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Published: 10 March 2023

In 2017, St George’s alumnus Neil Gilbride worked alongside our Widening Participation team to set up Science Stars, a programme supporting GCSE Science students who have been identified by their teachers as needing assistance. Since graduating from St Georges, Neil has had a rich and varied career and has continued his work to help improve access to education.

As we celebrate British Science Week (10 to 19 March), Neil reflects on the successes of the Science Stars programme and how it has shaped his career since.

Shaped my career

"I have worked in a range of roles within education, starting out as a Parent Support Worker before joining Teach First in 2011 as a Science Teacher and later becoming a Lecturer of Education and Educational Leadership.

During the pandemic, I had the honour of working for Oak National Academy, helping to lead the development of online learning for children with Special Educational Needs so they could continue making progress during lockdown.

- Neil -

"I now work as part of Ambition Institute, one of the largest providers of teacher development in England, where I am the lead designer for our new initial teacher training programme and the support the development of school leaders across the education sector.

"I have worked with St George’s Widening Participation since I was 18 years old - which was 17 years ago! To say my very early interactions with both the staff and the projects we ran has shaped my entire career is a vast understatement.

I watched staff over the years and listening to them about their commitment, seeing the impact we could have on young peoples lives. This drove me to commit my career to supporting those who need us most, whether that is for those who come from lower-income communities, or those with special educational needs.

- Neil -

"Having kept in touch with the team throughout my career, in 2017 I was approached to help develop an innovative way in which St Georges could impact on the grades of students in our local community. From here, Science Stars was born."

High expectations

"That’s impossible to answer! I am proud of my alma mater for supporting a project of this type - not all institutions are willing to orchestrate their resources in such a direct way and I'm proud to be connected to a University that made this choice and continues to do so.

"I'm proud of our current St George’s students (and previous alumni of our programme) who work so hard to make the sessions work - we set high expectations on our programme and, for all the support we put in place, they still have to take the time to learn how to teach.  

Perhaps controversially, I would argue teaching is more complex than surgery! For students to commit to developing their teaching skills in their spare time is incredible.

- Neil -

"I am proud of the young people who come through our programme and throw themselves into their learning, as well as their teachers for their support too.

Finally, I'm proud of the amazing Widening Participation team who work so hard with everyone to make it happen, and their predecessors who have supported the project since we had this idea over 6 years ago.  

- Neil -

Impact on the local community

I feel that the programme has a huge impact on the local community. We work with children who could very well not secure a strong grade at GCSE.

One grade might seem small numerically, but it has huge implications for the opportunities that students can take in the next phase of their education.

- Neil -

"It can be the difference between getting into a programme or not, or what University they could apply to further down the line.

Repeated evaluations show that we have a big impact on pupils both academically and how they perceive themselves. Helping local schools in this way shows them how much we care as a University about the local community, which brings us all closer together. And that's incredible.

- Neil -
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