Researchers in Schools is a charity that places postgraduates into non-selective state schools to promote access to top universities.
While reading French and Hebrew at LMH, Michael Slavinsky spent his third year working at a Lycée in Paris. The experience sparked his decision to pursue a career in education: “I was thrown in at the deep end by being given whole classes to teach, and failed brilliantly in many epic ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge,” he laughs.
After working as a teacher at secondary level, Slavinsky (above) took a break for a postgraduate diploma in French Studies at Birkbeck and became increasingly involved with The Brilliant Club - a charity that widens access to top universities by placing doctoral and postdoctoral researchers into non-selective state schools. They then deliver inspirational tutorial-style teaching to small groups of pupils.
'There’s a phenomenal problem, which we try to address through The Brilliant Club, that on average only 16% of children from lower socio-economic groups who are eligible for free school meals will progress to university after school, and only 2% of these students will go to a highly selective university. It’s a huge waste because talent is very evenly distributed through society but opportunity isn’t, and this is what we’re trying to address,' he says. 'Creating aspiration, providing role models and informing teachers is important, but it’s not enough to tell children about opportunities out there, you have to show them.'
Slavinsky is now Teaching and Learning Director of the Researchers in Schools programme – of which The Brilliant Club is a founding partner – an organisation that trains postdoctoral researchers as teachers to bring their advanced subject expertise into schools. 'We have proved that researchers have a phenomenal skill set that is directly applicable to the secondary school classroom,' says Slavinsky. 'We’re really excited about how we can build on this and make it even more impactful. We have 17 researchers working through our pilot cohort, and next year we’ll be recruiting a further one hundred participants.'
By going through the three-year salaried route into teaching through the bespoke RIS programme, trainees retain their research profile with leading universities and benefit from a protected research day every week. It’s a productive collaboration, providing schools with highly effective staff, often in shortage subjects, while universities benefit from the outreach programme that attracts talented potential students, and the development opportunities for their graduates.
'Researchers who make the step into the classroom can help students from backgrounds underrepresented at university make that step up from secondary to tertiary education,' argues Slavinsky. 'The beneficial ripple effect of having researchers as teachers and role models, could extend as far as post-graduate study where there is the risk of a ticking time bomb of representative access to Masters and PhD research.'
Image courtesy of © Researchers In Schools