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Excelsior law team

Newcastle students excel at law awards

Published on: 18 June 2019

A project that sees students at a Newcastle school pass judgement on recent legal cases has won community initiative of the year at the Northern Law Awards.

Improving academic skills

The Excelsior Team is run by Newcastle University, working with pupils from Excelsior Academy, in Scotswood. Mentored by some of the University’s current law students, the group of 12 A-level students review a recent court case, assess the different arguments involved and weigh up whether they would have made the same decision if they had been the judge.

Dr Josh Jowitt, law lecturer at Newcastle University, said: “This project has made a significant difference to how both groups of students see themselves and helped them all improve their academic skills as well as their confidence. Although still a young project, I’m immensely proud of the success the Excelsior team has achieved, and congratulate them on being recognised by the North’s leading law professionals.”

Now in its second year, the project gives the Excelsior pupils an introduction to the legal process and how court hearings work. They also learn about what judges do and how they make their decisions. At the end of the eight week programme, they then have to submit their thoughts on the decision they have studied as a written essay to academics at Newcastle Law School – who mark it as though it were a first year assignment.

The cases they have looked at include a judgement on assisted dying, and the ‘gay cake’ discrimination case in Northern Ireland.

Marie Stern-Peltz, Lead Curriculum Support Worker, Excelsior Academy, said: “I’ve seen such a transformation in our students taking part in this programme, I am thrilled by the impact it has had in terms of their confidence and increasing their independence. It has been fantastic to see our students actively getting involved, their enjoyment at being treated like peers by the University students and how they’ve improved their knowledge and skills in the process.”

Newcastle University law students, from L-R: Matthew Slater, Demi Cooper, Nicholl Fitzgerald, Dr Josh Jowitt, Natalie Brown, Henok Solomon

Introduction to university life

By working alongside the Newcastle University students, the scheme also gives the Excelsior pupils a better idea of what’s involved in studying law and what it’s like going to university.

Year 12 student, Yazmin, said: “I’ve really enjoyed being part of this project and the new experiences it has given me. It has allowed me to explore what university would be like and has really boosted my confidence in my ability in law.”

Nicholl Fitzgerald, 20, mentors the Excelsior students. The second year undergraduate, who is from Hartlepool, has been part of the Excelsior Team for two years. She said: “I am so proud to be a part of such a valuable scheme. It’s really rewarding to see the benefits that the Excelsior pupils get out of it.”

First-hand experience

As well as the undergraduates sharing their legal knowledge and study tips, the project also gives the school pupils an introduction to researching information delivered by staff in the University’s Library team.

The Excelsior students also get the opportunity to meet lawyers at Ward Hadaway, one of the top law firms in the country.  At the company’s offices in Newcastle, the students get first-hand experience of seeing legal professionals at work and get the chance to do their own mock client interviews.

“This is just the beginning,” Dr Jowitt added. “Over the next few years, I hope more pupils at Excelsior take part in the scheme, and we’re also really keen to develop similar programmes with other schools.”

For more information about how Newcastle University works with schools visit


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