuals over the last 5 years. He also acknowledged the sector wide value of the programme and its evaluation strategy.

NEON Awards ceremony
NEON Awards ceremony LtoR: Sir Les Ebdon (Chair of NEON Executive Committee), Matt Western MP (Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities), Stefan Colley (KAMCOP Project Manager), Finley Lawson (Lead Research Fellow for Inspiring Minds at the LASAR Research Centre), and standing by the podium, Professor Graeme Atherton (Director of NEON)

The project is funded by KAMCOP and works in collaboration with the University’s LASAR Research Centre. It is built around informal science and based on an Epistemic Insight approach, where the University’s academics, student mentors and local teachers encourage curiosity about life’s Big Questions and nurture critical thinking about the nature of knowledge.

KAMCOP Project Manager, Stefan Colley, said: “It’s fantastic to be recognised for our Inspiring Minds work in this way by NEON. It is testament to the success that Inspiring Minds has reaching the most deserving young people in Kent and Medway, sparking an interest, developing a passion and raising aspirations and attainment in GCSE subjects.

“The project is a unique collaboration of Outreach practitioners, academics and ground-breaking Epistemic Insight, ‘knowledge about knowledge’ teaching, combined with fantastic student ambassadors, who bring the subjects to life for the young people.

“We are so proud of the young Inspiring Minds scholars who have benefitted from their time on the programme and are looking forward to working with many, many, more in the future.”

Finley Lawson, the Lead Research Fellow for Inspiring Minds at the LASAR Research Centre, said: “It is amazing to see how approaching STEM from inter-disciplinary perspectives has transformed students understanding of the nature of STEM and its value for society.”

The programme helps students to engage with their school curriculum and understand the interactions between science and other subjects whilst raising aspirations, attainment and awareness of STEM at HE and STEM careers. It includes a six-session programme targeted towards less advantaged and under-represented students in HE, focussing on building confidence. As well as residential summer schools which helps students understand HE more generally.

Data collected shows how the initiative is having demonstrable success and a significant positive impact on the aspiration and attainment of students participating.

Following the programme:

  • participants were 26% more likely to achieve a 9 to 4 pass in Maths (64%) than the non-participant group (38%)
  • 7% more likely to achieve a 9 to 4 pass in Science (32%) than the non-participant group (24%)
  • 13% more likely to achieve a 9-4 pass in English and Maths (45%) than the non-participant group (32%)
  • 64% agreed that the activities left them feeling motivated to study STEM post 16
  • 68% agreed that taking part encouraged them to explore Higher Education (HE)
  • 75% felt the projects helped them understand the links between science and other subjects.

The NEON Awards celebrate the transformative power that HE can have and recognises key achievements in the widening access sector and enabling social mobility.

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