Improving Academic Outcomes through Relatable Leadership


By Robin Chu, founder of CoachBright

Barack Obama in his farewell address described his daughters’ generation as “unselfish, altruistic and creative – they’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.” True to form, the 44th President painted a picture of optimism of what lies ahead and a roadmap for us to follow. 

Working with pupils everyday I knew his truths to be self-evident. However, five weeks later, I was brought down to Earth. A Press Association analysis of UCAS data concluded that disadvantaged pupils are four times less likely to apply for university than their better off peers. Unsurprisingly, only 5% of pupils who receive free schools meals go on to a highly-selective university. Still, in 2017, we can do more for these pupils. 

Destinations matter.

To this day, universities are still the main gatekeepers to top decision making professions including journalism, law and finance.

Leading HE figures like Nicola Dandrige, the Chief Executive of Universities UK, believes that universities need to become "anchor institutions within their local communities to promote economic, social and cultural regeneration".

At CoachBright, we definitely agree. Growing up as a second-generation immigrant, my brother and I were the first in our family to go to university. Listening now to our pupils and partner teachers, the barriers our coachees from disadvantaged backgrounds face in applying to higher education directly resonates. Issues around having little cultural knowledge of the institution, hesitation towards the unknown and low work ethic.

We believe part of the answer lies in the lifeblood of universities – its students. Like Obama shows, if you have committed, socially conscious young people who are creative and unselfish a few years ahead in their journey, why not use them right?

Our challenging 1-1 university coaching programme delivered by relatable role models focuses on three outcomes so that pupils (at least 40% of our cohorts on FSM) challenge for top universities:

  • Grade: specific support around a subject the pupil is struggling with.
  • Confidence: cultural and social support from a relatable peer building confidence toward university.
  • Expectations: objectively understand what it takes day-to-day to perform well academically. 

Seeing pupils we’ve worked with succeed and go on to universities including Exeter, Newcastle, Surrey and Essex is why we exist.

We know these institutions can pave the way for a life-changing experience and bring forward the diverse, bright future we all want.

Here are some of our students and staff reflections on how they found us:

  • “I concentrate more and I'm not scared to challenge myself. Doing the CoachBright programme has improved my marks and put me in a more confident mindframe.” Chloe (Year 10 pupil from West Exe Academy)
  • “It’s been a joy volunteering for CoachBright! Over time I learned that coaching is as much being a leader as it is being their friend, and our relationship enabled us to have a successful term together. Without a doubt my favourite part about CoachBright was seeing Anfal every Tuesday to support him get what he wants!” Alex (UCL Student)
  • “We have been very impressed with CoachBright – they are highly self-directed and need little “managing”. I can highly recommend them to any school looking for a high impact intervention to boost the performance of students who may lack confidence or who may need help in developing focused aspiration building.” Chris Mallaband (Principal at Bacon’s College)

Originally posted on Ambition School Leadership's Learning Lounge.