The elements of the third Episode of the Summer of Love are stacking up nicely.
The broad focus will be social mobility through fair access to higher education, with the DfE-commissioned ‘Investigation of School and College-level strategies to raise the Aspirations of High-Achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to Pursue Higher Education’ likely to be the featured article, assuming it appears in September as scheduled.
The final section of Episode One drew on the contractual specification to explain what this Report will cover.
At about the same time, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) is likely to publish its first Annual Report on the Government’s performance on these two fronts, delayed from the initial deadline of 8 May set out in the Commission’s Remit and encapsulated in its Framework Document.
But the Commission has already produced Higher Education: the Fair Access Challenge a progress report on a 2012 Report produced by the Commission’s antecedent, the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility called ‘University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility’.
And of course we have already had Ofsted’s ‘The most able students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools?’, the centrepiece of Episode Two, which includes a focus on progression to higher education and fair access.
It references the Government’s ‘Destinations of key stage 4 and key stage 5 pupils: 2010 to 2011’, labelled as experimental statistics but now in their second iteration, which appeared on 20 June.
Further breakdowns of this data based on student characteristics, including eligibility for free school meals were published on 23 July.
I had expected that this data would include updated information (from 2011) about the percentage of FSM-eligible learners progressing to Oxbridge and to Russell Group universities.
This remains amongst the overall Impact Indicators contained in DfE’s Business Plan so integral to how the Department wishes us to judge its overall effectiveness (despite universities’ well-publicised preference for alternative measures and the absence of any requirement to include FSM-driven targets in their Access Agreements).
Data on the entry of FSM-eligible students to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities had not been published for some time.
This information relates to pupils in receipt of FSM (so a smaller group that those eligible) who progressed to higher education as long ago as 2007/08. In that year just 40 such students made it to Oxford or Cambridge.
The comparable data for students progressing to higher education in 2008/09 was provided in a PQ reply in February 2012, when the figure was 45. I can trace nothing more recent than that.
The evidence already made public led me to expect little improvement on either the Oxbridge or the Russell Group measure.
The true position was much worse than expected.
The critical figure was not included in the main text or the main tables of the publication, but can be found in the underlying data. It reveals that the 2010/11 figure has fallen by 33% to exactly 30.
This relates to those who had formerly claimed FSM so should be directly comparable with the earlier figures.
The number attending Russell Group universities has also declined. This PQ reply (Col 92W) confirms that, in 2007/08, 1,100 Russell Group students had formerly claimed free school meals. By 2010/11, that has fallen by 16% to 920.
I had some discussion on Twitter about whether the current Government should be held accountable for this sad state of affairs. The quite reasonable argument was made that it could have done little to influence intakes in the Autumn of 2010, having been elected only a few months earlier.
On the other hand, the Government must have been fully aware of the timelag built into this data when it selected its impact indicators – precisely the measures against which it asks to be held accountable. It decided nevertheless to adopt Oxbridge/Russell Group entry amongst these accountability measures.
There comes a point where, instead of engaging in a political blame game, some responsibility has to be taken, some leadership offered for turning round this disappointing downward trend – and in short order too. Some of the Government’s wider education policies might be expected to have a positive impact in the longer term, but it is hard to argue against direct targeted intervention as the best option to bring about more immediate improvements. It will be interesting to see whether the Social Mobility Commission takes a similarly robust view.
The third Episode of the Summer of Love series will need to take account of the SMCPC’s first Annual Report, its progress Report on Fair Access and the updated Destination Indicators – as well as the DfE-commissioned Investigation.
I used material from Ofsted’s Report, as summarised in this presentation which I promised I would upload here.
Aspects of the Dux experience may also feature in Episode Three, not least because the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility was so sniffy about it in his 2012 Report:
‘It is important that all school–university efforts are designed to have maximum impact and bring youngsters into higher education who would not otherwise participate. Not all initiatives work towards these outcomes. We are concerned, for example, about the Dux Awards Scheme, which was developed in partnership between the Department for Education and the Russell Group. This award is open to all maintained secondary schools. Each participating school will nominate one Year 9 student with outstanding potential to visit a Russell Group institution for a day, and the costs will be covered by the Government. This nominee, accompanied by a teacher, will be nominated the ‘Dux’, which is Latin for leader. The scheme aims to champion success and raise aspiration. I am concerned that this scheme is not sufficiently evidence based, and directs resources and attention away from the serious long-term work that is more likely to make a difference. The scheme has also been accused by some, such as million+, as being tokenistic.’
The day at KCL included a brief address and Q and A session with DfE Minister David Laws, who told us two things of note:
- First, that Dux 2013 has about 1,600 participating students from over 800 schools. This is a significant shortfall on the 2,000 schools which the Minister said he hoped would register back in December 2012 and not much of an improvement on the 1,400 pupils from 750 schools who took part in the inaugural Scheme in 2012.
- Second, that Dux is being rechristened the ‘Future Scholar Awards’, a roundabout way of confirming that son-of-Dux will survive the Spending Review, despite the Independent Reviewer’s scepticism. Laws joked that the current title probably originated with his boss at the education department. Opinion was divided over whether the new moniker is an improvement on its predecessor and whether it would inspire students.
Since the Independent Reviewer – Alan Milburn – is now the Chair of the SMCPC, and since his reports on Fair Access make no secret of the Commission’s support for contextualised admissions, whereas Mr Gove prefers admission based entirely on merit, this unresolved tension in Government higher education policy could once again come to the fore.
Remember that the Government’s own Higher Education White Paper ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ (June 2011) was broadly positive:
‘The use of contextual data to identify candidates with the ability and potentialto succeed on a particular course or at a particular institution is not a new phenomenon. Many institutions have been using such information on the basisthat there is good evidence that for some students, exam grades alone are not the best predictor of potential to succeed at university. The Government believes that this is a valid and appropriate way for institutions to broadenaccess while maintaining excellence, so long as individuals are considered on their merits, and institutions’ procedures are fair, transparent and evidence-based’ (p 58)
It will also be interesting to see whether the rebranded Dux is integrated into the National Strategy for Acess and Student Success under preparation by HEFCE and OFFA, due for publication by the end of the year.
The Interim Report on the Strategy published last January hinted that it might:
‘However, there is a clear need for schools, colleges and HE institutions to work together strategically to meet the current and future needs of all their learners. This requires commitment from the Department for Education, BIS and across Government to a common set of aims and objectives, and to providing challenge, support and incentives for institutions in all sectors to contribute to their realisation.’
Perhaps the rebranding exercise is part of a wider effort to join up Government policy and there will be wider changes to the shape of the Scheme in 2014. We shall have to wait and see.