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The Betrayal of a Generation of Poorer Young People at University
soldier on are less likely to get a 2.1 or degree or greater. It doesn’t stop
there. They then are less likely to get a professional job.
There is a major problem in access to, and success for, less
well-off students aspiring to partake of Higher Education in Scotland. Hidden
amongst the statistics and dry reports from Government are stark realities. For
many individuals the dream of a better life through higher education is
thwarted by a system that favours those with family support and better
resources. If families cannot or are not willing to offer support then the less
advantaged individual is destined to struggle to get to University. Once there
they must endure greater challenges with the likelihood of doing less well than
their better off peers.The statistics
prove this beyond doubt.
The Scottish “Commissioner for Fair Access” has released in
January a discussion paper that addresses “Retention, Outcomes and
Destinations” of students in Universities in Scotland .It is stated that:
access is not just about ensuring more people from deprived backgrounds enter
higher education, it is just as important to ensure that they can maintain
their studies and successfully graduate."
This is a
fair point as the paper goes onto present stark evidence that students from poorer
backgrounds generally do less well at University. Mentioned in passing in the
paper is the fact that only 14% of students come from the so called ‘deprived
backgrounds’. If they get to university they are then more likely to drop out
or get an unclassified degree. Those that soldier on are less likely to get a
2.1 or degree or greater. It doesn’t stop there. They then are less likely to get
a professional job.
From Attainment Gap..........
arises from the Annual report of 2017 ‘Laying the Foundations for
Fair Access’ . In relation to a students from less well-off families doing
less well at university and widening the so called ‘attainment gap’ it states
“Attainment gaps are rooted in
aspiration gaps,whichin turn reflect, all-too accurately,
disparities. Forlearners frommore prosperous homes aspiration iseasy; for learners from more deprived
backgrounds it is more difficult to generate.Also care needs to be taken that
attainment is not simply measured in terms of too narrowly conceived
benchmarks; the optimal learner pathway, in terms of stages and formal
achievements, is still determined by reference to traditional middle-class
To Aspiration gap.................
However, it then goes onto describe its own ‘aspiration gap’
arising from its conclusions that prompts the statement:
“The First Minister
should set higher education another challenge - to ensure that by 2030 students
from SIMD20 areas not only have the same chance of securing places in higher
education but also enjoy the same outcomes as students from the most privileged
The reference to “middle class” is provocative in suggesting
that the solution is in generating “aspiration” and rectifying “perceptions of life-chance disparities” amongst disadvantage
students. This in itself is a view from the ramparts of so called “middle
class”. It is not the solution.
The government might deploy the problem solving principle of Occam's razor; when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. In other words the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Simply, students do less well when they are tired and spend less time studying and working on assignments. Any lecturer with experience in teaching and assessing students can tell you this. This may de due to a variety of reasons. But it is certain that holding down a part-time job or commuting a great distance from home is the most likely cause amongst students from less well off families.
What is the nature of the evidence that leads to this so
called ‘gap in aspiration’?
The paper brings together the current data of the Higher
Education Statistics Agency (HESA) student data  and the Scottish Funding
Council Report on Widening Access 2015-16 that emerged in September 2017. The
latter is a valuable analysis that contains much more data regarding students
from different backgrounds. All students are divided into groupings based upon
where they come from and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) 
associated with that. The report concentrates on how students from the bottom
20% (SDIM20) compare with the rest. It presents data in % terms and only notes
in a footnote that only 14% of students come from SIMD20 areas; thus hiding the
real extent of the problem. It is acknowledged that this fails to account for
the background of individual students and only considers which area they come
from. However, SIMD is applied to relatively population groups of several
hundred people and is relatively fine grained’ unlike the much larger sized POLAR
 groupings of 5000 or more used in the rest of the UK. Recently moving from
classifying individual students according to their socio-economic grouping to groups,
based upon where they are from, to groups based upon address raises a suspicion
that this leads to significant proportion of poorer families being hidden from
the analysis and the problem being under-reported.
UPDATE 8th August 2020 Things are moving fast today with severe criticism mounting about Ofqual and SQA, and urgent action is needed. TEFS has laid out ten points that should be considered to reverse out of the crumbling mess. Fairness should replace 'maintaining standards' as the primary objective. The government must cease trying to defend a system that acts as a barrier to the less advantaged. Since posting yesterday, things have been moving fast. Today the Guardian put the examinations issue in large print on its front page with ‘Nearly 40% of A-level result predictions to be downgraded in England’ . This conclusion came about after some great detective work by former medical statistician, Huy Duong, who analysed the data available and reconciled this with the Ofqual announcement that there could have been a 12% inflation in higher grades. It seems that Ofqual have been caught red handed and "Duong’s findings were privately confirmed to the Guardian by ex
This week confirmed beyond any doubt that Ofqual is pointing the finger of blame for the public examinations chaos this summer firmly at the government and its ministers. The positions of Schools Minister, Nick Gibb and Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson must be on the line. When Williamson is confronted by the Education Committee next week, like Momus he may find his mask has slipped and cannot lay blame anywhere else. He might be meeting his Nemesis and find he is expelled from his lofty position. Called to account. On Wednesday morning, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Education Permanent Secretary, Susan Acland-Hood, and Director for Qualifications, Michelle Dyson, will be called to account by the Education Committee. With the redoubtable Robert Halfon in the chair, they will face a hard time. This is because Halfon and his colleagues will be armed with more documentary evidence from Ofqual and others that look bad for both ministers. All of the correspo
UPDATE 23rd March 2021 Since this idea was posted in January, there has been considerable thought across the sector about what would be best for the future. These are very well laid out in a collection of short essays reported last week by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). The twelve essays, from different authors and different perspectives, in ‘Where next for university admissions? ’ are edited by Rachel Hewitt who sets out the many pitfalls surrounding examinations and university admissions. It seems there are those in favour of post qualification admission (PQA) to university as it should help the least advantaged students. However, arguments against this are presented that means caution must be taken. A powerful response to the HEPI report by the 'The Fair Access Coalition: 10 requirements for a fair admissions process' adds further to the debate. The suggestions are sensible but falls short on demanding adequate resources for students throughout their studi