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School Work Experience Programme - An Interview with Pamela Taylor-Harris, SLCPS Technical Manager

The School Work Experience Programme welcomes pupils in years 11 and 12 from state schools ,who are underrepresented at university, on to Guy's Campus each summer. Part of the Widening Participation Programme, the week-long imitative provides a broad of seminars and practicals in the medical sciences. We caught up with Pamela Taylor-Harris, Technical Manager in the School of Life Course & Population Sciences, to find out more about the programme.

Tell us about your work experience programme. What do you do? When does it take place?

I coordinate a week’s programme for pupils in years 11 and 12 on Guy's campus. It’s the second year that I have run it and takes place in the second week in July, just when pupils have finished their exams and before they break up for the summer holidays. This year, I increased the programme to 24 pupils. The programme is part of the Widening Participation Programme. We provide luncheon vouchers to the pupils and cover their travel expenses. We invite local state schools whose pupils are underrepresented at university and who are considering applying for courses in medicine or healthcare-related subjects. Financial support for the programme is provided via SLCPS funds.

The programme consists of practical and mentoring sessions from a broad range of subjects across the School including physiotherapy, respiratory, musculoskeletal and neurophysiology, bioinformatics, sonography and ophthalmology.

We also do Basic Science practicals, such as extracting DNA from strawberries, pipetting skills, simulations of COVID testing and cancer research. The pupils have a chance to learn about clinical skills including lifesaving skills, CPR, fractures, bleeding etc. and they receive mentoring from academics, student ambassadors, postgraduate and undergraduate students. At the end of the week, we have a Round Table session where pupils are split into small groups and talk with academics and current clinical students at King's together with a representative from Widening Participation to discuss their personal statements and university applications.

I think the mix of having academics, some clinical staff, research staff and postgraduate students is really important. In addition, professional services staff from the School have been supporting the programme by helping me to register pupils, accompanying students to their sessions within Guy's campus and providing insight into who to invite to present so that I can put a varied programme together.

I try to make it as broad as possible across the whole School just to give everyone a broader experience, rather than just a week of working in the labs on a particular project. It’s a slightly different style of work experience I think but it may appeal to some pupils more than others.

Why did you start the programme?

Over the last 10 years, I’ve always been approached to organise work experience on an ad hoc basis, so basically people would come through various routes and sometimes I could accommodate maybe four students who would come to shadow people in the hospital and maybe in the labs, but I didn’t feel that actually covered everything that we did in the School. I also realised over time that lots of people want to do work experience before applying to university but there is an age limit of 18 where they would not be allowed into wards and clinics and some of the lab skills are limited as well. On that basis, I thought about devising a programme that was more of a simulated experience but that also offered some mentoring.

Some pupils don’t get their grades, so I wanted to give them the experience of understanding that people had non-linear career pathways as well. I do invite staff that may have changed their career or not gone in the direction that they initially planned to show that not everybody’s career pathway is a straightforward thing and opportunities come your way and you can adapt.

Last year, I became aware of Widening Participation which provided me with a whole list of schools to approach. It did prove to be quite difficult because some schools just don’t respond. I telephoned them, I wrote emails, and so on. The schools that did engage are local schools that have had previous experience with King’s. But I would like to extend it beyond that. I think my ideal would be to have maybe three or four students from every school rather than spreading the 24 out over two schools.

What was the impact of the programme?

Interestingly, some of the schools I approached the previous year came back to me and said they wanted pupils in this year to come as well. They actually aligned their work experience programme week with the week our programme runs. I think that was a testament to how well it has been received.

Also, young people generally vote with their feet, so if they don’t want to attend, they won’t. But on the last day, all came in apart from one pupil and they stayed till the end of the session on Friday, so in that sense, I think that says something about how popular it was.

Pupils' testaments on the School Work Experience Programme

“It exceeded my expectations as I didn’t think there were other things I wanted to do at uni and it broadened my expectations.”

“I really enjoyed the lab work and anything practical. I have also enjoyed the whole London experience and would now consider coming here for uni.”

“I was impressed by all the content, and it made me consider other possibilities.”

For some pupils, taking part in the work experience confirmed their career choices. Others were challenged to consider other options as well. Some of the students want to study at King’s, so that’s a nice by-product. And the feedback from the academics has been really positive as well. I think they enjoyed the interaction with the pupils. The questions some of the pupils asked were quite challenging. So they volunteer a few hours of their time, but hopefully, they get a lot out of it as well.

Anything else that you would like us to know?

I’m always open to suggestions about how to improve the work experience programme and taking offers of help in new areas or hands-on help is very much appreciated. A call out to others to help would be excellent

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