Covid-19 response

Prospective students get help during lockdown

Would-be students from under-represented groups are benefitting from assistance offered by the University

As Coronavirus continues to restrict normal daily life, the University’s Widening Participation (WP) team has adapted its methods to ensure its important work with under-represented groups continues.

WP staff work closely with schools and other groups to ensure that economic and other barriers that may prevent students from entering higher education are overcome.

Prior to Covid, this work included a wide range of face to face initiatives with people in a diverse range of situations. Now, this work is adapting to provide support to people who continue to face disruption to their education.

Lockdown isolation

Students and staff at Edinburgh are helping to address a key challenge of lockdown – supporting school children separated from friends, classmates and teachers.

They have developed a range of teaching materials to assist pupils who have been unable to enter a classroom during the pandemic.

The initiative also encourages pupils to stay focused on their futures, and to set ambitious study goals for when they leave school.

Fresh opportunity

For Widening Participation Manager Neil Speirs, it is an opportunity to strengthen the close ties he has created with local schools over many years.

Neil and his team – supported by Edinburgh students – have been visiting primary and secondary schools across Edinburgh and the Lothians since 2003 to help pupils explore future study options.

By explaining what university involves, and how it is accessible to all, Neil and his team address the notion held by many young people that university is not for them.

As one P7 pupil from Forthview Primary noted “Neil made me certain that I want to go to university and I’m not as scared."

Sudden halt

When Covid-19 abruptly halted the team’s school visits, a new approach was needed. Lockdown meant pupils were unable to finish their university project and their campus visit – a key part of the programme – was cancelled.

Undeterred, Neil and his team adapted their strategy. They came up with a workbook called ‘Puzzles, Imagination & Fun’ to encourage pupils at a time when it is easy to struggle with learning.

The book includes materials gathered from across the University. It has puzzles and quizzes tackling mathematical problems, ecological issues, physics and English. The book has been provided electronically for those pupils with internet access and hard copies have also been sent to pupils without computer access.

Crucial aspect

Another aspect of the book is the help and advice from Edinburgh’s sports scientists on staying fit and healthy, both physically and mentally.

Teachers who have received the booklet – either electronically or in print – say that high-quality materials, designed specifically for pupils during lockdown, are vital.

Niall Heron, a teacher at Forthview Primary School in Edinburgh, says many pupils have felt isolated from their peers and have struggled to sustain home schooling.

Key asset

The availability of high quality teaching materials can really help,” says Niall. “The University workbook is very good – I’m sure the children have derived a lot of enjoyment from it.”

Pupils have responded enthusiastically too. Among them are Shaun, a primary seven pupil at Forthview.

He says: “In the work at home booklet, I did the physics part as that intrigued me. Later in life I aspire to be an engineer as that career interests me the most.

Educated Pass

During lockdown, the University has also revamped an initiative that seeks to raise educational aspiration though the power of sport, especially football.

Staff have adopted a new approach to ensure that the young people can continue to benefit from the Educated Pass programme via the internet.

The Educated Pass project reaches out to boys - particularly those from under-represented groups - through their coaches and clubs.

The initiative builds upon the boys’ dedication to sport and helps to generate a similar interest and commitment to education.

Long association

Kieran Porter, a football coach and Edinburgh graduate who works as a sports psychologist, has been involved with Educated Pass for many years.

In recent months, he has helped to re-shape delivery of the programme. Kieran has used the parallels between the needs of athletes to stay mentally agile with the importance of everyone taking care of their psychological wellbeing under lockdown.

“I designed a workshop to develop the boys’ self-awareness of what causes them to feel stress during lockdown, and to consider ways of improving their mental fitness and mental health.

“I have gained invaluable experience. The process has helped me to refine my skills in communicating psychology with younger audiences.”

Educated Pass works in partnership with Edinburgh College and West Lothian College.


In this short film, University football club members Ellie Wolfe and Ross Roger outline the importance of staying fit and healthy at home, engaging in schoolwork and helping with housework.

Video: VIDEO University of Edinburgh students give tips on staying healthy during lockdown
Ellie Wolfe & Ross Roger, who are both involved with the University of Edinburgh's football teams, give their tips of staying mentally and physically fit during lockdown.

Virtual campus experience

The University’s annual Sutton Trust Summer School, which offers students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to experience university life by spending a week on campus, has also adapted.

This year, for the first time, the programme was offered online, ensuring that participants from across the UK still had the chance to find out more about what studying at university is like.

Art online

School pupils interested in degree courses in art, design and architecture have been helped by the online work of Access to Creative Education in Scotland (ACES).

Normally involving face to face contact with art and design tutors, ACES has successfully adapted to lockdown with the #collaborACES project which sets pupils weekly creative tasks, supported by tutors.

Related links

Widening Participation at the University of Edinburgh

Educated Pass

Sutton Trust Summer School

Access to Creative Education in Scotland (ACES)

Associated image: Getty/monkeybusinessimages