King’s Widening Participation team first ran Parent Power with the parents of 50 high performing and underrepresented pupils living in King’s local boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.
It brought them together to gain knowledge about the education and university system and improve their skills and relationships to break down the barriers their children are facing.
The groundbreaking approach recognises the specific support required by pupils with academic potential who come from families with no history of university participation. Just 24 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals go on to higher education, compared to 42 per cent of those from better-off families. Over a quarter of this gap in participation relates to students with the same levels of attainment at GCSE.
Daniel Bennet, a heating engineer from Brixton, was one of the first to join Parent Power to help his son Darntá get into university. ‘I didn’t hear the word “university” until I had left school,’ he says.
‘I was quite smart but I didn’t know it. I was very quiet and sat in the background. No issues, no trouble but I got no encouragement from teachers.
That’s not going to happen to Darntá.’ 13-year-old Kaela-May is interested in computer science, but says she worries about ‘how hard it will be for someone like me to get into university’.
She adds, ‘People might think that we don’t come from a particular background so we don’t want something good for the future, but really we do.’
Following a series of successful campaigns, parents who have joined Parent Power have secured fully funded bespoke open days at universities across the UK and negotiated bursary places on private summer schools. King’s is committed to finding the brightest minds regardless of background and the programme is helping the university better understand and address the concerns of local parents and carers.
Kaela-May’s mother, Miata, worries that her daughter is already missing out, compared with privately educated pupils who receive expensive tuition and can access paid-for summer schools. She says, ‘Most schools will get you through the exams, but they don’t teach the sort of critical thinking you need to get through a university interview.’
Parents involved in the programme are using community organising methods taught by Citizens UK – such as learning how to influence politics – to support other parents and pupils. A group of 40 parent leaders now meets once a month to campaign against educational inequality and to support other parents. Parent Power was also named Campaign of the Year by South London Citizens.