Villiers Park Educational Trust – Scholars Programme

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The programme is aimed at talented students from lower-income backgrounds, aged 14 to 19 years old, who attend one of the 44 partner schools and colleges in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Crawley, East Lancashire, Hastings & Bexhill, Norfolk, Swindon or Tyneside.

In 2016 – 17 there are almost 700 Scholars on the programme, this number will rise to 750 in 2017 with aims to launch more regional programmes in the future.


Talented students from lower-income backgrounds are the biggest underachievers in the UK today. The Scholars Programme is designed to empower them to overcome the barriers to success through the development of key life and study skills, to reach their full potential and gain access to leading universities or other centres of excellence and thrive once there.

Evidence shows that the programme is achieving this goal. In 2016:

  • 82% of Scholars gained access to university, 60% to leading universities, and a further 10% were taking a gap year, and 8% a Foundation in Art year.
  • A survey of alumni found that 100% of those attending a leading university and due to graduate, did so. In addition, 95% graduated with either a First or 2:1.
Education context

Villiers Park Educational Trust is a UK charity that empowers talented students from lower-income backgrounds to develop a passion for learning, and the study and life skills to ensure they reach their full academic potential.

The Scholars Programme is a comprehensive four-year programme which addresses the numerous and complex obstacles these students face. It includes mentoring, residential courses, workshops and university masterclasses which take place in their schools, at Villiers Park Educational Trust’s residential centre in Cambridgeshire, and at local universities.

The programme works with the schools to help ensure all students are stretched and challenged. It also works with parents to empower them to support their child on the journey towards higher education.

Awarding providers
  • Villiers Park Educational Trust

The Scholars Programme is a four-year comprehensive pathway, during which every Scholar attends:

  • four two-day residential courses (which develop key skills such as organisation, team work, independent research, presentation, confidence, resilience and creativity), 
  • one five-day Inspiring Excellence Programme course (where students are introduced to first year undergraduate material in a given subject), 
  • four workshops (developing key skills e.g. questioning, writing), 
  • three university masterclasses (to experience university life and study first hand), 
  • a personal development plan (Stepping Stones to Excellence which is reviewed and assessed throughout each year), 
  • regular face-to-face targeted mentoring (to improve specific academic skills) and undergraduate e-mentoring (to find out what studying a subject is like at university); an Online Hub and careers advice.
Subject areas

The Inspiring Excellence Programme courses (please see below – 'Structure') are degree subjects taught at first year undergraduate level and include subjects available at A level (e.g. English literature; maths; french) and those that are not taught in all schools (e.g. law; engineering; creative writing). The course gives the student a real understanding of what it will be like to study the subject at university.

The two-day residential courses and workshops cover (please see below – 'Structure') a variety of topics including ‘From Questioning to dialogue’, ‘Entrepreneurship’; ‘Design a university’; ‘Communications’; ‘Active journalism’, ‘University: surviving and thriving’ – these courses and the other activities are designed to develop the following skills: 

  • Self-confidence
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Research
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Enthusiasm for learning (e.g. motivation and effort)
  • Resilience (i.e. ability to overcome difficulties)
  • Revision styles
  • Organisation
  • Leadership (e.g. through being elected to roles of responsibility within their school or college)
  • Responsibility for their own learning success and commitment to it
  • Career and employability skills

Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 i.e. Years 10 to 13 inclusive (although some Scholars may join in Year 12 for an intensive two-year programme).

  • Each year Scholars are awarded a Gold Standard Certificate if they achieve set criteria (please see below - ‘Assessment’).  From the Gold Standard Scholars four in each year group in each area are shortlisted for the Mike Baker Scholar of the Year and one Scholar is selected as winner in each year group in each area.
  • Each year, in order to progress into the next academic year, Scholars must achieve set criteria (please see below - ‘Assessment’).

Gold Standard criteria:

  • On target for a high level of attainment.
  • A minimum of 90% attendance at Villiers Park events and at school.
  • Progress through their Stepping Stones to Excellence plan.
  • Makes remarkable positive changes or progress while on the programme, for example, one Scholar rarely spoke in class, but after a year on the programme her teachers noted that she is now asking challenging questions, requesting further clarification, and leading discussions.
  • Quality of participation and engagement in all aspects of the programme as assessed by each Scholar’s personal Learning Mentor.
  • Effort and perseverance.
  • Exemplary attitude and manners.

For progression to the next academic year Scholars must demonstrate:

  • regular attendance at events, including meetings with their Learning Mentorthr
  • they have shown enthusiasm and motivation for the Villiers Park Scholars Programme and school
  • behaviour and attitude reflecting an understanding of the need to be a role model for learning in their school
  • they have a strong desire to progress beyond sixth form study to a leading university
  • for progression into Year 12, they must achieve a minimum of five A* to B GCSE grades
Programme size

There are about 30 Scholars per year group per area. In 2016 – 17 there are almost 700 Scholars on the programme; in 2017–18 this will rise to 750.

Key issues for UK HE admissions

In 2016, only 19% of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds gained a place at university (source: UCAS Daily Clearing Analysis: POLAR3, 18 year old applicants from England, 2 September 2016). In the same year 82% of Villiers Park Scholars gained access to university, 60% to leading universities, a further 10% were taking a gap year, and 8% a Foundation in Art year.

The programme is designed to raise the aspirations and attainment of students (to achieve the standard A level requirements set by a university) and have the skills to thrive once there i.e. to complete their degree, graduate with a top degree class, and access careers on graduation. In 2016, a survey of alumni found that 100% of those attending a leading university and due to graduate, did so. In addition, 95% graduated with either a First or 2:1. 

The programme supports this through a four-year programme which prepares students for HE study by developing key subject-specific knowledge as well as academic and personal skills e.g. independent study, team building, research, presentation, an understanding of the requirements of university life and study, and the ability to mix with like-minded students from across the UK.

Timing of assessments and results

End of each academic year to progress into the next year, and then at the end of the programme for graduation.

Qualification dates notes

This award is current – the programme is now in its eighth year.

Certification information
  • Each year all Scholars that meet the Gold Standard criteria (please see below - ‘Assessment’) receive a certificate which is awarded at the End of Year Celebration in front of their peers, families, school or college staff, and the Villiers Park Team.
  • From the Gold Standard Scholars four are shortlisted for the Mike Baker Scholar of the Year Award. The shortlisted Scholars are announced during the End of Year Celebration.
  • Scholars graduate with four annual Stepping Stones to Excellence folders demonstrating their progression during the programme and the events they have participated in.
Progression information

Although there is no set progression – it is expected that many Scholars will go on to university. In 2016, 82% of Scholars gained a place at university, 60% at a leading university, and a further 10% were taking a gap year and 8% a Foundation in Art year.

There is an expectation that Scholar alumni will take up the offer of support from a Career Mentor whilst they are undergraduates to help them into a career on graduation. In addition each year a number of alumni volunteer as e-mentors for Year 11 to Year 13 Scholars.

Further information

There is an expectation that Scholars will return to their school as an Ambassador and organise events for their peers e.g. peer mentoring, organising clubs, running classes or an assembly, careers conventions, organising speakers i.e. to develop additional leadership and character building skills.

Further information, including a short film, is available here: