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'Major changes' needed to improve social mobility in education

Published 15/08/2016

Students at a graduation ceremony
Students at a graduation ceremony

Young people from low-income backgrounds feel they are considerably less likely to attend university compared with their wealthier peers, a survey has found.

A ComRes poll, commissioned by education charity Teach First, found a lmost half (47%) of students from wealthier backgrounds said they always knew they would consider university compared with just over a quarter (28%) of those from low-income backgrounds.

Wealthier students also started planning their applications earlier, with 23% starting during their GCSEs, and were more likely to have taken part in non-academic extracurricular activities to support their applications.

Among the 1,000 surveyed, 30% said they found applying to university difficult, while 40% reported receiving little support from their school in planning their application.

A further 38% said they felt intimidated when applying for university.

It comes amid suggestions Theresa May is considering a raft of changes to the education system, including the reintroduction of grammar schools, in an effort to increase social mobility.

Ndidi Okezie, Teach First executive director, said: "While the Government has laudable aims, progress in getting more pupils from low income backgrounds to university will continue to stall unless there are major changes to our approach. Changes that include the creation of a more aligned strategy that connects each stage of a young person's education journey.

"Despite instances of progress, on the whole, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds still face three major hurdles to reach higher education: they continue to lag behind their wealthier peers in attainment, they lack awareness of the opportunities presented by university and, as our findings today show, they too often fail to receive quality assistance that can turn aspiration into reality.

"We must tackle these issues in a coordinated way if we are to ensure fair access to university. We need to learn from great practice - raising attainment in more schools through great teaching and leadership. We need to provide the right training too, so we can expand support for pupils to ensure they know their options and can make the right decisions for them.

"Without joining up our efforts in a strategic way, and holding ourselves to account for progress, we will miss the opportunity of this moment to build a better Britain by putting the life chances of our most vulnerable children right at the heart of our access agenda."

Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said: "This Teach First research echoes UCAS findings about stirring the ambitions of young people from an earlier age. Students who have a more personal stake in doing well at GCSE will achieve higher grades and keep all their options open for progression thereafter."

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "Teach First is right to emphasise the importance of inspiring ambition in school pupils from an early age, including encouraging more children from disadvantaged backgrounds to prepare for and apply to university.

"Teach First's report is in tune with the Government's objective of improving social mobility and ensuring all children, regardless of background or ability, are able to fulfil their potential.

"It's why we emphasise the importance of more pupils taking the core academic subjects at GCSE, the subjects universities have said increase opportunities to gain university places."

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