Widening Access blog

Regular blog on all things Widening Access at Cardiff Metropolitan University

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Meeting a Murderer

The following post was originally published on the EPALE (Electronic Platform for Electronic Learning) Blog.

Jamie Grundy, Community Engagement Officer from the Widening Access team at Cardiff Metropolitan University, shares learned experiences gained in the field of prison education as part of EPALE February focus on the benefits of Adult Education.

At a recent education and training event in a prison I asked the wrong question to a prisoner who was interested in attending a course we are going to be running shortly for a substance misuse education programme. I meant to ask if he was serving a sentence involving drugs or substance misuse. Instead I asked him what he was sentenced for. He told me:

“Murder. Joint enterprise.”
I was with colleagues from my university and we all were stopped in our tracks. You don’t often hear those words from a person’s mouth.

The reason I tell you this story is not to sensationalise prison education, but instead to raise two issues. Firstly, with prison education you will meet people who have been sentenced for the mistakes and choices made in their life that have led them down a path to this point. And while the above example really did ram home this point in a particularly unsubtle fashion, what was heartening was that the experience did not dissuade my colleagues from continuing to be involved. Instead we talked about it, what Joint Enterprise meant, and I took responsibility for a simple inarticulate mistake that effected us all.

The second issue is about learning from your experiences – something prisoners are doing everyday as a result of their incarceration. To me the above example introduces the importance of recognising one’s learning style, it relates directly to my own experience of facilitating prison education. Kolb’s theory on Experiential Learning talks about learning from experience. The example above is something we all learnt from because, with the prisoners I have met, I am careful not to exercise any morbid curiosity and search for them and their crimes online. I put faith in the system that yes they’ve done something wrong, but I try to offer an opportunity around higher education for when they leave prison or are released on licence (ROTL ). I have dealt with prejudices from colleagues (not those above) who look instead only at the crime: not the time served, the journey since the offence, the education taken or the person behind the prisoner label. They are a long way from understanding the societal benefits of adult education with offenders and ex-offenders.

Kolbs Accommodators

Exploration of Kolb presents four learning styles of Experiential Learning and one is particularly relevant here: Accommodators.

Whilst there are three other types of learning style, each equally valid, that will no doubt be present amongst learners, Accommodators are those ones who learn best when they are fully involved, are intuitive problem solvers, get their information from others, and are the strongest when they are actively doing or participating in an activity. Most tutors will be aware either formally or informally of different learners learning best in different ways, however I would argue that education in prison, is one big example of an Accommodator Experiential Learning style.

In terms of my own learning style I also recognise in myself the attributes of the Accommodator. I’m practically minded looking to solve problems rather than give up. I learn best by having a go and if it doesn’t work out, reflecting and learning from that experience for next time. I didn’t study education, social sciences or criminology. I’m a sports graduate working in a non-sports field, so I’m using the transferable skills that particularly team sports gives you, to create a support network around the students I mentor. But I do this not necessarily following a model of good practice, but instead responding to needs as they are occur, because for Cardiff Met this is relatively unchartered waters. That said, and reflecting on the team analogy, we draw upon expert advice such as the Prison Education Trust (PET), PRisoN Network, student finance experts and, crucially, the Education and Resettlement staff in HMP Prescoed, our closest Category D prison with whom we have signed an agreement to admit students on license with us. The close links with experts in the field such as PET has been invaluable and with them we have completed a number of projects, such as a Learner Handbook; a Product Design student project to design a study resource and emerging plans to host a best practice sharing event with Goldsmiths Open Book project.

Moodboard example from third year Cardiff Met Cardiff Product Design students who transform the study materials box from Prisoners Education Trust into something with more than one function.

All the current and former prisoners I’ve got to know have had to navigate a path through Prison Service Instructions, general prison applications, education and / or resettlement issues, UCAS applications, student finance, lack of access to IT and more to get into higher education. And that’s not even mentioning negative comments and attitudes from fellow prisoners, prison staff, admissions tutors, etc. which is more common than we’d like to think. There’s no guide that I’ve found yet on how to do things, although we are in the early stages of developing one with PET’s pilot Welsh project. They progress despite of, not necessarily because of, the system. They’ve all learnt as they’ve gone along and in most cases, their desire to proceed into higher education following prison was a seed that blossomed only while serving their sentence and experienced positive experiences from the programmes they pursued inside – a clear measure of success.


EPALE’s thematic week on Prison Education in 2016 was about evaluating success and the different measures that providers use. Progression opportunities and the qualitative impact that further education can provide is one such measure; especially case studies to show others that they can do it too. Recidivism is also a measure and in my role I currently support a small cohort of students who include serving prisoners attending university on ROTL and former prisoners who have studied at Cardiff Met following their release. In our discussions with them I stress they are here on merit and are students first and foremost. I ensure they are treated the same as other students with the same rights, responsibilities and freedoms that this comes with. The only difference (not withstanding any specific restrictions on their individual ROTL conditions) is their unique halls of residence which they go back to each night. They all understand that to me success is in their ability not to reoffend. Education plays a part in this but so too does their ability to form good relationships with their tutors and their student cohort. Students do drop out of university for valid reasons, and although this hasn’t happened yet with those I support, if one dropped out for personal reasons I’d support them.

There are still difficulties along the way but slowly we are knocking the hurdles over one by one, which will only help future learners coming along this path to Cardiff Met or any other university. We’ve done it linking with partners and experts in their field and crucially by learning from our experience.

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I’m mentoring an ex-prisoner through university


The following blog originally appeared on the Prison Education Trust Good Practice – Learner Stories webpage. 

“I’ve always viewed the perceived success of Rhys’s experience as his ability not to reoffend […] for me it’s about offering higher education as a way to develop yourself personally, professionally and socially.”

Jamie Grundy is the Community Engagement Officer for Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Widening Access team. His mentee, Rhys, tells his story here.

In Cardiff Met Widening Access we work with non-traditional adult learners. This is a broad definition and can include a multitude of people, including learners from an offending background. Our work in this particular sector neatly coincides with the time I’ve been mentoring Rhys with his education – from about spring 2017.
I first met Rhys when we ran some business skills training for the front-of-house staff at the Clink Cardiff restaurant and he told us was due to be released shortly from HMP Prescoed and wanted to attend university. He was apprehensive about applying and disclosing his convictions. Together with another university, I was able to set up meetings with the necessary admissions tutors to put a face, a person and a context to the application. He was advised that a science Access course would be a best first step prior to application, to give him the necessary lab experience he did not have.

While he was studying at college I met him several times to see how he was settling in, check how he was finding the transport, that kind of thing. I also got him a decommissioned laptop through IT to give him the chance to do work at home. Following the Access course he eventually he decided to apply (and was accepted on to) a BSc Biomedical Sciences programme with Cardiff Met. The university said that a condition of his acceptance with us was that he met with me on a regular basis. There’s no official support in place beyond what the university offers any other student like Rhys, as it would then be open to offering support which is not available to other students and could be seen as giving him preferential treatment, so it’s been informal mentoring – sometimes regular and sometimes less regular. Although supporting his education only, there have been times where issues in his personal life have impacted on his study – just like any other student.

The support has been reciprocal too as I’ve been studying on an MA Education programme and have been able to use Rhys’s experience for a couple of my modules – with his permission of course. I’ve always viewed the perceived success of Rhys’s experience as his ability not to reoffend, not necessarily his continued attendance on his course – although I know others in my university would disagree. But for me it’s about offering higher education as a way to develop yourself personally, professionally and socially.
Rhys now has stable part time employment in a hospital lab directly related to his Biomedical Science degree. He is in a stable relationship, is a father and no longer spends time with the people who led him towards a prison sentence. Although I did not know him prior to his prison term, all the indications are that he grown up immeasurably during his time studying in prison and in further and higher education.

To prisons and universities considering how they can better support and encourage people like Rhys to access higher education, they might be surprised to learn that both institutions share similar characteristics. Universities move slowly, and if you want to do a project and you miss your window then you might have to wait until the next academic year before trying again. Similarly prisons move incredibly slowly and keep in mind their role around public protection at all times – no risks or chances are taken. Universities are the embodiment of silo mentality with academic schools working in isolation. And prisons in my experience are the same: one department may not necessarily be talking to another so the onus is on you to ensure this happens. Don’t rely on it – persist with your communication efforts in a nice and benign way and doors will open. Often because (eventually) they can see and share in the tangible successes that can result.

Rhy’s experience has shown that prison education, colleges and universities can offer life-changing opportunities for learners like him. His journey with Cardiff Met has informed the staff in the department I work in but also other departments, such as admissions and student services. It’s also led to the university accepting learners on ROTL [release on temporary licence] – something unthinkable until recently. It has led to Cardiff Met being prepared to take a chance/a risk on learners like Rhys, simply by giving them an opportunity to be like any other student: by helping them reintegrate into society and all the responsibilities and rights this encompasses.

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Blog it. Tweet it. Email it. Say it.

Why how you say it is just as important as what you say.

I write this post a couple days after I attended the Values workshop as part of the recently launched Strategic Conversations being carried out across the university to inform the new Strategic Plan. This time has given me time to reflect after returning to my normal job in Widening Access. (I say normal but every day is different. This week I’ve been in prison, in a refugee shelter and in an art studio for example – and this week’s been relatively quiet!)

The views of staff are being sought on areas across the university and while other blogs will pick apart the results and pore over the findings, I wanted to say something about the process. Perhaps it’s my background in community development, but sometimes getting people involved is of equal importance to what you find out. Because if you ask for their opinions and act on them, they will take ownership of the change that you want to see happen. Just look at fan owned football clubs, community co-operatives or any worker buyouts such as Tower Colliery, for example.

Tower – the 'pit that wouldn't die'  Image result for exeter city

Tower Colliery & Exeter City Football Club – two examples of community ownership.

The importance of the process was the main thing that struck me from the Values session I attended. It was simply that this was different from anything that I’ve been involved in before. Since my employment here I’ve seen two Olympics and only once have I been involved in any large Cardiff Met departmental meeting where I can suggest ideas and hear what other people are saying. In other words, for me, the Olympics have happened more than these kind of things come along! With luck I’ll be involved in the 2017 sessions too.

Acknowledging the difference in culture the Strategic Conversations are bringing to the debate, the very fact that two senior members of staff – a Dean and Director – both facilitated the session showed how seriously their findings are being taken. I am an experienced facilitator of community participation and consultation activities. If the participants think they will not be listened to then people will not be engaged and you will not get very good results. In my workshop, the polar opposite took place. The energy of both facilitators was infectious and the findings presented was impressive.


Image result for hiv reduction usa

Community involvement in the fight against HIV and Aids is seen as vital in lowering infection rates in Africa.

The cross section of the participants was encouraging to see also – not the usual suspects and not just the ones who shout loudest being heard. Staff, student reps, support staff, academics from top to bottom of the pay scales were in the room as equals working towards a common goal.

In fact the whole activity reminded me very much of my experience in working in community development for a large social housing provider in Devon & Cornwall. The bedrock of their activities is tenant involvement from their board, down to regional housing teams, to service improvement panels and all the way down to mystery shoppers. The views of tenants is sought, acted upon, and evidenced – and this is something they are audited on.

Image result for social housing     Image result for rhondda housing

Housing Associations are an example of how asking your users can lead to service improvements.

The idea behind involvement of your tenants, service users, staff, students or stakeholders is so that the organisation can understand what’s going on and take ownership. People from these groups can come along and have their say, meet the decision makers and even become a decision maker. The sense of importance here, in exercising one’s democratic views and personal perspective is not to be under estimated. It takes a lot to come forward and say what you feel needs to be said. That’s why I believe the process of the Strategic Conversations is just as important as the findings. You are not sat in a committee room with a scary chair –person and a wondering if you belong and when to speak. You are sat with colleagues writing your views down on post its, working on flip charts, sharing opinions, agreeing and disagreeing as you go – which is all fine. There were quiet people in my group; there were loud people in my group. All contributed because they know their views matter.

I would therefore urge anyone not sure about getting involved or wondering if it is for them, to simply get involved. We, as the constituent staff members of this university need to put our views forward. Now is our time to be heard.

Blog it. Tweet it. Email it. Say it.


(This blog also appears on the Cardiff Met Strategic Conversations website, 2016.)

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Aqsa Forges Ahead

The following blog originally appeared in the Winter 2016 publication “Watch This Space”, the newsletter for Cardiff & Vale Community Learning Partnership learners. It has been reproduced here to give further exposure to the learning journey and to inspire others. Also important to note are the number of additional partners involved to help support a student’s education.

Student, Aqsa Ahmed-Hussein, describes how attending adult learning courses has made a big difference to her life.


At the end of the summer term, Kath, my Counselling Skills tutor informed me of an open day at Cardiff Metropolitan University. There were many interesting subjects but due to family commitments I was only able to attend the Widening Access introduction day and a 2 day accredited course on Reflective Skills. I received a certificate for attending and there was an option to complete a 3000 word portfolio where we could apply our newly learnt reflective skills to a recent learning experience. I wanted to write about the Managing Children’s Behaviour course I had attended with Cardiff Council ACL (Adult Community Learning) and my experiences as a volunteer at Lansdowne Nursery. Sadly my father became very ill and passed away so I forgot all about the portfolio until I bumped into Kath again. After a long heartfelt chat I realised that the one reason for continuing my adult education was because my dad had been so proud of my achievements over the past couple of years. I eventually completed my portfolio with a mark of 74% which was a distinction!! My children were so proud of me, but they didn’t seem surprised, as they had so much faith in me compared to my faith in myself! All the courses I have attended have given me a real boost in my confidence and made me realise that I am able to do anything that I put my mind to!

In September I started a Level 2 Teachers Assistant course and I am also continuing my ECDL course (European Computer Drivers Licence). I feel this is just the beginning. I hope to continue in my adult education journey and as a result make a positive contribution to my local community, get a good job and set a good example for my children.

As I have recently learned you never know how much time you have left so make the best use of it while you are able to do so. I would urge all adults to continue with their education.

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It’s the final countdown…!!

Continuing our recent theme of guest blogs, the following post is from Cardiff Met’s School and Colleges Team who support and help prepare students for their decisions after school or college. For anyone thinking about applying to Cardiff Met in January, they have put together a handy list of important points to consider.

Image result for europe the band

(Not the university’s Schools & College Team!) 

When we say the Final Countdown, no we are not referring to the famous Europe song – we mean the UCAS Deadline Day!

The official UCAS deadline of 15th January is getting closer and closer so applications should be near to completion. Here is a check list to make sure it will be done in time;

Research! Make sure you have looked in to the course that you want to apply for. This includes the modules that are on offer, the entry requirements, assessment, teaching methods and placement opportunities. Why not look up the course online and ring the programme director to talk to them. This put a name to an application and will reassure you that the course you want to study is right for you. Before you call get a pen and pad and take down any points you think are useful or worth remembering. Also prepare a list of questions you’d like to ask. Don’t think a question is too basic to ask. The chances are other people also want to know the same answer as you.

Do you meet the criteria? It is important to ensure that your chosen course is a realistic choice and that you will be able to meet the entry requirements. This will include certain qualifications, work experience and skills. Often these will need to be mentioned in your personal statement. Contact the university’s admissions team who can give you simple and clear direction on your eligibility for the course you’d like to pursue.

Visit visit visit! In order to make sure the university is right choice you need to make sure you visit the university. This way you will be able to see for yourself what the course is like, meet the lecturers, chat to current students, visit the facilities and get a ‘feel for the place’. An open day will give you a lot more information than reading a prospectus. But make sure you book your place as they fill up soon!Open Days at Cardiff Met

Is it the right university for you? It is important to feel confident that you are happy about where and what you have chosen to apply for. After all, you could be spending a number of years studying it so it has to be the right choice! We have two campuses: Cyncoed & Llandaff, both with very different vibes.

Check out the film of our Virtual Campus Tour 

Maximise your choices! Applicants have 5 choices when applying to university and we highly recommend to use all 5 choices to maximise your chance of a place at university. Remember, you need to make sure the 5 choices are similar as you can only submit 1 personal statement that will go to all 5 university choices.

Finalise the statement! The personal statement is one of the most important parts of the application process so needs a lot of time and thought in order to complete it well. It is vital to make sure that you have mentioned relevant experience, your enthusiasm and an interest in your chosen course. Remember no copying as all personal statements go through plagiarism detection technology!

One last check! Make sure you are happy with your UCAS application and all details have been inputted in correctly. It can be easy to miss a letter or put in the wrong information so it is always best to triple check. Friends and family can be your second pair of eyes to make sure everything is correct.

Image result for spell check

Once all of these have completed then you will be ready to click the ‘submit’ button and then it is a case of waiting patiently for the university replies.

It is worth noting that although the official UCAS deadline is 15th January we do encourage applicants to submit their applications a lot earlier for oversubscribed programmes. You can still submit applications after 15th January, however, it will be classed as a ‘late applicant’ which could jeopardise your place as the course may already be full. In other words it is a lot better to summit early and get the applications in rather than leaving it to the last minute!

For any extra help with completing the UCAS application then please visit www.ucas.com

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Bawso’s Women only Community Gym – Clarence House, Cardiff Bay

The work we work we do in Cardiff Met touches the lives of lots of different people in many different ways. Although in Widening Access we have previously worked with Bawso, this article shows how other staff in the university are working with Bawso to transform the lives of people in community.

The following article is a guest post by Anthony Thomas of Sport Cardiff and it shows some great work to help support the development of a safe space for women to exercise, in partnership with different community partners.

bawso Print




Bawso applied to Cardiff Met and Sport Cardiff to help with funding for gym inductions. Meetings took place to discuss a way forward. The project scope was to apply for funding to train a local woman of the community, on a voluntary basis, as Gym Instructor Level 2 and Circuits Level 2.

Bawso worked with Sport Cardiff and BRG Communities First, and applied for the KickStart Grant. Bawso was able to secure funding for training, sports equipment for classes and a Cardiff Met Gym Instructor to induct the backlog of 50 new members on the waiting list.

In September 2015, we advertised, interviewed and trained our female Voluntary Gym Instructor; the project has been a success for community users, Bawso Staff and has had an impact on the survivors of domestic abuse. With the help of the gym, Bawso staff completed the half marathon this year raising £11,500. Reception staff advertise in the community via posters and mailshots and events and they co-ordinate the inductions. And Sport Cardiff and Cardiff Met have helped Bawso by donating a Treadmill to replace the existing.

Since 2015 Bawso have inducted over 70 women to use the gym and to date, there are over 150 gym members . From April 2016 they have raised £1,800 by charging a small amount for usage, to contribute towards maintenance costs and fund raise for Bawso women service users with no recourse to public funds. All the clients are aged between 16 and 56 and live locally.

The difference that this has made to people has been clear to see and the following are a selection of some of the comments received:
“I live locally and am now able to use Bawso’s gym to keep up my fitness in a private and women only environment”
“I felt at ease with (the tutor), she is a real inspiration and offered me a lot of help and advice with my fitness and diet plan”
“I attend Bawso’s gym regularly, as it’s a small cost, I can continue to work out during school hours and feel comfortable in a women only environment”
“The gym at Bawso has helped me with my recovery as a service user”


The gym gets ready for its new users

For more info about the programme email Anthony Thomas.

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A Refugee learner journey

The following post is from a 33 year old Refugee and Widening Access student who is currently studying several Level 3 modules with Cardiff Met as part of our outreach programme. *

This person has kindly let us tell his story, to inspire other Refugees and Asylum Seekers who want to learn and improve their education, and as part of the positive and important stories being told during Refugee Week

It’s a little bit different to home here. I left there one and a half years ago and I had to leave my wife and children back home, they are not here yet. When I left it was a big decision and things were very bad. Initially I went across neighbouring countries then travelled on to neighbouring countries through into Europe before arriving in the UK. The Home Office assigned me to Cardiff when I was in the removal centre for two or three days in Haslar Immigration Removal Centre. I could have gone anywhere in the UK, but I came to Cardiff and I feel very lucky.

At home I studied science and I worked in this field for ten years. I studied in the English language, rather than in Tigrinya which is my first language, and people say I have good English language skills and good handwriting. I would like to do more but I do not always have the time. Two weeks ago I started work as a lab analyst. This is very similar to work I did back home.

At first I didn’t know anything about the UK or Wales in particular. I asked some of the staff in the Removal Centre and they told me they speak another language there: Welsh! I thought oh no, not another language. But when I came here I discovered everybody speaks English as well so it’s ok. I try to speak a little Welsh too, so I can say Croeso.

I came here with four other people who were taken to Haslar. One was assigned to another city but the other two are studying ESOL. When I first arrived here because I could already speak English so I was able to communicate well. I stayed for two months in a large shared accommodation, before moving into a shared flat in the Heath (an area of Cardiff) with three others. Once I got my Refugee status and was permitted to work, I was told to leave because the flat belongs to the Home Office. I have now moved to another area where there is a big student population.

I get support from other organisations. For example, at the Trinity Refugee Centre I got a great deal of information and met other people, plus I did lots of courses with them at first to keep myself busy. Here I became a member an asylum seekers and refugee seekers forum part and I was able to find out about courses we could take.

When I was an asylum seeker I was not allowed to work. The only choice you have is to stay in the house and do nothing or choose to learn – so I choose to do as many courses as I can. You don’t notice the time as much then, plus you can gain a lot of knowledge and the certificates to prove it. It broadened my knowledge and my horizons by studying lots of things outside my specific area, for example doing business courses. You also meet lots of new people so it’s really good.

Even as an asylum seeker I believe there is nothing that hinders you to learn, because all the courses I do are free. When I was part of the forum, lunch was free and they provide transport if you need it. The fact that the courses that I do are free (through Cardiff Met Widening Access) is very useful.

My plan is study further in a master’s degree, but I might need to take further courses before I can do this. People tell me I am a hard worker and motivated to succeed and that this is shown by where I work where I want to continue and put more money in my pocket. Master’s students don’t get grants to cover your fees. So I need to work hard and save enough to study for fees.

If I am granted indefinite leave to remain then this can take up to five years, at this point I want to bring my family over – four more years to go. My family are very proud of me and very happy because I didn’t waste any time. I am good example to my friends and I have been motivating them. For example I personally persuaded four of my friends to do the same business course as me. At first, they did not think they would be eligible so they did not apply, because they did not think their English level would be very good. Now they want to do more courses.

I know so many people and friends who are eager to study but they need to do as many courses in English as they can to help them. The positive things I have experienced in my education journey have been that the courses I have done have been free, so they have given me the motivation to apply. Secondly, the accreditation is very important as you can use this course in the university. Finally, the courses I have done have been short, so that that when one finishes, you have achieved so much in such a short time that you want to do even more. You want to keep on studying as you can achieve so much.


* Please note that this story has been anonymised to protect the identity of the learner.