A steady stream of research has highlighted the importance of extending efforts to widen participation in higher education to primary pupils.
In 2008 The Sutton Trust drew attention to the two thirds of high-performing primary pupils who received free school meals, but whose GCSE performance did not reflect their earlier potential. Fifty per cent did not progress to higher education at 18. The report estimated that up to 60,000 able primary students are lost to the sector each year.
More recently UCAS has found that 10 year-olds who clearly aspire to higher education are 2.6 times more likely to attend a more competitive university than students who decided in their late teens.
This large-scale attrition has prompted a shift in focus for widening participation. HEFCE and OFFA have emphasised the need to invest more in long-term outreach programmes, engaging children from the age of seven. The sector has responded.
But developing primary outreach can be challenging, and although some excellent institutional activity exists, its capacity is finite. Primary schools outnumber secondary schools by five to one, and demand can easily stretch the resources of individual institutions.
Developing age-appropriate programmes is a new frontier for many outreach practitioners. It requires staff development and close collaboration with a new audience of stakeholders. And while sustained engagement in long-range outreach is known to be highly effective, measuring its impact is glacially slow and difficult, given participants may take 10 years to progress to higher education. Understandably, meeting next year’s performance indicator targets can take priority.
Meeting the challenge together
The benefits of universities working together to deliver outreach programmes are widely recognised. Collaboration has been encouraged by OFFA in successive Access Agreement guidance, and by HEFCE, whose National Networks for Collaborative Outreach initiative (NNCO) and new National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) incentivises partnership working (although the focus of both HEFCE schemes is at secondary school level).
Helpfully, the primary phase represents a neutral, non-competitive space where the business case for working together to underpin long-term, sector-wide gains is strong. This has helped the Aimhigher West Midlands NNCO partnership to develop Move on Up, a new strand of collaborative primary outreach activity.
Move on Up!
Move on Up is not just about piping young people into university. Its campus and school-based activities, online and print resources, aim to broaden aspirations, and excite an interest in careers. They help pupils discover what they could be, and the role higher education might play in their future.
To date the programme has involved all 12 Aimhigher partners, and has engaged over 3,500 pupils at 50 of the region’s primary schools.
Seeing is believing
These events for Year 6 students include an award winning interactive theatre-in-education (TIE) piece devised and performed by current University of Worcester Drama students, allowing pupils to direct the action using hand-held voting technology.
Touring partner universities and schools, the performance is augmented with hands-on workshops, tasters and campus tours.
‘The children thoroughly enjoyed their experience and said that they would consider university after seeing the campus. It opened their mind to the decisions they will have to make at secondary school.’
– Year 6 teacher, Greysbrooke Primary School.
Partners: Aston University, Staffordshire University, University of Birmingham, University of Worcester
These two arts-based projects engaged over 180 year-five and six pupils. They developed their cultural capital and ignited an interest in the creative industries.
A programme of in-school workshops, gallery and campus visits, culminated in exhibitions and the opportunity to gain an Arts Award.
‘The children gained so much in terms of team building skills and awareness of the opportunities that university can provide. They were absolutely buzzing.’ Year 6 teacher, Hobsmoor Primary School.
‘Please times 100,000 can we go there again? That was the best day of my life.’
– Zoia, Year 6 student, Hobsmoor Primary School.
Partners: Birmingham City University, Ikon Gallery and Pingo Arts
STEM subjects provide great opportunities for collaboration, and all 12 of our NNCO partner institutions contribute to the development of new provision in this area.
These include: a ‘World of STEM’ event for 650 primary and secondary students at Birmingham City University, a ‘Beat the Robots’ coding and robotics day for Year 6 pupils at Aston University, and University College Birmingham’s Health Eating and Food Safety days to develop independent living skills.
Pack your bags, find your way and reach your peak!
The development of this suite of online games was informed by Year 6 and 7 teachers, who identified the main concerns pupils experience immediately before and after transition to secondary school.
The games introduce the challenges of getting ready for the subject-based secondary curriculum, navigating a large school and making the most of extra-curricular opportunities. They are free to access and, since their launch in April 2016, have been played by over 1,000 young people as a follow-up activity to their Move on Up experience.
Wrap-around information resources for young people involved in Move on Up activities have also been produced.
These introduce higher education via the fictitious ‘University of Anytown’ and a family of cartoon graduate career avatars.
Partners: University of Birmingham, Aston University and Birmingham City University