Becoming a Newman Foundation Year Student: Conscientization to Promote Democratic Engagement, Meaningful Dialogue and Co-operative Working

  • Sarah Parkes Newman University Birmingham
  • Leoarna Mathias Newman University Birmingham
  • Michael Seal Newman University Birmingham


Reflecting the University’s commitment to social justice and student formation, Newman’s newly created Foundation Year in Social Sciences adopted a particular approach to programme delivery through committing to the principles of critical pedagogy. It was an intentional programme design to support transition into and across programmes. However unlike many traditional approaches to ‘study skills’ with deficit models of student development, it seeks to foster in students an awareness of the subtle injustices legitimised by the current education system: what Paulo Freire calls ‘conscientização’ or conscientization.  Embedded within the curriculum of this new Foundation Year is an unequivocal invitation to students to challenge the structural inequalities that had previously operated to constrain their educational choices. This article is an exploration of the extent to which the first cohorts of students and staff have experienced this and reflects on the development of our programme. This contributes to the discussion of the approaches required in Foundation Year provision to create truly transformative student experiences. Taking a Frierean approach also entailed being committed to promoting democratic engagement, meaningful dialogue and co-operative working. Students are actively involved in the evaluation of the programme throughout, and through participatory workshops at the end of the programme. The learning we share here from working with our students includes vignettes from two 2017/18 Foundation Year students, Phoebe and Kaece, who offer their experiences of navigating University study via the Foundation Year.


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Author Biographies

Sarah Parkes, Newman University Birmingham

Sarah co-wrote the Foundation Year framework at Newman University, and now leads on the core modules within this. She was project lead of the HEA and Paul Hamlyn ‘What Works: Student Retention and Success Change Programme’ at Newman (2012-16), the HECFE Catalyst Project ‘Using Student Engagement data to inform pedagogic innovation’ (2016-18) and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her principal interests lie in the factors affecting student transition, progression and success within a widening participation context. This includes an interest in the transformational approach to curriculum design and institutional organisation.

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Leoarna Mathias, Newman University Birmingham

Leoarna is Programme Co-ordinator for transition and retention programmes at Newman University. Having previously lectured in Social Policy and Early Childhood Studies, she is now exploring academic identity and academic labour in HE contexts as she works towards PhD completion, and has a particular interest in student-staff partnership working.

Michael Seal, Newman University Birmingham

Mike is a Reader in Critical Pedagogy, Programme Leader of the Foundation Years and community programmes at Newman University and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He has worked in social care, homelessness and youth work for over 25 years and within HE for 18. He is committed to widening participation and participatory research and has written extensively on the subjects.