Slaughter and May won the Opening Doors Award for Best Outreach Programme.
Young people are reaping the benefits of an international law firm’s efforts to help them win places at top universities. Launched in January 2012, the Key Project run in partnership with Slaughter and May and The Access Project, an educational charity, helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Central Foundation Boys’ School is an inner-city school in Islington. Its 900 students speak 34 different first languages and more than 70 per cent claim free school meals.
Students join aged 13 to 14 and remain until they finish their A levels. Slaughter and May fund a full-time coordinator based at the school. A founding member of PRIME, a sector-wide initiative to provide fair access to quality work experience, the firm is a keen backer of social mobility.
Almost 90 youngsters are currently on the programme and they received more than 810 hours tutoring last year. Selected by motivation rather than ability, they ‘earn’ a tutor by demonstrating their commitment to learning and regularly attending workshops.
Students attend weekly tutorials with a mentor, confidence and articulacy workshops and regular sessions to boost their confidence and personal skills including written/spoken communication and listening skills. All Year 12 students are offered work placements, CV and interview workshops to prepare them for employment.
The Key Project is just one strand in a wide programme of initiatives that the firm runs at the school. Students are supported by 150 volunteers including partners, associates and secretaries. At the heart of the programme is a commitment to give students more career options, aspiration-raising activities, mentoring and academic support.
Corporate Responsibility Manager Kate Hursthouse said:
We want to inspire young people to think about a career in law and open their eyes to the vast range of roles on offer. In 2013, we provided 20 work experience placements to Central Foundation students.
ITV, a client, teamed up with Slaughter and May to provide a unique insight into working in an in-house legal team, an area often unfamiliar to youngsters. The scheme was devised to give students an experience as close to being a lawyer as possible.
Budding lawyers spent a week at Slaughter and May working on a mock task – they were told ITV wished to launch a prime-time game show and needed advice on several legal aspects. Students conducted legal research, scheduled a meeting to deliver their advice and spent 2 days at ITV to see the client’s side: They met different departments, undertook a self-awareness workshop and received feedback on their performance. All those asked agreed it had helped them decide their future career path.
Volunteers said they gained a greater understanding of the social issues faced by students from less privileged backgrounds. Last year, 85 per cent of volunteers reported that participation developed their work skills including their ability to explain difficult concepts and 89 per cent reported a heightened sense of wellbeing.
Kate, when asked about what’s next:
We’ve got so many new developments all the time.
To improve the quality of tutorials, the firm recently introduced tutor-teacher meet-ups, when teachers come in to help volunteers distinguish the difference between an A star student and a C student and give tips on what examiners look for.
Kate is proud that this summer, Central Foundation’s 2013 A level results pulled off their best ever exam results with 100 per cent pass rate, scoring 23 per cent A or A* grades. While a record 11 students won places at the UK’s top universities (compared to 3 in 2012 and one in 2011). It’s hoped that the participating students’ success will have a ripple effect on the aspirations of their peers and raise standards.
Tahmid, mentored during his UCAS application by the firm’s senior partner, achieved 3 As and earned a scholarship at New College to study Law where only 12 state school students secured places last year. Tahmid said:
Without this project I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now.
George, who is tutored by a partner at the firm, added:
My tutorials with Isabel have given me a much better understanding of GCSE maths as well as a greatly improved my drive to work outside school.
Over the programme, students blossom as they gain confidence. Kate said:
We see a lot of students and increasingly, they get less intimidated as they get used to our environment. They grow more professional, greet us properly and shake hands making good eye contact and sit upright. They get a lot out of it.
Kate is convinced that it’s important for students to boost their confidence before their crucial first interview:
These days they need something to talk about and it’s increasingly difficult to walk into a job without any previous work experience. We’re really keen to get them in here so they’ve got far better chances when they leave school.
A lad called Tynan came in to do a fortnight’s work experience last summer. After sixth form, he went to university but decided it wasn’t for him. At the same time, an entry-level job came up in our accounts team. Tynan came to the interview, delivered an amazing performance and got the job.
After receiving the award, Corporate Responsibility Manager Kate Hursthouse said:
We are thrilled to have won the award for Best Outreach Programme. We would like to say a big thank you to The Access Project, the staff we work so closely with at Central Foundation and especially to the volunteers whose commitment and enthusiasm has made the project a great success.