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Step Up to the City

22 April 2010

Step-Up - the University of Ulster’s innovative programme aimed at paving the way for hundreds of secondary school pupils to study at university - is being replicated by The City of London Academy in Islington.

‘Step Up to the City’ is targeted at students from socially deprived backgrounds in inner city London who would not have traditionally considered studying at higher education institutions.

It is being piloted with a select group of Year10 students who have shown outstanding academic ability but who have been identified as having little or no thought of entering Higher Education. The programme is to help raise their aspirations and academic performance ensuring they view university as a viable option. The initial programme will focus on Business and Enterprise – which is the Academy’s specialism – and a major component of the City University’s undergraduate offering.

The Step-Up programme was designed and developed by Magee based academic Dr Damian O’Kane. Since its introduction to schools in the North West in 2000, it has proved so successful that its remit has since been extended to Belfast. A total of sixteen schools – five in Derry and eleven in Belfast - are currently involved in the programme.

Dr O’Kane, who is Head of Access and Educational Partnerships, explains that the project involves the University of Ulster working in partnership with schools, industrial companies, local hospitals and government agencies in the delivery of the Applied GCE Science qualification within a highly structured programme of academic and vocational activities.

“For the past ten years, Step-Up has successfully raised the aspirations, motivation and performance of students who might otherwise have never ventured near a university,” he says, adding that of the 1000 pupils who have participated in Step-Up in Northern Ireland, 97%  have subsequently gone on to study at University.

Dr O’Kane says that while the City of London Academy in Islington is the first school outside of Northern Ireland to introduce Step-Up, a number of others are looking at the Step-Up model.

“We have been contacted by schools and universities throughout the UK and the USA who are interested in developing links with us to help widen access to higher and further education for their students.”

In 2009 The University of Ulster’s pioneering Step-Up programme was shortlisted for Times Higher Education Awards.