Teaching & Learning


A partnership for success: 7 years working with UCL Academy

9 July 2019

Report launched at celebratory event at UCL showcases the achievements of the UK's first secondary school and university partnership.


The 7 year partnership between UCL and UCL Academy has been marked by the launch of a report highlighting some of the mutually beneficial projects and progress it has delivered.

In 2012, UCL became the first university in England to become the sole sponsor of an academy school: UCL Academy.

Through a series of projects based on the principals of the Connected Curriculum and UCL Grand Challenges, the UCL Academy has developed to the point where 40 UCL Academy students have received offers for undergraduate study at UCL this year, a record number since the partnership began.

The report was launched at a celebratory event in UCL Cloisters, led by Provost Michael Arthur, Robin Street (Co-Principal, UCL Academy) and Professor Lucie Green (Chair of Governors and UCL Professor of Physics).

The report highlights the many ways the two institutions are working together:

  1. Mentoring programme
  2. Grand Challenges projects
  3. UCL students using volunteering options
  4. Guest lecture series
  5. Sharing expertise and passion for subjects
  6. Professional development
  7. Research projects

1. Mentoring programme

1,701 pupils have been mentored by 238 UCL students since 2013.

Using mentoring charity, Brightside, they support UCL student mentors to be inspiring role models who enable young people to develop skills, grow in knowledge and awareness of their future options, and support them toward making confident and informed decisions about their futures.

It gives UCL students an exciting and challenging volunteering opportunity which helps build their skills, and gives the UCL Academy pupils good role models, support, advice and inspiration.

“[Brightside mentoring is] a wonderful opportunity for both mentees and mentors to learn valuable knowledge and gain important skills for our academic and personal goals.” UCL Student Mentor, April 2019

“[T]he mentor was very helpful and also very kind, she also gave me a lot of good advice that will definitely help me in the future.” UCL Academy Year 9 Student, March 2019

2. Grand Challenges projects

1,440 UCL Academy Students have been exposed to Grand Challenges issues and themes since 2015 with all GCSE pupils now taking part in Grand Challenges projects.

GCSE pupils at the Academy complete a range of creative products aligned with UCL’s six Grand Challenges themes and are awarded Grand Challenge certificates when of high quality. For example, students produce academic posters based on the challenges of urbanisation and present them at UCL.

This focus has enabled The UCL Academy to design a curriculum that aims for academic mastery, personal interest and creativity with a clear internal framework of ‘big questions’ built around themes associated with each Grand Challenge.

The projects allow students to create and present work to real audiences at UCL and beyond and engage with real world problems.

“Feedback from UCL’s senior leadership team and Grand Challenges team on the quality of work students produced was excellent. Several students were able to articulate the importance of applying their learning to real world problems. They highly value the importance of speaking in front of real audiences.” Richard Donnelley, Director of Connecting the Curriculum and Grand Challenges, The UCL Academy.

3. UCL students using volunteering options

Over 100 UCL students have been involved in student-led volunteering projects at the Academy since the start of the partnership.

Through the UCL Volunteering Services Unit, UCL students have led a number of projects and activities at The UCL Academy over the course of the partnership.

The activities have included:

  • An Environmental Justice Project
  • A model United Nations Project
  • Royal Free, University College and Middlesex Medical Schools (RUMS) FC have provided football coaching for UCL Academy
  • UCL students teaching basic sign language to UCL Academy students
  • UCL students have the opportunity to develop a range of skills, including leadership and communication skills, through organising and delivering their own projects at The UCL Academy
  • UCL Academy pupils are not only able to gain project-specific skills and knowledge, but are also exposed to role models from UCL

4. Guest lecture series

Over 2,000 UCL Academy Students have attended guest lectures since 2015.

Several academics have delivered lectures for pupils on a wide range of topics, similar to our Lunch Hour lectures.

The objective of the lecture series is to raise aspirations and offer UCL Academy pupils the opportunity to engage with UCL. The series has also been utilised to promote academic excellence and facilitate innovative curriculum links with UCL.

5. Sharing expertise and passion for subjects

We delivered Maths and English masterclasses to 20 Academy staff this academic year. 

UCL academics share their subject expertise with UCL Academy staff in ‘Masterclasses’. The masterclasses provide UCL academics with the opportunity to share their subject expertise with colleagues at UCL Academy, who in turn are able to utilise this learning to invigorate students’ passion for their subject area.

  • The English masterclass on the book ‘The Beloved’ was delivered to the whole English department, as well as GCSE and A-Level students.
  • The Maths masterclass has had a direct impact in the classroom for teachers who have been able to introduce innovative problem solving into the classroom.

6. Professional development

19 UCL Academy staff took part in the Middle Leaders Development Programme in 2019. Following this, eight middle leaders applied for senior leadership positions and two have registered for a Masters in Education.

The Institute of Education (IOE) London Centre for Leadership in Learning (LCLL) have run a bespoke one-year leadership development course for staff at the Academy.

This has provided Academy staff with professional development, drawing on the IOE’s expertise.

UCL academics have been able to contribute to the wider education system, remain up to date in their knowledge of the needs of leaders in schools and design new workshops based on this experience.

7. Research projects

Two major research projects have taken place in collaboration with the Academy.

Dr Suman Ghosh has led a Maths project with the UCL Academy Maths department, the UCL Access and Widening Participation Office, academics from UCL Institute of Education and UCL students.

84 pupils attended maths tutoring, supported by 24 UCL students and the team hopes to be able to evaluate robustly how this school-level intervention can impact pupils’ attainment, a key objective for universities.

Professor Richard Sandford is leading a project which aims to better understand how young peoples’ ideas of the future affect their educational decision-making by interviewing pupils at the Academy. Findings from the research will help educators to better support young people in making educational decisions.

When UCL became the first university in the country to take on sole sponsorship of an academy, the aim was to provide an education for all, irrespective of race, faith or background, and with a broad and balanced curriculum that encourages problem-solving and critical thinking. We aim that our students are engaged and active global citizens and this necessarily requires partnerships - both national and international. I look forward to supporting the UCL Academy as we build on the success of previous initiatives and further grow our networks to ensure that we offer the very best opportunities for our staff and our students."
Professor Lucie Green, UCL Academy Chair of Governors and UCL Professor of Physics