Engaging school pupils in university study to inform degree intention

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 09 October 2014, At: 08:30Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    The Law TeacherPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ralt20

    Engaging school pupils inuniversity study to informdegree intentionAdelyn L.M. Wilson aa Lecturer in Law and Legal History, Director of theCivil Law Centre , University of Aberdeen School ofLaw , Taylor Building, Aberdeen , AB24 3UB , UKPublished online: 24 Jun 2013.

    To cite this article: Adelyn L.M. Wilson (2013) Engaging school pupils inuniversity study to inform degree intention, The Law Teacher, 47:2, 215-233, DOI:10.1080/03069400.2013.790157

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  • The Law Teacher, 2013Vol. 47, No. 2, 215233, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2013.790157

    Engaging school pupils in university studyto inform degree intention

    Adelyn L.M. Wilson*

    Lecturer in Law and Legal History, Director of the Civil Law Centre, University ofAberdeen School of Law, Taylor Building, Aberdeen AB24 3UB, UK

    Selection of an inappropriate degree intention is a principal cause of stu-dents withdrawing from university study. Law schools face particular prob-lems because most applicants will not have studied law previously and socannot form informed opinions about whether it is a suitable degree inten-tion for them. The University of Aberdeen School of Law piloted a schemewhereby nine final-year school pupils attended a compulsory module ofthe LLB programme, allowing them to study on-campus as if they werefirst-year law students. This experience was successful in allowing them tomake informed decisions regarding their degree intention (thus aiding stu-dent retention), with two-thirds going on to matriculate as law studentsand a third deciding law was not appropriate for them after all. The pupilsalso noted various other benefits, including increased confidence in theirability to transition into university effectively. The scheme also promotedthe university to the pupils, all but two of whom have come to Aberdeenfor their degree. This pilot project thus has implications for retention, tran-sition, and early engagement of students. It may also serve as amechanismfor blending school and university study with the view to saving repeatlearning at e.g. Scottish Curriculum and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)level seven.

    1. Introduction

    The selection of an appropriate degree intention is a choice critical to thefuture of a university applicant. Yet, because law is generally taught neither inschools nor further education colleges, a typical applicant to the law degreehas no experience of legal study. He therefore has no basis for making aninformed decision or forming reasonable expectations about the degree pro-gramme; this has implications for the student and the university. The Universityof Aberdeen School of Law runs a pilot scheme whereby local school pupilsattend a core module of the LLB programme. Initial findings support the con-clusion that this method of engagement with university-level legal study canbe successful in assisting pupils in deciding whether law is a suitable degree for

    *Email: adelyn.wilson@abdn.ac.uk

    2013 The Association of Law Teachers

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    mailto:adelyn.wilson@abdn.ac.uk

  • 216 Adelyn L.M. Wilson

    them, and in forming realistic and informed expectations as they transition intouniversity study.

    2. Importance of the selection of degree intention as a factor in studentretention

    The Higher Education Statistics Agency anticipates that fewer than 80% ofBritains undergraduate students will complete their degree programme.1

    Selection of an inappropriate degree programme has frequently been found tobe an important factor in students withdrawing from their studies. Smith andNaylor concluded, from student records information for 19901992 drawn fromthe pre-1992 universities, that this increased significantly the likelihood thata student would withdraw.2 A more recent analysis by Claire Carney of with-drawal forms at the University of Glasgow showed that 10% of leavers citedacademic grounds, most frequently that they had either chosen the wrongcourse or they were not enjoying the course they were on.3 Carney notesthat, of the respondents to a post-withdrawal questionnaire, wrong choice ofcourse, course not meeting expectations, the way course was taught and notenough academic support outside of lectureswere themost influential [factors]in deciding to withdraw from university.4 Steve May and Mary Bousted alsofound that analysis of retention figures at Kingston University show[ed] thatwithdrawn students cited course related issues as the strongest factors lead-ing to their withdrawal from University.5 Bernard Longden and Mantz Yorkefound that selection of an unsuitable degree intention was a particular prob-lem with younger students when compared with mature students;6 this is inkeeping with the earlier findings of Yorke and others.7

    Part of this problem relates to the student having unmet expectations.Indeed, Carney found that 42% of her respondents said that study at the uni-versity had not met their initial expectations.8 May and Bousted concludedthat this was most likely to cause a student to withdraw from their studies in

    1Higher Education Statistics Agency, Non-Continuation Rates (Including Projected Outcomes),especially at Table T5. Available at http://www.hesa.ac.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2064&Itemid=141 (accessed 25 June 2012).2J.P. Smith and R.A. Naylor, Dropping Out of University: A Statistical Analysis of the Probability ofWithdrawal for UK University Students (2001) 164(2) Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A389405, at p. 403.3C. Carney, Withdrawn Student Analysis (2004), at pp. 34, 1415. Unpublished, but available atwww.gla.ac.uk/media/media_9244_en.doc (accessed 30 April 2013).4Carney, supra n. 3, at pp. 5, 1921.5S. May and M. Bousted, Shall I Stay or Shall I Go? Students Who Leave Kingston University inSemester One (2003) 4(2) Educational Developments 1921, at p. 19.6B. Longden and M. Yorke, The First-Year Experience of Higher Education in the UK , Higher EducationAcademy Final Report (York, Higher Education Academy, 2008) at p. 45.7M. Yorke, M. Bell, A. Dove, E. Haslam, H. Hughes-Jones, B. Longden, C. OConnell, R. Typuszak andJ. Ward, Undergraduate Non-Completion in Higher Education in England, Higher Education FundingCouncil for England Report 97/29 (Bristol, Higher Education Funding Council for England, 1997).8Carney, supra n. 3, at pp. 5, 1921.

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  • The Law Teacher 217

    the first semester of their first year.9 But it is not always clear that a studentsexpectations of their subject and degree programme are reasonable or accu-rate. Longden and Yorke note that choosing the correct course necessitates asignificant level of personal research. However, even institutional visits, con-sultation of the National Student Survey (NSS), league tables, and other toolsmay fail to give the applicant sufficient information to allow him tomake a fullyinformed decision as to his degree intention and choice of institution.10

    Applicants to lawdegrees are evenmore unlikely to have an accurate under-standing of what legal study entails because law is generally not taught inschools or further education colleges. Applicants are thus peculiarly unableto make informed decisions about their degree intention. Although initiativesacross Britain aim to introduce potential applicants to the various careerswithinlegal practice,11 these still do not demonstrate the realities of studying lawat university. This difficulty is reflected in the withdrawal rate of students: theHigher Education Statistics Agency found that 6.2% of entrants under 24 yearsof age to full-time law degrees as their first degree in 20092010 were nolonger in higher education in 20102011.12 Although lower than that of someother disciplines, the rate of student withdrawal from law degrees is still wor-ryingly high given it can be one of the most difficult, traumatic, saddest anddisappointing periods of their lives.13

    3. Engagement of school pupils at the University of Aberdeen Schoolof Law

    A recent review at the University of Aberdeen showed that the student reten-tion rate for the LLB degree programme is favourably comparable to thenational averages just discussed: the aggregate annual withdrawal rate (of stu-dents under 24 years of age and mature students) is 1 in 13, circa 7%.14 Inline with the research set out above, common reasons cited by leavers fromAberdeen include that the programme did not match expectations, lack of

    9S. May and M. Bousted, Investigation into Retention through an Analysis of the First YearExperience of Students at Kingston University, at p. 1. Unpublished, but available at www.staffs.ac.uk/access-studies/docs/Amster-paperSM(1).doc (accessed 25 June 2012).10Longden and Yorke, supra n. 6, at pp. 4547.11For example, 2000 pupils participate annually in the Bar NationalMock Trial Competition, inwhichschool teams act as advocates (courtroom lawyers) and other court personnel in mock criminalcases; see http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/main/comps.php?21 (accessed 5 April 2012).Lawyers in Schools is a different scheme, which promotes partnerships between schools and localfirms of solicitors (a different branch of the legal profession) to engage pupils with certain areas oflaw; see http://www.lawyersinschools.org.uk/ (accessed 5 April 2012).12Higher Education Statistics Agency, supra n. 1, especially at Tables SN1 and SN2. The Agencyfound that 16.3% of mature entrants were not in higher education a year later. Further study maybe required to determine whether the findings of Yorke and others are correct for law students.13Carney, supra n. 3, at p. 6.14University of Aberdeen Management Group Report: Undergraduate Student Retention(2008), unpublished but available at www.abdn.ac.uk/cref/uploads/files/umg%20140108%20%20Retention.doc (accessed 25 June 2012).

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  • 218 Adelyn L.M. Wilson

    enjoyment of the subject, or the perception that it was overly challenging.15

    These problems can in many cases be regarded as aspects of the selection ofan inappropriate degree intention and uninformed expectations.

    The School of Law thus launched a scheme to engage local final-year schoolpupils with university-level legal study. The pupils are admitted into a com-pulsory level-one course from the LLB programme. The course is taught in thefirst semester, which runs frommid-September tomid-December. Pupils directexperience of studying at the university and participating in student life canthen be used to make informed decisions as to their future degree intentionwhen applying to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) intime for the January deadline. They will also have formed realistic expectationsof what legal study entails and learned the legal knowledge and study andrevision skills that they need to transition effectively.

    The course, Foundations of Private Law, teaches learners the principles ofproperty law, contract law and delict (tort in England and Wales). It also pro-vides them with an understanding of the framework and system of private law,and shows them how to apply legal rules to complex legal situations. Learningfoundational principles and the system of private law will provide the pupilswith a platform of knowledge on which to build when embarking on a full lawdegree. They will also have learned a method of applying legal principles andauthorities to resolve legal problems. The course is compulsory for the degreeprogramme at Aberdeen and feeds directly into the learning on core modules.However, it is not a qualifying course and is not prescribed by our accredit-ing body, the Law Society of Scotland. Studying this course will therefore notconflict with qualifying or compulsory courses on lawprogrammes at other uni-versities should the pupils go on to study law elsewhere. That this course standson its own makes it a particularly good choice for the purpose of the scheme.

    The course is taught on campus, so the pupils attend lectures and tutorials.The pupils are integrated fully into the 250-strong class of students, compris-ing LLB students, MA Legal Studies students, and students studying otherprogrammes who take the course as an enhanced study elective under theuniversitys reformed curriculum.16 This gives participating pupils a realistic,authentic impression of life as a typical law student and allows the pupils tobuild cont...

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