Following the recently published report Access to Advantage, NACE Education Adviser Hilary Lowe shares additional recommendations for schools seeking to ensure more able learners of all backgrounds, socioeconomic contexts and in all parts of the UK have access to the most competitive higher education pathways.

The recently published Sutton Trust report Access to Advantage returns to the issues raised in the 2011 report Degrees of Success, which looked at university acceptance rates and how they differ by school type and area, finding state school pupils were considerably less likely to go to top universities than those at independent or grammar schools.

This new report uses UCAS data to analyse university acceptance rates for the 2015-17 cohorts by school type and region, with findings showing little changed since the 2011 study. In the UK, whether an individual attends university, and the institution at which they study, remains highly influenced by socioeconomic background, school attended, and the part of the country they are from.

Access to Advantage puts forward recommendations for schools and universities to help close the gap in higher education participation rates.

For schools:

  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers. For those facing disadvantage – or who are at risk of failing to reach their potential – there should be further support available, including being supported to undertake and reflect upon academic enrichment activities for the personal statement. The ‘Careers Leaders’ in schools, established by the government’s Careers Strategy, should ensure that key messages are consistent across staff and based on up to date guidelines.
  • Advice should happen earlier, and include guidance on subject options at A level. Many young people are not getting the right advice when it comes to A level options. Students need more support at an earlier age, that can help them to make an informed choice on their A-level choices. This should include advice on ‘facilitating subjects’, favoured by Russell Group universities.

For universities:

  • Universities should make greater use of contextual data in their admissions process, to open-up access to students from less privileged backgrounds. 
  • There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used, including the use of automated ‘contextual data checkers’.
  • A geographic element should be included in future university access agreements, including a focus on peripheral areas. 
  • Universities should work to reassure students and families who may be reluctant to move substantial distances to university. 

What more can schools do?

NACE endorses the report recommendations – many of which it already supports in practical ways through its professional development programmes and publications, such as the newly published NACE Essentials guide on careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) for more able learners (log in to our members’ site for the full Essentials range).

However, much needs to be in place – in and outside school – at the earliest stages of schooling to give all learners the best chances of reaching the destinations of which they are capable. Our recommendations for schools include:
  • Make full use of the body of evidence on what works to improve learner outcomes, including what works for the most able learners.
Join the NACE community for regularly updated updates, guidance, publications, professional development programmes and the latest relevant research from the only UK organisation with a specialist focus on more able learners. Find out more.
  • Ensure that subject choices and option and qualifications pathways allow optimal choices for learners.
The new Ofsted framework will support schools in evaluating the “curriculum of opportunity” and this will be a focus for NACE in the coming months and at our national conference in June.
  • Focus on aspiration raising and the development of social capital and wider learning experiences.
NACE courses, resources and Challenge Award-accredited schools provide many examples of how this is being achieved and can be successfully achieved in all schools.
  • Continue efforts to increase teacher supply/access in academic subjects where there are currently shortages and in the areas of the country most at risk.
Schools alone cannot alone solve the challenges of social inequality, but they do play a vital role in opening doors for all young people by providing high-quality learning experiences in and outside school, a challenging and broad curriculum, informed and inclusive advice and guidance, and inspiring role models and mentors.

For additional guidance and inspiration, log in to our members’ site for your free copy of the NACE Essentials guide to CEIAG for more able learners.
Thursday, January 17, 2019