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School and University links

Considerable progress has been made in recent years in easing the transition between school and university. Nevertheless, there remains a need to forge even closer links and improve communication, so as to dispel any myths and resolve any misconceptions that might remain.

For example, while some lecturers continue to teach students in the way they always have, schools have changed the content, ways of teaching and approaches to learning (which includes assessment and PDP development activities) and this sometimes results in a mismatch between expectations and experiences when students arrive at university.

"some lecturers continue to teach students in the way they always have, while schools have changed the content and way of teaching, so there is a mismatch"

Source: The First Year Experience: Introducing scholarship skills: academic writing

The Scottish Schools Sector is currently engaging with Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which may well have great significance for HE. As part of the Graduates for the 21st Century (G21C) Enhancement Theme, Grant Jarvie and Cathy Macaslan offered a presentation on the Key Themes and Messages on Universities and Curriculum for Excellence. They outlined the implications of CfE for HE as well as the challenges and opportunities that it presents.  The presentation also contains links to the CfE documentation and qualification and assessment.

Closer links might be forged through more visits from HE staff into schools and FE colleges; and / or visits from potential HE students into universities; and / or the use of information technology to improve communication links. Improved communication between schools and HEIs was seen as vital by the students who took part in the Student expectations, experiences and reflections on the first year practice-focused project. These students also argued for more and better information about courses, including any financial implications, and what the academic and social dimensions of university would be.

Case examples of pre-entry support and the ways institutions are forging closer links with schools includes the following:

  • GOALS: Greater Opportunities for Access to Learning for Schools, University of Strathclyde
  • LEAPS: Lothian Equal Access Programme for Schools
  • 'Passion for Fashion', Glasgow Caledonian University
  • 'Promotion of engineering through a structured school-university interface', the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, local education authorities and schools
  • First and Next Steps at University, the University of the West of Scotland
  • SWAP: the Scottish Wider Access Programme
  • udecide: Decision-making in Student Progression and Transition project, University of Glasgow
  • E-grow: Educational guidance to routes and opportunities, West Forum Partnership
  • Trinity College, Dublin
  • Unismart Programme, used throughout New Zealand, Australia and the UK
  • QM Advance, Queen Margaret University.

The First Year Experience Theme identified the pre-entry stage as a part of what it termed the 'Student Life Cycle' and suggested the following as 'Personalisation initiatives'; that is to say ways in which students could feel that they were identified as individuals rather than as a homogeneous group: pre-entry blogs; maintaining contact with applicants through a personalised web page; personalised pre-entry support; and information technology tuition personalised to meet subject-specific needs. 

Find out more about the case studies and comments regarding the increased centrality of admissions (and hence reduced contact by academic departments with feeder schools).  Explore some of the key factors that influenced Scottish students to go to university and their advice for those considering going to university.

A major initiative designed to forge closer links between schools and universities has seen the creation of a partnership between the University of St Andrews and its nearest state secondary school, Madras College. The partnership has been established across all disciplines and also includes service units (catering, business, sports, students' association) to provide a wide range of opportunities for staff and students to interact and to gain work experience, shared study resources, better integration of teaching material, increased awareness of the developing Curriculum for Excellence and shared CPD.

The prime motivation for the partnership is to provide a smoother transition between school and university, both socially and academically. It provides opportunities to share experience, to shape the emerging school curriculum and to offer work experience to HE students in the school, and pupils in the University. A management group, consisting of two senior members of each institution, oversees the partnership and receives reports from each sub-group that is expected to run a series of joint events each year.

These events include: sharing expertise in student support/study skills; opportunities for projects to support the Scottish Baccalaureate; careers advice and work experience; student mentoring and CfE open forum events. For more details see  which includes the background to the formation of the partnership.