Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The *Access Ability Project (*AAP)

The *Access Ability Project (*AAP) is run by the Access and Widening Participation Unit (AWPU) at the University of Greenwich. 

The *AAP aims to assist prospective students on their route in to Higher Education, specifically into University. In essence the *AAP means access for all types of abilities into achieving a University degree. The *AAP specifically assists prospective students with any form of disability, learning difficulty, mental health, and/or addiction. Due to the *AAP’s ethos of access for all, the project also works with prospective students from a wide variety of difficult and vulnerable backgrounds, this can include those who are from a low socio-economic background, spent time in care or prison and/or for whatever reason have not had the same opportunities in regards to education. The *AAP aims to encompass the AWPU’s mantra of inclusion and not exclusion.  

Diversity is part of our remit as many disabled university students do not view themselves as being disabled – especially students who regard themselves as ‘Deaf’, and students with mental health difficulties. The *AccessAbility Project works to a transformative model of widening participation which views disability and diversity as positive asset (taken from the ‘Providing *AccessAbility: Helping Disabled and Diverse Students in Schools and Colleges to Reach University) (2012)

Education is a fundamental human right, and therefore one that should be afforded to all. Unfortunately this is not always the case. There are individuals that may for a variety of reasons feel that they are unable to go to University. The *AAP hopes to remove barriers/obstacles that can be physical, mental or imagined. By imagined I mean misconceptions that an individual may have from their environment, schooling, family, peers and so on. For example, a student I work with, who has a variation of cerebral palsy, was not given an adequate level of education until he was 15. He spent the majority of his time playing with ‘coloured blocks’ whilst craving for knowledge. It was assumed that due to his disability, he did not have the ability to follow an academic route and ultimately obtain a job. It was only until he received a mentor; that he was enabled and empowered to have a real and substantive access into education. 

No matter who you are, what your capabilities are and what University you decide to go to, there are things that you have to prepare for in the path to University and the stages before your first day. The *AAP can help those from a typically excluded background or those that feel that they may have more obstacles to University than others. 

Providing Mentors/Ambassadors is one of the services that the *AAP offers. Ambassadors are trained to be able to provide adequate and up to date information on the University process. This includes how to apply for University, information on student finance, particularly Disability Student Allowance (DSA), the support that is available on arrival and throughout a person’s studies. Ambassadors are chosen on the basis that they are students themselves, and either have a disability, learning difficulty, mental health condition and/or any addiction. This enables the mentor to give advice on their own experiences, thereby being relatable and approachable.  Mentoring can also be done via online emailing to ensure that everyone has access to this service. 

Ambassadors are also trained to offer support. This can be note taking support during open day visits and other events organised by the University, such as an Into Teaching event. The Into Teaching event was primarily concerned in delivering presentations on routes into the teaching sector for disabled and dyslexic students. There is a great need to promote access into teaching for such individuals because they are a minority within the sector and therefore underrepresented. The Ambassadors that worked during this event helped to encourage and promote the idea whilst assisting with the students needs on the day.

Other support can include a personal tour guide, talks and advice regarding student life, help with UCAS application forms, personal statements, and support whilst doing an Access to Higher Education course; are among the main types of support Ambassadors can offer. Personally, the support that Ambassadors can offer are the most important elements of what the *AAP does. This means that the Ambassadors can have face to face contact with the prospective student and tailor the support given to their individual needs. The contact generated also means a more fulfilling experience for both the Ambassador and the prospective student. Treating everyone as an individual is vital when working with people that have a variety of needs.

As an *AA Ambassador, I was lucky enough to be able to work with a brilliant charity called Open book. Open book started as a charity that helped ex-offenders or those still in prison to better their future via education. Their remit is now much larger and they work with and alongside a variety of charities that seek to help those from a vulnerable or deprived background to improve on their socio-economic prospects. The support offered goes far beyond academic support. Open book treat those who attend as family members and offer all kinds of advice and support. Open book encompasses the ethos and philosophy of the *AAP.

As an *AA Ambassador I have also been able to have a greater level of contact with other disabled individuals. As a result I have learnt more about myself and have become more confident in speaking about my experiences as a disabled student and passing on information I have acquired along the way. I have been able to show potential students that education for all is possible and that anyone can achieve their academic goals.  

So what is the *Access Ability project? It is a project that is organised and delivered to prospective students from disabled and diverse backgrounds by current students from the same background. It sees the individual’s assets rather than limitations and tailors the support to suit an ‘education for all’ ethos.

The *AAP is run by Melanie Thorley and a team of *AA Ambassadors. Melanie is contactable via her email address:

Relevant links: 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Your UCAS application – Deadline January 15th 2012

A lot of secondary schools and colleges make a BIG deal about the UCAS application form and to some extent they are not wrong to do so. BUT it really isn’t as difficult as a lot of people make out. You just need to be sure on what you want to do, where you want to do it, and clear on what you can bring to the course you have chosen. In other words, how will you benefit the University? 

From my own experience, in 2006! A long time ago but trust me I remember it well – I remember my teachers making us do our applications a year in advance, they were also very ‘persuasive’ about me putting in certain information – which can make a person feel more pressured, and therefore stressed. I’m not saying this is wrong as it does show a level of care and attention from the said academic but it is important to remember that the UCAS application is a reflection of you as an individual, it is also your first impression with a particular and relevant academic. 

I applied for LLB Law, and I was sure that one day I wanted to be a barrister.The first step was deciding on where I wanted to apply to. I based this on primarily wanting to be in the London area. I applied to some top universities because I was predicted high grades and I applied to some others so that if I did not meet all my predicted grades, I would have a fall back choice. At the time Greenwich was not one of the top University’s on my list but the location, history and architecture attracted my attention. Today, Greenwich is rated as the highest in London for Student Satisfaction in the NUS survey and the Law department have won many awards for their achievements. I was truly lucky to go there.  

The next stage was putting in all the details and finding the relevant information. This can mostly be found on the website. If there is any information you cannot find such as details on courses or course codes, it is best to contact the University directly. In the case of Greenwich the number is; 02083319000. 

In regards to your predicted grades encourage your teachers to be realistic. I remember trying to ‘coerce’/ beg my teachers to give me a high predicted grade because 1) I thought I was capable, 2) I thought it would motivate me to do my best and 3) I thought that a higher grade would give me a better chance in getting what I wanted. This isn’t the case as usually you are offered a conditional offer based on you achieving your predicted grades. Knowing how well you are going to do on exam day is hard to predict, especially when unforeseen factors such as illness, pain, lack of sleep, stress etc can come in to play – so make sure you don’t put any added pressure on yourself with high expected grades and just do your best. 

There will then be opportunities to input details regarding qualifications and work experience. This must be accurate and if in doubt of what you should or shouldn’t put in, you should put in all your qualifications. It may not be exactly relevant to the course, but in the eyes of the academic looking at your application, it may show another skill. 

After this you must attach a personal statement. In my opinion this is the most important part and should be checked by someone that you trust to give you a good and honest opinion. It can be an academic or someone that has experience within this area. Note: this is your first impression and for some people it can be hard to make a good one via words. So give it some adequate time and attention. When I did mine, I initially made a plan. I wanted to stand out; so I remember opening my personal statement with a catchy quotation that was relevant to the subject I wanted to study, Law. I then introduced myself. It is important to be clear and concise. Academics read thousands of personal statements and if it is badly written and a lot of ‘waffle’, they will lose interest and end up skim reading your statement. After this, I wrote why I wanted to study law, in some cases I referred to specific modules that the University’s offered – this shows that I have done my research and in many cases a lot of University’s will offer similar modules; so you can be broad here. If possible use examples of statements you make. In regards to why I wanted to study law I spoke about work experience I had done: articulating what I had gained from the work experience, what I had achieved, learnt and what I hoped to do with it. 

I briefly touched upon why I wanted to study in London, as this was a commonality throughout my choices. Try, if you can, to make the University feel as if you are only talking to them, rather than the truth – which is that you are applying for more than one University and not all of them can be your first choice. 

Another good tip is try to add something different and current – in the case of Law this could be a relevant case in the news, for example the Stephen Lawrence case and the new laws on double jeopardy. Remember to state why you believe what you are talking about is important to you. You don’t want to just fire random statements at them without showing your reasoning behind it. This shows that you have a personal passion for the subject that you are applying for. Remember; give your personal statement a strong and positive conclusion.  

Finally, you will be asked to give a reference. Make sure that this is someone that knows you and preferably an academic reference and an employer. If you have not yet had a job then use another academic reference or personal tutor. Your reference is another way for the University to find out more about you. Remember a referee can be honest but cannot say anything that could be regarded as slander. Referees, therefore usually focus on your good points but the better the referee knows you the more positive things they will have to say.
Remember, you don’t have to do your UCAS application alone. Get someone to check your personal statement! Be yourself and try to show as much of yourself as possible.  In these situations it is vital to not be shy. If you are naturally shy, fake it and act as though you are confident in your skills and have an outgoing personality. Finally, I wish you good luck in your application process.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Thinking about the future, a place where your thoughts remain in the past...

Deciding on what to do after a comfortable five years at University is pretty daunting. This is the situation I am currently in. A situation that has caused me to go the dentist due to grinding my teeth at night through stress. Yes that’s right, I am going to join the mouth guard club, only I can’t be something cool and fit like a rugby player.

It seems that everything has a deadline attached to it and I have no time to meet additional responsibilities. I have only recently found the time to get my CV checked, to find that 3 years of neglect means that it now needs a lot of work on it. With all this future talk I need to invest in a suit, which means I also have to find the time to get one fitted. I keep asking God for another day in the week but no agreement has been made as of yet. Positive thoughts and all of that.

I think one of the reasons I am finding it so hard to decide on a future is because I really do not know what I want to do. I would like to work for the civil service, I’d also like to apply for a PGCE through the TeachFirst scheme, and finally I am fixated on the idea of working for the Paralympics 2012! Oh and that is even if I decide to stay in the UK, as I’m not even sure if I’m ready to settle... If I was someone else hearing someone complain about all the above, I’d tell them to do a mind map/colourful spider diagram of pros and cons of each option and make sure they do their research. However, I don’t have the time for all of that so I’m hoping I’ll wake up one day with an epiphany. This is unlikely to happen so I’m going to dedicate a Sunday to it before I miss the deadlines...

...A "dedicated" Sunday later and I am still behind. I decided to have a pyjama day on Sunday and organise 'other' things; which we all know was a distraction from doing the actual task I needed to do. The deadline is on the 30th of September (did I mention that already? The date is constantly on my mind) yet much like coursework I'll continue to do everything, a bad habit which I really need to break. I did do some general research on the internet and found out that there is a new head of the Civil Service... can't remember his name... I also read through a type of self help book on the civil service fast stream, which helped in some ways but mostly scared me on the approaching application process. All this stress could be another excuse for a spa weekend in Jersey, which I highly recommend by the way...

picture from
If I was Richard Branson I'd definitely ban all technology from my island, rescue missions, room service, and other needs would have to be sent via morse code or messenger. You know those days where the thought of looking at a computer screen any longer makes you feel sick? That's pretty much every day after work for me, which reminds me I really need to get my eyes tested.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A different but honest approach to completing my MA Dissertation

On the 30th September I submitted my final piece of work for my MA in International Politics *emotional*. This doesn’t get marked until December and then I don’t graduate (if I pass it) until next year. Strange, but at least it is giving me time to save up some money and apply for the civil service, which I’m told is a looooong process.

I was surprisingly pretty relaxed about the whole dissertation marlarky. It was on a subject that was important to me – Disability; an international problem rather than an international concept. I think because I knew a bit about it already and I had a clear idea on what direction I wanted to take, I took a laid back approach to it. Probably not the best idea for a 15,000 word dissertation... but hey it’s done. On speaking to my tutor about the work I was doing and my progress, she’d often say “you sound scarily relaxed Louise” I replied, “well yeah I am, its fine, all I can do is work on it day and night and enjoy the process... you sound more worried than me” My tutor replied “well yes I am, I can’t even sleep!” I, feeling bad, started to comfort and give my tutor a pep talk on how it is our responsibility to get our work in and do it well...because I had all the time in the world of course.

I do wish I had started the writing process earlier than I did - as I only really scratched the surface of such a complex subject.

As I was saying everything was going swimmingly until ‘hand in day.’ At the very moment that the dissertation was taken out of my control and into the hands of another did things go wrong. I was actually under more stress than throughout the whole month I had been working on my dissertation.

Here is why: so that I didn’t have to deal with the stress of London transport, I ordered a taxi BUT the taxi company forgot to send a taxi. When I rang to see if it was on the way, they said “yeah it’s just round the corner”... still no taxi. 10 minutes later and my patience had run out. They said there were really sorry but had made a mistake and now ‘definitely’ dispatched a taxi. When the taxi did arrive I was in a terrible mood *poor taxi guy*.

A 20 minute journey took an hour and 20 minutes! Due to road works and me having to get cash out to pay for the taxi! For this I was charged £1! £1 for the privilege of getting my own money, out to pay for a taxi that was late...? Plus how am I meant to pay for something without getting money out?? I had this argument with the taxi cab who (in a joking manner) said that I should have had cash on me already... he should have known that I was not in the mood for jokes. *insert appropriate debate here*

My class and I had been told that the deadline was at 4pm – this was a ‘white lie’ by my tutor, in the hope that it would ensure that we were all definitely on time. This type of reverse psychology is not really appreciated by me, I prefer to know the real time as I knew that the humanities office was open till 5pm – by the time it got to 4pm and I was still stuck in traffic, I thought it was alllll over. Nope, when I rang the humanities office they said 5pm was fine.

I finally got to the library and printed out 2 copies, 50 pages each. The second copy came out smudged! I did not have any more printing credits. I frantically went to the help desk and told them what happened, they in their calm ‘stress free manner’ got someone to come down and print me out another copy – with my eyes constantly on the clock, I still had to bind the copies. As if I wasn’t stressed and impatient enough; the machine that binds your work needed to warm up! It was at this point that I thought; ‘is it really worth it?’ Silly question Louise, of course it is. So I stopped stressing out and from then everything seemed to go smoother. I managed to hand in my work 15 minutes before the deadline and saw my friend on the way who had only handed in 1 copy, so I saved her dissertation butt too.

I had handed in my dissertation. It took a while for it to sink in and I was not completely happy with the end result but I always think I could have done better. I sat down and had a moment to myself, I was happy. It was time to celebrate. I met up with some friends; we went for shisha in the remaining hours of sunlight and then off to the comedy club in Greenwich, which turns into a nightclub in the evening, party time! All in all, I woke up the next day, smiling and with a headache from fun rather than one from handing in a dissertation. Phew.