Generating Genius began tutoring gifted Afro-Caribbean boys in science - now the charity is mentoring boys and girls of all races

In 2005, 10 gifted Afro-Caribbean boys were tutored in science to try to reverse the trend for under-achievement in their ethnic group. Now, Generating Genius mentors 900 boys and girls

It started off as a project to help what was then the UK's most under-performing group of pupils – Afro-Caribbean boys – to succeed in science, an area that they might never have thought of studying. Generating Genius, a charity founded by respected academic Dr Tony Sewell, selected 10 boys and set about teaching them, with the aim of helping them to win places at top Russell Group universities.

There was great competition for the places on the scheme, which was advertised in the black community newspaper, The Voice. In all, 200 young people applied for the 10 places. The number on the project soon expanded to 40.

"We looked at the figures for Afro-Caribbean boys at that time [2005]," Dr Sewell says. "Under every indices in terms of exclusion, they were the under-performers. I wanted to show to them, their parents and the world that under-achievement was something that we could easily do something about."

The 12- to 13-year-olds on the programme were selected because they were top performers in their national curriculum tests at 11 – the kind of pupils who should have gone on to get A* or A grades at GCSE, but frequently did not.

For the first 10 pupils, the course began with a four-week trip to Jamaica. "Jamaica is not associated with science, but it has a good university in the University of the West Indies," Dr Sewell says. "We wanted them to be in an environment where they could see scientists, policemen, prime ministers and university vice-chancellors who looked like them and had obviously succeeded."

The project caught the attention of the media both in the UK and in Jamaica – as a result of which the boys were interviewed as they touched down to start their four-week stay.

"They became celebrities," says Dr Sewell. "They had people pointing at them in the street and saying: 'They're the geniuses!' We were trying to create a cohort of bright kids for whom it felt safe to actually be bright. On their estates, it was not actually cool to be bright. We have these terms, 'geek' and so on, to describe people who do well in science."

The project did not stop when they returned to the UK. The boys were assigned mentors to help them with their studies. This is where Dr Sewell believes his project differs from others, which may offer pupils a glimpse of what it might be like to succeed, but then do not stay with them during the five years of compulsory schooling to help them through to GCSEs.

It certainly seems to have paid off. Of those first 40 boys, 38 succeeded in getting a place at a Russell Group university (which represents 24 of the country's most competitive universities, including Oxford and Cambridge) to study a science.

"In addition, we had two who went to the London School of Economics to study economics," Dr Sewell says. It was a 100 per cent success rate.

Not surprisingly, demand for the project increased and Generating Genius expanded its horizons to take in girls as well. The president of the National Union of Teachers, Max Hyde, herself a science teacher, indicated in an interview in The Independent last month that she intended to spend part of her presidential year campaigning against gender stereotyping and for more girls to pursue careers in the sciences.

In addition, research began to show that it was white working-class boys who were now the most poorly performing ethnic group in the UK, rather than the Afro-Caribbean boys.

And science was still considered a no-go area for many when it came to deciding on their career options. "There is still a general problem with science," says Dr Sewell. "Scientists are still regarded as not quite of our kind and as geeky figures in society. Look at all the James Bond films – the villain is always a scientist!"

The project has mushroomed and now caters for 900 students from all over London, from all ethnic groups. It has numerous sponsors, including Barclays, Google, Johnson Mathey, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Shell and the RAF, as well as individual donors.

And it is also expanding to start a new project in the Medway towns in Kent in September – an area with pockets of deprivation in a county that is often characterised as leafy and privileged. "These will be mostly white, working-class boys who we will be supporting on this project," says Dr Sewell. "It is to do with creating aspiration."

Class of 2014: Dr Tony Sewell with pupils from the Generating Genius scheme at the STEM 6 free school in London Class of 2014: Dr Tony Sewell with pupils from the Generating Genius scheme at the STEM 6 free school in London (Susannah Ireland)
Overall, though, girls now outnumber boys on Generating Genius. There are no longer visits to Jamaica for all the students, but new technology has taken over to provide those on the project with links to schools overseas and to set up competitions between groups of pupils in both the UK and Jamaica.

Dr Sewell now has a second string to his bow, with the establishment of a new free school – STEM 6 – dedicated to teaching the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). It was launched last September in a converted office block in Islington, north London, and plans to take in 450 16- to 19-year-olds when it is fully up and running.

Some of those who have taken places at this unique sixth-form college have been with the Generating Genius project during their secondary schooling. "It was quite clear that there was a big demand from students who wanted to go on and study in a college where they could specialise," says Dr Sewell.

Students are offered a range of science subjects to study – biology, physics, chemistry, computer science, engineering – and maths. Astronomy is a new addition to the A-levels on offer. English is offered, too, but mainly for students who need to resit their GCSEs because they failed to get a C-grade pass at their secondary schools.

"We're oversubscribed already [for the second year this September]," he says. "It shows you that there is a demand for STEM subjects. It is coming from – particularly – parents' groups. I have a lot of parents here from migrant backgrounds and they've got very high aspirations for their kids. The students come here because this is a building that just does science."

The college also adopts a radically different approach to careers education. It is, says Dr Sewell, a "career-first academy" – with the whole of the ground floor dedicated to helping students plot their future career paths.

When lessons end at 3.30pm, pupils wend their way into the careers section of the college, where they can discuss their future plans with mentors and iron out any difficulties that they are facing with their courses. It is, says Dr Sewell, a very different approach to that of mainstream colleges, where career guidance is often offered only as an afterthought to students coming to the end of their courses.

The success of the Islington free school – which has overcome teething problems that included a strike threat by staff – has prompted an application to open a second STEM sixth-form college in Croydon.

From a modest beginning with 10 "celebs" visiting Jamaica for science lessons, Generating Genius has become a key player in ensuring science is no longer a taboo subject among the UK's disadvantaged young people.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing