December 13, 2016
An “unfair education system” is at the root of Britain’s “us and them society”, according to Alan Milburn, chairman of the UK government-sponsored Social Mobility Commission.
Part of his suggested solution is to make schools more accountable for where their pupils go next, while spreading university education to young people from under-represented groups and geographical areas that have become education black spots. In the north-east of England, for example, not one child from the poorest category of households went to Oxford or Cambridge universities in 2010, the commission has found.For decades, schemes designed to encourage more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to university have been devised, launched and then scrapped by the next set of incoming ministers.
But since undergraduate tuition fees were introduced in 2004, the Office for Fair Access, an independent regulator, has required each institution to provide a plan to widen access in exchange for the right to raise this revenue. Even after fees increased dramatically in 2010 to £9,000 a year, progress has been made.
According to the Universities and College Admissions Service (Ucas) one in five 18-year-olds from deprived backgrounds now goes to university — a 65 per cent improvement on 10 years ago. This year Oxford raised the proportion of state-educated students admitted to undergraduate courses to 60 per cent, up from 56 per cent in 2015.
But barriers remain — not least because more than two-fifths of state schoolteachers surveyed by the Sutton Trust, an education charity, said they would not encourage even their brightest pupils to apply to Oxbridge.
Charities and university outreach schemes try to address the endemic lack of aspiration by working with schools; the most effective begin with primary age children and embed themselves in local communities.
Spotlight: James Lambert – IntoUniversity Chair of Trustees
We have grown from helping a handful of individuals to a point where we are genuinely changing society for the better’
James was educated at Harrow School and read Law and History of Art at the University of Cambridge. He is a Director of Lisburne Holdings Ltd and is also a Director of Value Retail plc, which develops and operates factory outlet centres including Bicester Village in Oxfordshire.
The IntoUniversity programme began as a local project at the North Kensington centre. By 2006, the co-founders, Rachel Carr and Hugh Rayment-Pickard, knew from the burgeoning numbers and feedback from users that they had an extraordinary project on their hands. The question naturally arose: was this a one-off or could they replicate this success across several centres? They convened a symposium and invited politicians, educationalists and local community members to debate this question. I was – and am – part of the Bicester Village group that has expanded to multiple locations across Europe, so I had a sense of what it is to be part of a growing company and was in favour of expansion.
I went home and had a sleepless night thinking: ‘this is a terrific idea. The educational gap is neither fair nor good for society. My kids are helped to aspire to go to university and receive all the backing they need whereas, literally a few hundred yards away, in the local authority flats over the road, there will be a child of equal intelligence who doesn’t have this aspiration or opportunity and consequently has a very different life outcome. Any idea that can successfully address this horrible inequality is a fantastic thing. But what if, like many good ideas, it remains just that? There was no mention of funding for this mooted expansion – what will happen if it just doesn’t get traction?’
The next morning I got up and wrote a cheque. I then called two friends and asked whether they would consider doing the same and those two dear people said yes. So off I went to Sirdar Road and presented Rachel and Hugh with £30,000.
It seemed like a fateful moment. Rachel looked at Hugh, Hugh looked at Rachel. There was a long pause. Then Rachel said, laughing, ‘oh dear, now we really have to do it!’
And from that little acorn, seeing a handful of students, we have in less than ten years grown into this wonderful organisation with 21 centres. This year we will serve more than 21,500 young people.
What has driven and sustained this growth? Firstly and simply it remains a compelling idea. When you tell people that for society’s most disadvantaged cohort only 23% progress to Higher Education they are initially shocked, but when you add that when they have been through our programme that percentage rises to 80% they are then hugely supportive.
The power of the idea has enabled us to raise funding right across the spectrum, from single individuals to huge institutions, such as The Queen’s Trust and Impetus-PEF.
Moreover, we have been able to recruit an incredible team of intelligent and enthusiastic colleagues. Word seems to have got out that we are doing something worthwhile and we interview, on average, 18 graduate scheme applicants for each position. The full-time staff are supported by a corps of over 1,500 wonderful volunteers who give selflessly of their time.
Secondly, the need for what we do remains enormous. While we are now present in seven cities across England, our research shows many more areas with dire university progression rates that would be transformed by one of our centres. Over the next five years, we hope to extend our reach to more young people by opening additional centres and by expanding our programmes to best suit the needs of our students.
There is still much more to do. We have grown from helping a handful of individuals to a point where we are genuinely changing society for the better. Many consider us the most impressive charity driving social mobility in the country.
I went home and had a sleepless night thinking: ‘this is a terrific idea. The educational gap is neither fair nor good for society.’
As Trustees, we work closely with Senior Management to plan the pace of expansion. It is wonderful to be part of a growth story. An organisation that is not growing feels as if it is shrinking. Expansion is inspiring and as well as fundamentally helping more young people, it is attractive to funders who want to see an idea that is succeeding on a meaningful scale. It also creates a great atmosphere among our staff who see that if they succeed there is plenty of space for them to grow into very responsible roles at a young age. However, we Trustees are also very mindful that our expansion must be sustainable. Growth requires financial and management resources and so we try to find the right balance, carefully calibrating the number of centres we open each year so we are going as fast as we can without becoming overstretched.
Looking back, it is hard to believe how much we have grown and achieved in less than ten years. It is a remarkable narrative and we are truly indebted to our founders, our staff, our volunteers and our funders who make it possible for us to pursue this inspiring vision: closing the UK’s opportunity gap through education.
James’ article is taken from the latest edition of IntoUniversity’s termly newsletter aspire, published in May 2016. To read aspire in full, click here.
“We have to start early, it has to be relentless and for the long term,” says Hugh Rayment-Pickard, chief development officer at IntoUniversity, a social-mobility NGO that started in a deprived corner of west London in 2002 and has spread across seven British cities, helping 25,000 school pupils a year, many as young as seven. It has just opened its 22nd learning centre, in London’s Finsbury Park, an area with the third-highest level of child poverty in England.
The new centre is backed by Oxford University’s Wadham College, Cambridge University’s Corpus Christi College and four private schools: Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s Girls School and City of London School for boys. It is the first centre to involve collaboration of this sort between the ancient universities and the independent sector.The disadvantages faced by pupils in Finsbury Park, compared to those at any of the private schools, are, says Mr Rayment-Pickard, part of a “pretty stark” story of an educational divide passed down through generations.
Young people growing up in Finsbury Park are half as likely to go on to university as those in the more prosperous nearby areas of Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Highgate.
Evaluations found that the charity’s mix of after-school academic support, mentoring and intensive, subject-focused workshops ensures that 80 per cent of the school leavers on these programmes go on to higher education. For comparison, the overall figure for children in the most deprived groups in 2014, measured by entitlement to free school meals, was only 23 per cent.
Family support is important: “We try to normalise the idea of higher education,” says Mr Rayment-Pickard. “Not all our students will go on to university and not all should. But we get them to feel talking about it is not freakish. What are the advantages middle-class kids have? Partly, it is not waiting until the age of 14 to hear about university, and they understand the link to getting good grades.”
The push by educated parents to ensure their child’s place in the next cohort of success stories entrenches the divide. Last month’s report from the Social Mobility Commission observed that where both parents are highly educated, children received about 110 minutes a day of educational activity, compared to 71 minutes in other households. In the 1970s there was almost no difference between these groups.
With the target set by Tony Blair’s government to help 50 per cent of young people into university all but met, UK policy wonks now try to argue that as much energy should be spent devising high-quality alternative, skills-based routes into good jobs for the rest. A recent report by Professor Alison Wolf for the Education Policy Institute, a think-tank, found uptake of technical qualifications fell by a third in the academic year ending in 2015 compared with the year before.
At IntoUniversity, only 4 per cent of school leavers go on to an apprenticeship, where training standards vary.
“High-quality vocational options are vital,” says Mr Rayment-Pickard. “But we must not forget that a good university place remains a uniquely powerful asset for any young person looking to escape from poverty.”