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By Vivienne C Watson, on 31 October 2013
Alexander Green, Research Student and Teaching Fellow, joined the UCL Faculty of Laws in January 2013 and tells us about his experience working with The Brilliant Club, an educational charity that places current PhD Students in low participation London schools.
The Brilliant Club is an educational charity that places current PhD Students in low participation London schools, where they deliver a series of university style tutorials to gifted and talented students. The aim is to equip those students with the skills and knowledge necessary to enable them to successfully apply for places at highly selective universities.
I commenced my research at the Faculty of Laws in January of 2013. At that time I had just begun employment as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the LSE, teaching third year legal theory, and was tentatively feeling my way towards my own topic: the philosophical underpinnings of statehood at international law.
My involvement with the Brilliant Club began after I met a colleague at the International Graduate Legal Research Conference at Kings College London, who had completed a number of placements with the charity herself. Being generally interested in approaches to higher education, I thought that it would be illuminating to see how younger students reacted to the sort of tutorial teaching I was undertaking at the time. After investigating further, I discovered an affinity with the Brilliant Club’s mission of promoting equal access to higher education and decided to apply to them as a prospective tutor.
Tutors at the Brilliant Club are given the opportunity to either design their own course or to teach a prewritten syllabus. After passing the selection process, I decided to do the former, but was concerned that my research might translate poorly to students at an earlier stage of education. As a result, I composed a course entitled ‘An Introduction to Moral Philosophy’, which borrowed some of the themes and material from my undergraduate legal theory classes at the LSE. My aim was to get the students thinking about difficult moral issues, both in theory and in practice, and to teach them the critical and analytical techniques that moral philosophers bring to such issues.
Initially, I taught the course at Key Stage 4 level (14-16 year olds) at Harris Boys’ Academy in East Dulwich. My students were preparing for their GCSEs at the time and very busy as a result. Nonetheless, I enjoyed excellent contributions during class discussions and a series of strong essays in response to the final written assessment, ‘should governments be allowed to override individual rights in the interest of majority welfare’. I was surprised by the range of opinions the students held and their willingness to explore alternative viewpoints. Their ability to articulate moral arguments improved noticeably throughout the course and it was clear that they both spoke and wrote with greater confidence as a result of the programme. After the graduation of my Key Stage 4 groups, I was placed at Harris Chafford Hundred to teach an amended version of the course to Key Stage 5 students (16-18 year olds). These tutorials were more similar to my undergraduate teaching and gave me the opportunity to further improve my skills in that area. I was also able to offer those applying to law school (by coincidence an overwhelming majority) some practical advice on their CVs and personal statements.
I intend to work with the Brilliant club for the duration of my degree and am currently teaching a prewritten Philosophy course to Key Stage 2 students (ages 8-11) at two schools. Once again, this affords a totally new teaching experience and has broadened my appreciation of the techniques that can be used to communicate knowledge and get bright young people interested in the complex areas of moral philosophy that I find compelling. I would unreservedly recommend the work to anyone contemplating a career in higher education and to those who feel, as I do, that universities have an obligation to promote truly equal access to the benefits that they can provide.