Ella Muir is a techne-funded doctoral candidate at the University of Roehampton, researching the clothing created for, worn by, and observed on the Queens of England and France during the reign of François Ier. Here, she writes about her experience of doing a teaching placement with the Brilliant Club…
I began my work with The Brilliant Club charity in January of this year. It was, as few of us need reminding, a winter of discontent: I would rise each Monday morning to still-dark skies and silent streets, save for occasional solitary figures out for their one mandated walk of the day. The restrictive measures brought in across the UK to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus meant that my placement, originally planned to happen at a secondary school in Essex, would now take place virtually. The strangeness of teaching through a small laptop screen only adding to lockdown’s peculiar sense of unease. But in these weekly sessions, facilitated by The Brilliant Club’s excellent staff and bolstered by the enthusiasm for learning and the droll observations of my Year 10 and 11 students, there was comfort and constancy to be found.
For those looking to become involved with the charity’s work, there are two core opportunities currently available to PhD students. The Scholars Programme is The Brilliant Club’s flagship initiative, which affords the chance for postgraduate researchers to devise and deliver university-style sessions, based on their own specialist study. Placing tutors in schools across the UK, these courses allow small groups of pupils to experience a taster of university teaching, whilst developing knowledge and skills that will support them in progressing to higher education, should they decide they would like to do so. The Brilliant Tutoring Programme, meanwhile, forms part of a more recent national catch-up effort, working to re-engage and rebuild confidence in core subjects using a predesigned handbook, following the severe and ongoing disruption to learning caused by the pandemic.
Whichever way a postgraduate researcher opts to work with The Brilliant Club, they will find it an intensely enriching experience. Participating in the charity’s Tutoring Programme, I was required to teach a series of modules based on the English Key Stage 4 curriculum, designed to complement the pupils’ day-to-day learning and to assist those identified by their teachers as being in need of additional support. Together, via Microsoft Teams on those early winter mornings, we traversed the workhouses of Dickens’s Victorian London, considered what costuming could bring to a performance at a Jacobean theatre, and used language devices, motifs and temporal shifts to help make sense of all that was happening around us. As snow fell and the world seemed in disarray, I could not fail to be moved by the unswerving resolve and dedication of these students, nor by the stark reminders of the realities faced by underfunded, underrepresented schools during the crisis.
New figures published in The Brilliant Club’s recent impact reporting show that in 2020-2021, the charity worked with 25,751 students – its largest ever cohort in a single year. Despite the enormous challenges thrown up by the pandemic and various iterations of lockdown, the charity was able to assist, inspire and be inspired by more young people than ever before. Unusual though my placement undoubtedly was, encouraged and supported at every turn by the charity’s exceptional employees, to have played even some small part in The Brilliant Club’s achievement has been by far the most worthwhile, varied and enjoyable experience of my PhD thus far. There is perhaps no greater testament than this: the Brilliant Tutoring Programme made Monday mornings in a global pandemic worth getting up for.