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Spotlight on Scholarship: First Chances

Please note that The Robertson Trust has published its new Giving Strategy. This sets out the priorities we will have when awarding funds through our open grants programme. The existing application form and guidelines can still be used until July 31st. In line with our existing procedures, we will aim to assess and present all applications received by this date to our September Board meeting. In the event that we are unable to do so, your application may be held until our November meeting. In such cases a member of staff will contact you and provide any assistance required to realign your application with the new Giving Strategy. Find out all you need to know here.

This is the first in a series of blog posts in which we will highlight the work of our Scholarship Partnership Projects. This is a portfolio of projects that aim to remove barriers to participation, support transition to further and higher education and build an evidence base of what works and what doesn’t in widening access. Please note that organisations cannot apply for Scholarship Partnership Awards through our open application process. Instead, they may be invited to apply for an award, or awards may be advertised openly for application, depending on the programme. 

In this first blog we highlight our partnership with the University of St Andrews to support their delivery of the First Chances and First Chances Foundation programmes. Through these programmes the University works with school pupils in Fife from Primary 7 through their entire secondary education and into university or further education. First Chances aims to contribute to the national access framework, raising educational attainment and breaking down barriers to higher education.

The First Chances Foundation programme works with pupils from P7 to S2 and I will look at that in more detail in a future post. This post, however, will concentrate on the First Chances programme for more senior pupils.

Who does First Chances work with?

First Chances equips S3 to S6 pupils with the skills necessary to achieve their full potential and enhance their chances of being offered a place at a competitive university or course of their choice, wherever this may be. Pupils engage in a programme of workshops, tutoring, project work, e-mentoring and summer schools, which are designed to meet their needs at each phase of their education. 

The programme also uses student and volunteer mentors who work with pupils in their final year of high school. The aim is to expand their network of contacts outside of school and to provide additional support during the transition to higher education. Meanwhile, Robertson Scholars (recipients of The Robertson Trust's bursary award) are given the opportunity to work on the programme supporting the First Chances and First Chances Foundation coordinators.

First Chances is flexible but structured in order to accommodate pupils who are engaging with Higher Education from non-traditional backgrounds.The feedback has been positive, with pupils indicating that the programme has particularly helped them through their exam diet by offering tutoring in specific subjects, study and revision skills. 


"If she did not have the study support and the help every week she would of failed, she felt getting help with past papers and support from people that cared made a big difference.” (Mother of S5 pupil)


How First Chances works

  • First Chances now has over 400 participating pupils with around 6% coming from a care-experienced background. Around 2% of participants are also young carers.
  • In S3 the programme has modules in presentation skills and essay skills. In 2016-17 all pupils progressing into S4 achieved at least a pass (50%+) in their project  and 52% achieved a distinction or high distinction level (70%+). Projects ranged from 'The Impact of Social Media on Teenagers' to 'The Sustainability of Democracy'.
  • In S4 to S6, the programme offers a wide range of academic workshops (e.g. Critical Thinking, Preparing for the Future, Debating), tutoring sessions and monthly assignments, with pupils required to meet a participation requirement to progress into the next year of the programme.
  • The project uses tablet computers to store documents and revision guides to be used in tutoring sessions and as an additional resource at workshops. Logbooks are also provided to pupils to record important information which will be helpful when writing personal statements and future applications.
  • Pupils attend annual residential summer schools throughout each year of the programme. During transition from S4 to S5 pupils participate in a summer school (one of the most popular aspects of the programme) with pupils working in groups to present a paper based on one of the lectures they attended through the week.
  • In S5 and S6 pupils also have the opportunity to shadow a student for the day and attend lectures with them.

The number of pupils involved reduces as they work their way through the programme. This is partly because they may not achieve the required standard at each stage or may drop out for other reasons. The highest achieving pupils therefore progress through the programme and are able to realise their potential. The team works with other partners to ensure that pupils who do not progress are still supported to achieve positive destinations.


“I thought I would not be able to go into further education as I would have been caring for my mum but after realising the support that is available, I would definitely like to come to St Andrews University” (S4 pupil)


Success so far

The success of the programme is shown by the level of attainment of the pupils who participate. The attainment rate (those who gain an award from A-C) for pupils on the First Chances programme at National 5 is 97.5% compared to an overall national attainment rate of 79.5%. At Higher, the attainment rate is 91.5% compared to a national rate of 77%.

The programme is constantly being evaluated and developed. As one of our portfolio of Partnership Projects under the Trust’s Scholarship Strategy we aim to support the University to work with other partners to develop a network of support in Fife that will provide an effective learner pathway with no barriers to participation for any pupil. Watch this space for more on this work as it develops.

For now, we’ll leave the last word to Mike Johnson of the University of St. Andrew’s:

“The University of St Andrews is so pleased to have such a great partner in The Robertson Trust. It is great to see the programmes are having such positive effect. I am reliably informed that the young people are also having great fun amongst all that hard work they are doing.”  Mike Johnson, Director of Admissions UK/EU and Access


Interested in finding out more about how our Scholarship team works? View our strategy document below