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News VC joins former minister to shine light on social mobility

A new podcast shines the spotlight on how Staffordshire University is opening doors to opportunity for people in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond.

Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL
Image: Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL

So much is to do with your background and where you live as opposed to your potential and that’s what we are seeing a lot of. So, it’s about how do you reach those families that have always thought ‘not for the likes of us’? Or how do you get to the people that have had such difficult times in their lives?

Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive

Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL talks to former Education Secretary Justine Greening in a new episode of the Fit for Purpose podcast about working with partners across the city to help boost social mobility.

Staffordshire University is among more than 500 organisations globally to have made a Social Mobility Pledge to take steps to boost opportunity and put social mobility at the heart of its purpose.

Ranked 298th out of 324 local authorities in England, Stoke-on-Trent is a social mobility ‘cold spot’. Nearly a quarter of the city’s children live in poverty, compared to a national average of less than 17%, and a third of Stoke-on-Trent’s workforce is employed in low-skilled jobs.

Professor Barnes explained: “There are all sorts of things that happen through their lives that maybe get in the way of young and mature people accessing the learning and support that they need.

“So much is to do with your background and where you live as opposed to your potential and that’s what we are seeing a lot of. So, it’s about how do you reach those families that have always thought ‘not for the likes of us’? Or how do you get to the people that have had such difficult times in their lives?”

Education is a key determinant of social mobility and participation rates in higher education are between 16-28% in Stoke-on-Trent, compared to more than 50% nationally.

Approximately 40 percent of Staffordshire University students come from areas that are among the most deprived in the country, with some having experienced challenges such as homelessness and substance misuse, and many of its students are among the first in their families to go to university.

Professor Barnes and Justine Greening discuss Staffordshire University’s Step Up to Higher Education course which is designed for people who want to return to education and develop the key academic skills needed for university level study.

Professor Barnes said: “You talk to people who tell you stories about how they were written off in school, or how they were told constantly that they weren’t going to make it and they believe it, they believe they can’t do it.

“We work with the YMCA to help these people transition in higher education because it isn’t that they haven’t got the capability and ability, it’s more that they don’t know how.”

Danny Flynn, CEO of YMCA North Staffordshire, who is also an Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University, said: “I left school with one O Level, gaining access to higher education as an adult changed everything for me.

“The YMCA helps young people to build thriving lives. We have built an incredibly strong partnership with the brilliant Staffordshire University and the Step Up programme is embedded in our work together.

“Every year together we support young people into University. Let the outcome speak for itself – seven young people from the YMCA began their studies at Staffordshire University this month.”

While in Government, Justine Greening identified 12 Opportunity Areas to help level up outcomes in employment and education in the most disadvantaged parts of England.

Professor Barnes Co-Chairs the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area board, alongside Port Vale’s co-owner and chair Carol Shanahan – who is also the founder and trustee of the Hubb Foundation and recently awarded an OBE for services to the community of Stoke-on-Trent.

The Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area board has helped to fund initiatives including ‘Ay Up Duck’ to support families during school holidays and more recently through the coronavirus pandemic. Another is a mentoring scheme where Staffordshire University students help young people in Stoke-on-Trent with the transition from secondary school to College and encourage their continued engagement with education.”

In the podcast, Professor Barnes also reflects on her own journey from working as a PE teacher at a Stoke-on-Trent school where she saw first-hand the challenges of working in deprived communities.

She added: “It’s fantastic for me personally to get involved in this but also recognising the importance of the University as a really Civic University, an anchor university working with its schools to help the futures of our young people.

“It is not just the school’s responsibility. There is so much others can do within the community to help the schools in supporting our young people move forward.”

Listen to the full podcast here


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