London Underground sets students a challenge

Last year Helen Cooke, Director My Plus Consulting, joined a small team to put together a projected aimed at engaging with children on the autistic spectrum.

This is Helen’s account of the journey she embarked upon.

In 2008, London Underground (LU) set a project for the brightest mathematics students in England to work out potential transport solutions for Day 7 of the 2012 Olympic Games. The aim of this project was to get students excited about mathematics and to demonstrate how important it was in business. It was also an excellent employer branding exercise for LU. The result of this project was not only an amazing piece of work delivered by the students, but also a highly motivated group of youngsters. The managers, to whom the students presented their recommendations, were also highly engaged with what was taking place.

On the back of this success LU decided to do something similar only this time working with Whitefields School in North London; Whitefields is a school specifically for children on the autistic spectrum. The reasons behind forming the relationship with the school were threefold:

  • Building the confidence of school children by enabling them to make a real difference
  • Obtaining an insight from the school children
  • Enhancing the image of Transport for London as an Employer of Choice

The challenge set to the students was how to improve journeys through Oxford Circus tube station. The challenge was put together in such a way as to make it part of their curriculum studies, with lesson plans spanning 14 lessons to guide the work.

The challenge kicked off with briefings from the project team; this external input was very well received and really brought the challenge to life for the students. The challenge included the students having to travel to Oxford Circus which in itself was a new experience for some of them.

Once there they travelled the route we had set for them; this started at the ticket office and took in a couple of platforms before returning to their starting point. On route they recorded what they found unclear, including taking photos and making drawings so that once back in the classroom they could come up with solutions.  The students were asked to put together a presentation of their findings and recommendations which they then presented to the relevant managers and departments at LU.

The benefits of this initiative were apparent on both sides. Amongst other things, for LU it demonstrates the importance they attach to improving accessibility for Londoners. And for the students it was an exciting way to work through their curriculum whilst also enabling them to make a real contribution.

Their head teacher gave the following feedback on the initiative:

“This has been a very positive project for all concerned ... It is always good for us to see the students in different situations and presented with different challenges as it gives us an insight into areas we may not have addressed with our students. It is also very rewarding to see the students excelling in ways we would not have necessarily expected and to see the positive effect this has on their self esteem.”

In terms of next steps, LU are currently evaluating the pilot and discussing with Whitefields School how to best role this project out going forward. Longer term plans include the potential for students to gain work experience with LU, moving into work placements and for those who are capable, there is the ultimate goal of employment.

LU also intends to share what they have done, and how they have done it, to other employers who may be interested in undertaking such an initiative.