04 SES 09 A, Taking Risks In Inclusive Education: Tales From The Field
Progression to higher education (HE) by young people differs widely according to social class, in the UK (eg Reay, 2017), Europe, and globally (eg Osborne, 2016). Some of this is related to levels of attainment: students from more advantaged backgrounds tend to achieve more highly at age 16 (Sasso and Hoar, 2019), and at age 18 (Shu, 2019). This is, of course, a strong predictor of whether a young person is likely to progress to HE. Progression to HE, however, is not all about attainment: even when attainment is taken into account, differences in HE attendance according to disadvantage still remain (Boliver, 2013).
The research discussed in this paper is based in Bristol, England. The City of Bristol provides a context with wide variation between localities in progression to HE. In some of the most disadvantaged areas of the city (particularly to the South of the city), progression to HE at age 18 is less than 10%. In more affluent areas of the city, progression to HE at age 18 is more than 90%. While there are wide differences in attainment at age 16 across levels of the city, this is not enough to explain the difference in progression to HE. In and around Bristol, there are many localities known as “gap wards”. These are areas where the level of attainment at age 16 predicts a higher level of progression to HE at age 18 (according to national averages) than is actually seen. This means that there are several young people whose achievement at age 16 suggests that they have the potential to progress to HE, but who do not go on to university. These gap wards correspond with the most disadvantaged areas of the city, indicating that the area that a young person lives in has an impact on likelihood of progression to HE, beyond the issue of attainment. Gap wards exist across the UK, but Bristol is an interesting case study because differences are particularly stark.
The Southern and Eastern parts of Bristol in particular are characterised by high levels of deprivation, low levels of educational attainment, and low levels of progression to HE. South Bristol Youth is a charitable trust that takes a place-based approach to supporting young people in making decisions about future trajectories through education and into careers. The charity works in partnership with six secondary schools in South Bristol and Bristol’s two universities to achieve its aims. This paper reports on an evaluation of the South Bristol Youth Ambitons Programme – a specific aspect of the charity’s work that aimed to support young people to make informed decisions about potential future progression to HE. We use the capabilities approach (Sen, 1999; Nussbaum, 2011; Hart, 2012) to frame South Bristol Youth’s provision and young people’s responses to it. The core philosophy behind our research is a belief that young people should not rule out university simply because they do not know enough about it – the decision to go should be based on informed perspectives about what university is like (it should be a part of a young person’s possible functionings) and a recognition that they are able to go should they choose, and have the potential to reach the required level of attainment (they should have the freedom to achieve their valued functionings). Progression to HE, then, should be part of young people’s capability set.
This paper asks to what extent the South Bristol Youth Ambitions Programme can support young people to develop their capabilities, and how the context of South Bristol relates to the provision and its outcomes.
The Ambitions Programme comprised a range of activities, which included: informing participants about university and university life; providing experiences of life at university; enabling participants to meet and work with current university students to help make university seem more accessible; and developing participants’ confidence to explore future educational and career options. Some activities were delivered in schools, some in universities, and some in other venues. Our evaluation focused on the provision for Year 8 students (12/13 years old) and Year 10 students (14/15 years old) in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 academic years. The cohort of students participating in the Ambitions Programme were from the six secondary schools in South Bristol, and were mainly those who had the potential to achieve well enough at age 16 to indicate that they could progress on to HE, but who were from family backgrounds where university attendance was not the norm (such as those whose parents had not attended university). As researchers whose brief was to evaluate the programme, we initially worked with the South Bristol Youth team to establish a theory of change. Our methods were developed to understand different aspects of the theory of change: in order to develop a holistic understanding of the programme we needed to use a range of methods. We used: longitudinal data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency on progression to HE across different wards in Bristol; school data on pupil attendance, behaviour and attainment of those attending the Ambitions Programme and of the cohort as a whole; observation of Ambitions Programme activities; interviews and focus groups with pupils on the programme, teachers and senior leadership in schools, and the South Bristol Youth delivery team (including university Student Ambassadors who played a key role in the delivery of the programme); and surveys with pupils on the programme and their parents. The nature of our work meant that our ongoing findings fed into the development of the programme over the duration of the evaluation. What we were evaluating, then, was not provision with a static design, but an emergent and responsive delivery. This further emphasises the need for a range of methods to understand not only the outcomes of the delivery, but also the way in which the delivery changed over time.
Given the scope of the project, this paper will focus only on specific aspects of the findings, rather than the findings in their entirety. The Ambitions Programme achieved its aim of supporting young people and their parents to find out more about the range of opportunities available at university, to and develop an understanding of the financial mechanisms and implications surrounding university. The evaluation revealed that meeting university student ambassadors enabled school students to “see themselves” at university. Attending activities at university was also important – this also enabled young people to see themselves there and broke down some of the mystery about what it was like. The Ambitions Programme, then, succeeded in supporting young people to develop HE as part of their possible functionings. What became evident through the evaluation, however, was that young people were not aware of the specific mechanisms through which they would progress to HE, and therefore were not able to seek out the opportunities that would give them the freedom to achieve HE as a valued functioning. Young people had a vague sense that they had to “do well” in their exams at age 16 (Level 2) and age 18 (Level 3) to be able to enter HE, but had little sense of how to navigate the system. The majority of schools in South Bristol have no Post-16 Level 3 provision, and those institutions offering the full range of Level 3 courses are located in specific areas of Bristol with poor transport links from South Bristol. The capability set of young people, then, is bounded by place. This raises the importance of place-based provision and research to further understand how to support young people to include HE as part of their capability set.
Boliver, V. (2013) How fair is access to more prestigious UK universities? British Journal of Sociology, 64(2), 344-364. Hart, C.S. (2012) Aspirations, Education and Social Justice: Applying Sen and Bourdieu. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Nussbaum, M. (2011) Creating Capabilities. London, England: Harvard University Press. Osborne, M. (2016) Access to Higher Education. In J.E. Cote and A. Furlong (Eds). Routledge Handbook of the Sociology of Higher Education, pp.119-130. London, England: Routledge. Reay, D. 2017. Miseducation: Inequality, Education and the Working Classes. Bristol: Policy Press. Sasso, R. and Hoar, S. (2019) Key stage 4 including Multi-Academy Trust performance 2018 (revised). London: Department for Education. Sen, A. (1999) Commodities and Capabilities. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Shu, T. (2019) A level and other 16-18 results: 2017 to 2018 (revised). London: Department for Education.
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