James Turner reflects on the new phase of Pathways to Law and hopes of extending the model to other areas
Today we announced a £2.4m extension to Pathways to Law, backed by a grant from the Legal Education Foundation, which means that the programme will reach 1200 more students. This is great news for the Trust, for the legal profession and for the young people who will benefit.
Since Pathways was originally developed, based on a model at Edinburgh University, back in 2006/7, the access to professions area has changed considerably. As I have written before there are now many more projects and organisations working in this space, and the issue has increased policy and media prominence. In fact, it was the work the Trust published in 2005 drawing attention to the social exclusivity of top lawyers – and, subsequently, those in other leading professions – which paved the way for Alan Milburn’s report in 2009.
The challenge has been to keep Pathways fresh and relevant – and to show that, despite all the other good work going on, there is still an important place for it. Pathways scale and reach, for one thing, sets it apart: in its next phase it will be delivered by around a dozen universities all over the country. Importantly, a large swathe of provision will be outside the capital, where the biggest problems of social mobility lie.
Pathways also offers a sustained programme throughout the sixth form, rather than a one off hit, which experience suggests is more likely to have a transformative and lasting impact. And Pathways twin approach – of offering university access support alongside professional skills and work experience – remains the ‘best bet’ in terms of increasing access to the profession for low and middle income young people. It is the combination of soft skills with the right academic credentials which is so important in securing a job in this highly competitive area.
This employability dimension will be greatly strengthened when the seventh cohort of students join us in the Autumn. A new component – Pathways Plus – will support the most engaged Pathways graduates and other top students into their undergraduate years. We will offer them a range of mentoring, skills development and networking opportunities – feeding in to law firms’ own talent pipelines. This should be a tremendous boost for the Pathways students’ prospects of gaining a training contract – whether they are aiming for the Magic Circle or a legal aid practise.
Crucially – and all too often forgotten – we are putting in place an independent academic evaluation of Pathways to add to the promising tracking and survey data we have collected to date. After all, changing trajectories and showing impact is what the scheme is all about.
The legal profession has grasped the nettle when it comes to Pathways and realised the added value it can bring to their own CSR work – and their graduate recruitment efforts. But there’s no reason for it to stop at law. We know that other professions – the media, medicine, accountancy, the City – all face similar problems and can ill afford to fish in a shallow pool of talent.
Pathways is already up and running in real estate and property at Reading University and we are keen to consider other opportunities. The model is an important way of cultivating the talents of bright students in state schools who are forging their education and career paths. Time and again, the Trust’s programmes prove exceptional low and middle income students are out there – let’s make it easier for the professions to access them.