Universities told to tutor disadvantaged school pupils

But heads say plan's wording over universities raising 'standards' is 'insulting'

Catherine Lough

Tutoring session

Universities will be expected to assist schools to raise outcomes for disadvantaged pupils by running summer provision, offering tutoring or supporting curriculum planning, the government has announced.

The focus of the measures will not only be pupils intending to go on to higher education but on raising attainment overall. The government said universities will be "working more with schools and colleges to raise standards in schools so students get better qualifications and have more options".

Heads union the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said that while it welcomes plans to help disadvantaged pupils, the idea that universities are needed to raise standards is "ridiculous" and "insulting" and that it is hard to see how expertise "parachuted in" from universities will raise standards.


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Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said: “We welcome any initiative to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students, and from the perspective of schools and colleges, support from universities in the form of summer schools and contact with tutors may well be helpful."

But he added that while this could be useful in terms of "demystifying" university for pupils and encouraging applications from under-represented groups, "we have to say that the part of this plan that talks about universities ‘working more with schools and colleges to raise standards in schools so students get better qualifications’ manages to be both ridiculous and insulting at the same time".

"Teachers in schools and colleges are hugely experienced and expert in teaching these cohorts of students," he said. "It is hard to see how expertise parachuted in from a university sector which knows a great deal less about teaching those students will somehow miraculously improve standards."

Tes understands that if universities cannot show they are helping disadvantaged pupils in their access and participation plans (APP), they will not be able to charge the highest rate of fees per year. 

It is already the case that where universities do not get their APP approved, they cannot charge the highest rate of fees, but the new plans will be renegotiated to focus more on achievement within schools, Tes understands.

Universities will also need to set targets to reduce dropout rates through providing support to students during their time at university, as well as improving graduate progression into highly-paid jobs.

The Office for Students has appointed John Blake, the former head of public affairs at Ark Schools, who also worked as head of education and social reform at Policy Exchange, as its new director for fair access and participation to oversee the measures. 

“I look forward to working with universities and colleges to ensure that young people from all backgrounds are able to access the education that is right for their achievements and aspirations,” said Mr Blake. 

He added that he was "especially keen" to see how more partnerships between schools and universities could be developed so that disadvantaged pupils could be helped to access university places.

"But attainment and access are only the first steps: they need to be matched by participation and success," he said. He also suggested that pupils needed to be put onto university courses that would "meet their needs" and that undergraduates should be supported so they are "ready to embark on rewarding lives and careers after graduating".

Mr Blake starts his new role in January. 

The new plans are likely to start in the 2023-24 academic year following a consultation. The current plans will apply for 2022-23 but some universities may choose to update these early, although this would not impact the fees they can charge.

Lucy Heller, chief executive of Ark, said, “We are very sad to be losing John but delighted that he is going to take up this important role.

"During his time at Ark, he has made a significant contribution to our work both on curriculum development and on engaging others across the sector, including our online #ArkTalks series. He leaves us with our very best wishes and gratitude.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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