A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to help with the implementation of this year’s Sutton Trust History Summer School, hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s History department. As I realise that not everyone is familiar with the work of the Trust, I thought I’d collect some thoughts and write a brief post based on my experience working on the Summer School, and why collaborating with the Sutton Trust is a compelling means of widening participation.
First and foremost, the Sutton Trust provides access to University. All of the Summer School’s participants come from economically or resource-deprived schools, for many of whose students the realities of educational inequality might well prevent their going to University. With the Sutton Trust’s help, students enjoy teaching at some of the county’s most prestigious universities (including the University of Warwick, King’s College London, Durham University, and the University of Cambridge). Moving forward, it’s hoped that these positive learning experiences will encourage students to apply for university, ultimately resulting in better chances for their futures.
Secondly, the Trust gives students the opportunity to engage with subjects not universally taught at school. In this year’s History Summer School, several of the students were interested in studying Art History, but as the subject is often absent from school syllabi, they expressed concern at not knowing what this would entail. As an art historian teaching as part of the History programme, I was able to give these students some sense of what Art History entails, relating this to their current programme of study as part of the Summer School, as appropriate with the day’s activities.
Thirdly, the Summer School familiarises students with the realities of university life, be they pedagogical or social. Students stay on campus in campus accommodation, and accordingly the Summer School functions almost like an extended campus visit, in which they can both test out university accommodation, while simultaneously getting a sense of what it might be like to be a student in residence. More importantly, however, the Summer School introduces students to the kind of intellectual rigour and critical thinking that is a mainstay of University education. At this year’s History Summer School at the University of Edinburgh, students were exposed to a range of disciplinary perspectives, with sessions drawing on art history, film studies, social and cultural history, and English literature, demonstrating the range of methodologies and approaches that history (and its related disciplines) can encompass.
In the afternoon sessions (hosted by myself and Anna Feintuck) students worked to produce short history-themed documentary films on a range of topics, including Grey Friar’s Bobby (the infamously loyal dog), the development of the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh University’s George Square, the layers of the city of Edinburgh, and Greyfriar’s churchyard. Touching on ideas of death and commemoration, the urban landscape, national identity, the history of education, and notions of historical ‘truth’, the films encompassed many issues central to the study of history. Furthermore, working on films provided a hands-on experience, gave the students a sense of creative and intellectual freedom, and allowed them to work semi-independently as part of a group of their peers, thereby anticipating the type of group work that is a typical pedagogical method at university level.
I was thrilled that many of the students that I spoke to at the end of the week told me that the experience had convinced them to study History at university-level. More importantly, however, they told me that they felt inspired, and it is surely this that is the aim of of any Sutton Trust Summer School.