London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

Investigation of School and College Level Strategies to Raise the Aspirations of High-Achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to Pursue Higher Education (with BMRB-TNS)

Funded by:

Department of Education


Time scale:

to June 2013


IPSE, working with TNS-BMRB Education Policy Group, have been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to investigate the strategies of schools (and colleges) to raise aspirations for Higher Education (HE), with a particular focus on high-achieving disadvantaged young people.



Young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are still far less likely to progress to HE than their more advantaged peers, but academic attainment does not fully account for these outcomes. Drawing on an analysis of the relationship between eligibility for free school meals (FSM) and HE participation, research has noted that high performing pupils at GCSE who are eligible for free school meals are less likely to go into HE than high performing pupils who are not eligible for free school meals (Hills et al 2010).

Although participation in HE of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds is increasing, they also remain far less likely than other students to enter the most selective universities (Kirkup et al. 2010; Sutton Trust 2010). Indeed, the participation of young people from disadvantaged areas has not increased since the mid 1990s and remains very low:  only about 2% of those from the most disadvantaged areas enter the most highly selective universities (Harris 2010). Furthermore, young people with parents who were educated to degree level were more likely to be attending Russell Group HE institutions at age 19 than those with parents educated to below A Level (24% compared with 4%) (DfE 2011). The Sutton Trust estimates that there are approximately 3,000 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the qualifications to enter the most selective universities but do not do so (Sutton Trust 2010).

Schools, colleges and universities have engaged in a range of activities designed to raise aspirations and encourage young people from ‘disadvantaged’ areas to access HE. Common activities include advice and guidance sessions, lectures, campus visits, mentoring and residential summer schools. Some schools focus activities in the sixth form, and others begin orienting and encouraging students as early as year 7. At a time when the HE sector is undergoing considerable change, not least in terms of the rise in tuition fees,  research which assists schools, colleges and universities in identifying and sharing good practice in this area is therefore of particular importance.


The research aims to:

  • investigate the strategies used by schools and colleges to support ‘high-achieving,’ ‘disadvantaged’ pupils in different year groups to pursue Higher Education and, in particular, to apply to Russell Group universities.
  • provide evidence on the extent to which ‘high-achieving,’ ‘disadvantaged’ pupils are already supported in schools and colleges and identify best practice and where support could be improved.
  • assess whether the Pupil Premium is being used by schools and colleges to support these activities.


Drawing on IPSE previous research in this area, most notably the research which culminated in Higher Education and Social Class; Issues of exclusion and inclusion (Archer et al. 2003), the IPSE team are leading the qualitative strand of this research. In additions to a survey of schools and colleges carried out by TNS-BMRB, we are conducting ten case studies of schools and colleges including interviews with both staff and students.


Project team

Carole Leathwood

Ayo Mansaray

Sumi Hollingworth

(and previously Kim Allen)


Carole Leathwood


Tel: 0207 133 2088


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