Launched in 2000 and funded by the Scottish Government’s Scottish Funding Council, FOCUS West aims to widen participation in higher education by facilitating adjusted university offers for students who attend the high schools in which FOCUS West operates. The organisation’s primary aim is to place high school students into the most appropriate university or college and subject area for them, working in an unbiased way such that there is no particular preference for one institution or course over another.
In addition to its placement work, FOCUS West engages in extensive outreach work in schools, raising awareness and aspirations, as well as building pathways for students into higher education.
Dr Bernadette Sanderson, FOCUS West Director and registered teacher, says:
“Student Equity remains a key government policy issue in Scotland and in the UK. In Scotland there are still secondary schools where the average progression rate to higher education remains lower than 20% (the national average being around 35%). Our work in FOCUS West, thanks to special grant funding from Scottish Government, allows us to exert a positive influence on the pattern of participation in higher education from the most deprived communities in the west of Scotland.
We are delighted to develop a partnership with the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University in Australia and we hope that we can deepen our understanding of student equity through shared knowledge and practice. ”
In its entirety, FOCUS West’s programme consists of seven elements, including:
- University and College Campus Days, where groups of younger students spend two days visiting university or college campuses in order to get a feel for what it would be like to attend as a university or college student
- FOCUS on 4, another two-day university experience that aims to improve students’ study and communication skills
- Top-Up Programme, designed for senior high school students who are interested in progressing to university. Successful completion of the Top-Up Programme allows participating students’ entry scores to be adjusted two grades higher and, in some cases, widens students’ course options
- Routes For All, a programme which focuses on study skills and preparation for examinations, courses and careers for those students who are looking to attend college before university
- Portfolio Development, which assists students likely to progress to creative industry courses to build portfolios of work for admission purposes
- Entry to the Creative Industries, another element designed to assist students intending to study a creative course which teaches students how to prepare for auditions and admission interviews, and
- Focus on Families, which develops and promotes impartial information, advice and guidance on the costs associated with study, available grants and bursaries, and pathway options.
FOCUS West is funded in two-year cycles, with a Government pledge of a minimum of a four-year funded exit plan. It is hoped, however, that funding will continue for an indefinite term, in order to address some of the long-term cultural issues that affect equity in student participation in some of Scotland’s most deprived communities.