Education and opportunity at the core of Sheffield Hallam University's civic pledge, says Sue O’Brien

Education and opportunity is at the core of Sheffield Hallam University’s new Civic University Agreement to improve lives across the region, writes Sue O’Brien.

The Director of the GROW Mentoring Programme and Strategic Lead for South Yorkshire Futures here explains the importance of the university’s civic pledges and what it means to the region.

Access to high quality education and skills that enable young people and adult learners to achieve their full potential should be a right not a privilege. The area where you live shouldn’t be a barrier to success.

And yet, even before the pandemic, young people and adult learners from South Yorkshire did not have the same opportunities as their peers in other parts of the country.

The region’s young people are less likely to achieve good GCSEs, less likely to remain in education and have fewer life opportunities than their peers in many other areas.

Education and opportunity are vital for the future success of Sheffield, as they are for the whole region.

This principle is at the core of Sheffield Hallam University’s new Civic University Agreement and our commitment to education and skills provision in the region, that goes beyond what some might see as business as usual for a university.

Improving education attainment at all levels has long been a priority for Sheffield Hallam University. Our social mobility programme, South Yorkshire Futures, was launched in 2017 with the aim of bringing together partners from across the region to tackle this issue, with a focus on supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Gaps in educational attainment can open even before a child starts school. Providing excellent early years provision can help prevent that.

As part of our Civic University Agreement, we have committed to further develop our newly opened Early Years Community Research Centre in Shirecliffe. The unique Centre opened in May 2021 and is providing outstanding early years provision for the local community in a disadvantaged area of Sheffield. It will be a beacon of best practice that can be shared across the region and beyond.

Covid-19 has made many of the educational challenges that the region already faced even harder to address.

As part of our pandemic response, the University worked with local schools to launch the GROW graduate mentoring programme to support young people to re-engage with their studies after months of lost learning.

Sue O’Brien, Director of the GROW Mentoring Programme and Strategic Lead for South Yorkshire Futures

Since its launch in the summer of 2020, more than 1,000 pupils from our region have benefited from one-to-one support through the programme. Pupils who had lost motivation and confidence in their abilities have worked with their dedicated Hallam graduate mentor to help get their studies back on track and make plans for the future.

We are committed to extending the programme further and supporting even more of our young people to succeed. We have received funding from the region’s elected Mayor, Dan Jarvis MP, to enable us to do that.

Enabling adult learners to succeed is also vital to address skills gaps and support the economic recovery of the region from Covid-19.

Another of our commitments is to collaborate with local Further Education colleges and other regional partners to develop a joined-up post-18 education offer, developing more pathways and progression routes from GCSE to degree level and beyond. These will directly address skills gaps identified by local employers, whilst embedding principles of lifelong learning.

GROW mentor Mariya Masood

From early years to adult learners, the future of our region depends on improving access to consistently high-quality education and skills.

Through using our teaching, research and partnerships, Sheffield Hallam University is committed to delivering on our new commitments, driving positive change and improving the lives of residents and communities across South Yorkshire.