A CHARITY has opened its first centre in the North of England which aims to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get to university.
The IntoUniversity Leeds East centre has been launched in the Harehills area of Leeds in partnership with the city’s university which has helped to fund it.
It aims to work with more than 450 school pupils from the age of seven up to sixth formers in its first year with sessions aimed at raising both attainment and aspiration.
The centre is already working with six schools in the city and has seen dozens of families sign their children up to receive extra support.
The IntoUniversity charity has been established for more than a decade and runs similar centres elsewhere, including in London Brighton and Bristol.
However this is the first of its kind in the North of England. It plans to open a second in South Leeds next year.
Centres operate for pupils in areas of deprivation and with lower
Sessions are run after the school day for both primary and secondary age pupils and next year it will appoint 15 students to work as mentors for children.
The centre will also send its staff into schools during the school day.
The centre’s team leader Rosie Kenwood said: “We know that university is not going to be for everyone but we also know that for some pupils they by the time they get to the end of their time at school they have already written themselves off and decided it is not for them.
“We want to start at a young age and ensure that children believe in themselves so they are in the best position to be able to make a decision.”
She said working with the centre would also normalise the university environment so pupils can get used to the idea of student life and what to expect.”
Pupils not only get academic support but are also given advice about managing their finances, living away from home and the “soft skills” they might need. She added “They get the experience of being there from a young age so it is not something which seems beyond them.”
The centre provides pupils with a quiet environment with homework clubs held at the end of the school day.
Younger children who do not have as much formal homework are also set challenges which are based around a university degree.
The centre is currently doing work with primary age children based around astronomy and will also be doing work based on African Studies.
Mrs Kenwood said: “We hope to build up a relationship with the pupils over time.
“Our hope is that those children who have started coming to us at sevens-year-old will still be with us through to their sixth form.
“We only opened this year but already the children who come to use feel like they are part of the furniture here.
The centre has already developed partnerships with Little London, Brownhill and Bracken Edge primary schools in Leeds along with three secondaries: the Co-operative Academy of Leeds, Leeds East Academy and Roundhay School.
Donations to Leeds University have helped to raise the £500,000 needed to get the project off the ground.
The centre has been opened in a rennovated top floor of St Aidan’s Community Hall in Roundhay Road.
Mrs Kenwood said the refurbishment had provided the charity with an amazing space to work with young people.
Leeds University is now working on fund raising to be able to open a second centre in 2015 in the South of the city.
The university said it has backed the programme because IntoUniversity centres have been proven to work for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Children who are eligible to receive support from the centre include pupils who receive free school meals or those who live in social housing.
Currently just 12 per cent of children from Leeds who receive free school meals go on to university.
This compares to a national figure of 32 per cent of pupils on free schools meals.
However 71 per cent of young people involved in IntoUniversity programmes progress on to higher education.