Leapskills: Supporting the transition to Higher Education

02 Feb 2021
By Vicki Fry, Social Impact Manager at Unite Students
This blog is a summarised version of a presentation given by Vicki Fry, Social Impact Manager, at UCAS’ Annual Conference for Teachers and Advisers on Tuesday 2nd February 2021.

The challenges and disruptions of Covid-19 may change the experience of students starting their higher education journey in 2021, but in many ways, the excitements and uncertainties of starting a new, independent phase in life will stay the same. Come September, as many students make the leap of leaving home for the first time, they will be faced with a natural nervousness of the unknown. Who will I be living with? Will I be able to manage my finances? Can I cook healthily? Will my new flatmates like me? 

In our 2017 Reality Check report, published in conjunction with the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), 61% of applicants expressed anxiety about going to university, while 47% felt unprepared to live with people they’d never met before. To be able to support these young people dubbed - rather unfairly - as the ‘snowflake generation’, we need to understand and empathise with the difficult transition they currently face. More must be done than offering abstract advice like ‘Be more resilient’; we must help them to understand what resilience looks like in a context that’s relevant to them, and support them to develop their skillset accordingly.

To support this effort, we developed Leapskills, which was created in response to our research findings and first launched in 2018. This free toolkit offers young people an insight into the student experience, using a digital game to introduce real life scenarios that students may face, and allowing them to engage with these situations interactively. Key areas of focus include how university learning differs from school, shared living and conflict resolution, looking after wellbeing, and building resilience and adaptability. 

Initially designed to be delivered to 17/18-year-olds by a facilitator in a classroom setting, it can now be delivered in a variety of ways, including by parents at home. We have recently updated it with a clear focus on inclusivity, making delivery suitable to a wider cohort of young people; it now includes signposting to mental health support for both students and young people, as well as specific information relating to student finance. We hope that these updates will benefit young people across the country, including the cohort of care leavers and young people estranged from their families, with the intention of widening participation to Higher Education for all young people.

Over 3,000 young people have so far used Leapskills, and so far, 80% have reported that they felt better prepared for living in shared accommodation and better understood potential challenges and how to overcome them. James Appiah, a Year 12 student, said: "The Leapskills workshop was my first real taste of university life. The tour around the university dormitories and the real life problems we were given to solve helped to make me really feel mentally prepared for university."

Natalie Corriette, Year 12 Senior Tutor at St Bonaventure's in London, recommended Leapskills and said that when surveying her students, their confidence levels in their understanding of university life had doubled. It's also been endorsed by the Department for Education, as well as the Minister of State for Universities, Michelle Donelan, who endorsed it last year in a letter to Virtual School Heads across the country, who are responsible for promoting the educational achievement of all young people looked after by their local authority.

In a Covid-19 setting, the transition for young people into shared living has never been so difficult - hence the need for schools, colleges, universities, parents/carers and other institutes to ensure they support this as fully as possible, using the resources that are available to better prepare young people for what lies ahead. 

Learn more about Leapskills here.

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Vicki's background in education and operations helps her to develop strategy and drive engagement in responsible business practices as a Social Impact Manager at Unite Students. She has a specific interest in generating, supporting and driving positive change for young people. at Unite Students