Why did University of Leeds switch to Report + Support?

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The University of Leeds has recently gone live with their Report + Support online disclosure platform, built by Culture Shift.

The team have always had a history of delivering strong student support, so we sat down to understand what made them make the decision to go with Report + Support, what they were using before, and why Report + Support is a step forward for student support in Leeds.

In conversation with Chris Warrington, Andrea Kerslake and Charlotte Webster, to discuss:

What system(s) did Leeds University have in place for accepting, measuring and monitoring disclosures prior to Report+Support?

We had an Online Reporting System, which was basically a University of Leeds developed online form, enabling students to report anonymously or to provide their details and receive support. 

In lots of ways, the online form that we had is the same as the online form from Culture Shift, with similar questions and so on.

What challenges did you come across with having your own system?

It was hard for students and others to find the form and to use it. It was on a slightly more formal part of the university website, and although we’d link to it from all over the place, including the Student Union channels it still didn’t really quite connect with students. 

We know that students will make disclosures with a range of people within our community, but we weren’t confident that all reports were going through that system. This meant that our approach to supporting students was probably more fragmented than we would have liked.

We believe that these issues can be resolved by bringing it all together, bringing a level of consistency to the whole process, and putting a team in place to do the proactive awareness raising around this rather than just reacting to reports that come in.

It also means that we’ve got consistency in the support information that we can share.  The new system gathers resources in one place which we can signpost for staff and students.

What initially brought Report + Support to your attention?

We started to look at Report+SupportTM more closely following the work of an elected executive officer [within the SU] who was particularly passionate about student support in this area and really researched what was out there. It was their work that made us look very carefully at this and enabled us to adopt a solution. The focus was really student led.

How has collaboration with students informed the implementation of the system?

The whole approach to this was a partnership. We had a really strong student voice and we had great senior management for the university saying we should be doing something about this. 

The student voice in this area is something that we have worked hard at incorporating for a long time, building a good relationship and network between the elected student group and our team. Building that partnership is a key part of our progress. Having a collective understanding that we want campus to be safer, and to make sure that students get support. 

Just recognising that you’re on the same page puts us in a good position because there’s already a lot of buy-in, and people want to be involved in it, and they want to help promote it. So that’s been really positive. We’re not having to argue the case as to why we’ve got this resource and what we’re doing because there’s already that buy-in and understanding.

It also means we’ve got a lot of students who hold the university to account, quite rightly. We’ve got the elected officers, but then we’ve got various liberation groups. We’ve got the clubs and societies who we engage with training and support. We’re coming back to students being on campus en masse for the first time, and the clocks will go back in a month’s time or so, which always sparks concerns around safety. Students want to know what we’ve got in place, how we’re supporting them.

What broader work is happening within the institution and how does Report + Support fit into it?

There is so much going on at the moment. We’re definitely taking a whole institution approach to addressing this issue. Report + Support as a disclosure site is not just for students, it’s for our staff and visitors as well, but it’s still just one pillar of our work. 

Reporting, and raising awareness of the reporting platform sits within a much wider training matrix that we’re developing that considers training for every single staff member up and down the university and what they really need in order to do their role effectively and with confidence. 

Over summer, we’ve held a series of workshops where we’ve engaged with around 50 staff members to really understand how we can support them in having these conversations with students, how we can raise awareness; start trying to enact change on campus; understand what they need; what they’ve already had; where we’ve got specialist facilitators within our staff group, and then building up a suite of training. 

Training absolutely existed previously within the institution, but not having that centralised team and resource to maintain a sustainable package has been a challenge because the university is absolutely enormous.

The university is launching an institutional wide campaign around the concept of allyship. It’s in its early stages of conception at the moment, but that will be a really impactful and important campaign and vehicle to push forward this message and all the other key concepts that fit within it including bystander intervention, and so on. 

We’ve also been very actively involved within the city. So we’re part of the violence against women and girls meetings and we’ve got very close working relationships with the head of crime within Leeds. Within that we’re looking at developing specialist drop in services. This means that a student can speak to a Specialist Safeguarding Officer within West Yorkshire Police, ask questions about the process and what to expect. This work sits alongside relationships with specialist organisations and charities. We want to help students to be fully informed about what choices they have.

What are you able to get from the Report + Support system that you might not be able to facilitate internally?

Other than the ability to have one clear and consistent channel that students can turn to for support, what culture shift gives us through Report + Support is a really distinct and identifiable identity. It is really easy to navigate, it’s really easy to see what’s happening, and sometimes the corporate nature of a University website, which usually has a lot of information, can be challenging.

The site gives you a structure and helps you think through how you want to display your information. Before we adopted the system, we were able to have a look at other universities’ websites and see what information they had because it’s the same structure so that helped us to do a bit of benchmarking. We could have had the best information in the world, but if we don’t design it very well students might not engage with it.

It’s allowed us to sit within our specialism; supporting students and writing content in this way is our expertise, so not having to reduce our time by building something has been really, really helpful.

It’s also wonderful being able to be connected to a community of people who are practitioners in the sector, who are working with Culture Shift and engaging with workshops and seminars around that. That’s been great for us to join in and our advisors to join as well. I think not doing this work in isolation is the best way to do it, and so being able to access that community is really helpful.

What are your hopes for using the reporting support system?

I think there are three things:

  1. Having good student awareness so they see it as a support tool, but also as a proactive tool. Not just having reporting available to them, but using the campaigns too. Staff awareness and feedback coming back would be great too. Especially if they’re saying ‘this is a really good resource for me, I had a student and I was able to go through this with them.’
  2. The other thing I hope we can get the most from is the data feature. Having all institutional data in one space, to be able to really reflect and inform our preventative activity. We’ve got some great ambitions around new staff training and student training, but data would enable us to take that to the next level.
    Even the anonymous data might show particular things happening in particular clubs or with specific people. That means we can still take action even if we’re not helping an individual student.
  3. Finally, the data will also hold our team to account in terms of what we are doing to support and be proactive. We’ll be able to easily say how many reports we’ve had, and this is what we’ve been doing campaign wise. Again, it’s about bringing it all together. It just gives us so much more oversight and confidence in what we do.I think sometimes people can shy away from having targets or KPIs associated with this sort of work.

Any final thoughts?

It feels really nice to be within an institution where you can really confidently say that the work and the commitment to doing this work is embedded within loads of different spaces and structures of the university. It means there is a really supportive approach to making change. The fact that we’re talking about these issues doesn’t mean that there’s a problem specifically here at Leeds – it simply means that we’re part of a society where this is a problem. And as part of our place in that society, we need to do our bit on the campus to change behaviours. 

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