Yvonne Kelly and Sir Nigel Carrington discuss ‘Opening Doors to Further Study’

14 February, 2023

Sir Nigel Carrington, Chair of the Saturday Club Trust’s Board of Trustees and former Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London, talks to Yvonne Kelly, Principal and CEO of Barking & Dagenham College, about the FE and HE partnerships that underpin the National Saturday Club programme and empower young people to make informed choices about further education  

Sir Nigel Carrington (NC): Yvonne, the NSC has been proud to partner with Barking & Dagenham College since 2015 and you recently ran the pilot for one of our newest Clubs, Film&Media. Have you found Saturday Clubs an effective tool for engaging with young people, and do they inform their choices regarding further education? 

Yvonne Kelly (YK): Our Saturday Clubs have been another opportunity for us to collaborate with our school partners in the borough. It’s been great to observe the young people learning, and hear feedback from, and meet, their parents or guardians. I think all this engagement is about access and the ways in which we can demystify further education, break down barriers and open up opportunities for young people. A programme like this allows for a more seamless transition for learners who want to progress to further study.  

There are a number of issues to address in our borough, such as deprivation and ongoing regeneration. How you engage with young people before the age of 16 is key. The Clubs are a vehicle for a college like ours, which has a phenomenal history, fantastic facilities and expert tutors, to broaden young people’s horizons and expose them to a number of technical and vocational areas. 

NC: Reflecting on our experience of running Saturday Clubs at University of the Arts London, it struck us that simply having young people, and their parents or guardians, physically in the space of a university or college was transformative. Would you agree? 

YK: Yes, I think it’s about changing perceptions. In our borough, many people have a strong traditional approach, particularly within some ethnic groups. There’s often an expectation that you go to school, then university. It can be quite a narrow view, in terms of aspirations and parents wanting their children to work in very specific roles. Part of our task is making parents aware that there are now numerous options and pathways for progressing into an incredible range of jobs, many of which they will never have considered. 

For the young people, being in a college environment offers them a safe space where they can do something creative, produce takeaway work using our facilities, and develop their confidence and communication skills. 

NC: The HE regulator, the Office for Students, requires universities to ring-fence part of every student’s fee for specific access and participation activities. FE colleges don’t have any ring-fenced monies and are even more poorly funded than universities. We are conscious of this at the National Saturday Club and have seen some great initiatives where FE colleges link up with their local communities and sponsors to aid with funding. One of our aims as a charity is to find other national or regional supporters who might help our partners, particularly FE colleges, run a Club.  

YK: Relationship-building is vital, but it can be hard and take a long time. At the college, our relationships work at various levels – some are advisory; some are strategic – but everything we do is focused on leveraging those relationships to support the ambitions of learners. We don’t go into any partnership without that critical aim.  

In terms of funding, yes, it’s challenging, but we have no choice. Initiatives like Saturday Clubs are a crucial investment for us because they are part of our strategy to support our wider community and to open up opportunities for young people to access technical and vocational education and training.

NC: One of my best experiences this year was the National Saturday Club Summer Show and seeing parents and their children looking at the graduation work in a fabulous public space. So many young people are disadvantaged by a restrictive school curriculum, and the Saturday Club programme really makes a difference. It offers young people ways of developing talents that perhaps their parents have not fully recognised; talents that can be used in the world of work as well as being life-enhancing in the broadest sense. 

YK: I think there are two angles here. Firstly, young people can develop their skills and career choices. Secondly, this kind of activity can make a contribution to their wider development. As well as the aim of getting a job, it’s about developing people as people. 

NC: In a speech earlier this year, John Blake, the Office for Students’ Director for Fair Access and Participation, stressed how vital it is that we engage as early as possible with young people, as a means of encouraging progression into further and higher education. Would you say that the National Saturday Club is pivotal as part of your wider outreach work?  

YK: Yes, I think we are all aware that the opportunities for young people have declined and so offering programmes like the National Saturday Club is critical. Particularly post-Covid, we all have concerns that what they are currently being offered early on is insufficient to meet their needs. As John [Sorrell] stressed when he and Frances [Sorrell] launched the programme, a key aspect is that the young people are not forced to come to a Saturday Club – it’s a choice. The Clubs provide a place where they can play as well as learn. That word play is so important. Another thing we don’t always recognise is the value of peer-to-peer learning for young people.  

NC: Teaching in Saturday Clubs also provides enrichment for the tutors. Our University of the Arts staff who ran Clubs often commented that they learn an enormous amount from watching how 13–16-year-olds approach life and learning. The Trust also organises a network for tutors, hosting regular meetings where they can share their experiences and meet professionals in other FE and HE institutions. Tutors can learn, informally, from one other.

YK: Yes, these are key points. For me, continual professional development is critical for our teaching workforce. I spoke to an apprentice teacher recently and advised her that to broaden her tutor horizons she needs to expose herself to pre-16 year olds, whether it’s secondary-school or primary students. That is how you will get your toolkit as a teacher – a pedagogy that evolves as you see how learners transition through the different stages. It’s important, as you said, to understand who is coming to you and how you deal with those learners in the early stages of education. Next year, we are bringing more staff into our Saturday Club programme because we think it will help them as well.  

NC: Saturday Clubs nurture young people’s talents at an early stage, whatever those talents may be. Do you find the breadth of subjects the National Saturday Club is currently offering to be a good match for an FE college such as yours? The programme has expanded recently into Film&Media. And our new Society&Change Club, in partnership with Chatham House, is an exciting development for us.  

YK: Yes, all the subjects have an element where learners can be practical, hands-on and have an interactive experience. There is also an element in the learning environment that subtly challenges young people and encourages them to take risks. That is a really good experience when it’s safe, because it takes their development to the next level. There are many young people involved who would never have been exposed to that type of experience, and they embrace and relish it. It also builds their knowledge about where they can go next with their education.  

We have an approach at the college that is very much about collaborative project-based learning, because we know there are very few tasks within industry, and even within a college environment, that you do on your own – you have to engage with others. Industry is evolving, and so the National Saturday Club will need to evolve with it. And, of course, participation in the Club programme helps schools to understand the direction in which the world of work is heading. 

NC: If we’re looking at the issue of progression and social mobility, how do you think a programme like the National Saturday Club can be developed to ensure that we continue to meet the needs of participating FE colleges?

YK: I believe it’s about continuing to develop a highly collaborative network. Engagement with colleges is about finding those points in the community where young people already have a voice and are engaged. In the borough of Barking and Dagenham, we have a very strong youth strategy, and I know they have a similarly strong strategy in Manchester. How can you help us to work more on a regional and national basis? We need to work together to extend the network and develop partnerships that are mutually enriching. 

I think using alumni as role models can also be very important. Again, it’s a way of raising the aspirations of young people; if they see somebody who looks like them and hear what incredible things they have done, it will inspire them to progress. We know there are so many young people who have been through some horrible experiences and come out of it and do incredibly well, in various ways. That’s another key question to ask going forward: what does success mean? It isn’t necessarily what the government or certain institutions define as success. 

So we should emphasise to government the ways in which FE colleges are key to young people’s progression and are helping them to be part of the workforce of the future. The National Saturday Club plays an important part in demonstrating how quickly the world of employment is changing and how the need for the creative and collaborative skills it helps develop is increasing. 

In Barking and Dagenham, it is absolutely critical that as a college we are immersed in, and supportive of, our wider community, because we have to help transform the borough.  

This article first appeared in the National Saturday Club’s 2021-22 Annual Review
Features edited by Rachael Moloney, image credit to Barking & Dagenham College

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