Despite the overall improvement in the number of students from less advantaged backgrounds applying to university over the last few decades, rates of admission for poorer students at the country’s most selective universities remain stubbornly low at 3.3% compared to 20.7% for the most advantaged*¹.
It has been estimated that the gap in educational attainment between rich and poor costs the UK as much as £1.3 trillion a year*² and the current social mobility impasse is a key issue for the Government. The systemic underperformance of our most talented young people is not only a detriment to them, but effects the communities they live in, inhibiting national prosperity.
In February 2016, Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education visited Villiers Park to find out why the Scholars Programme is so successful and to meet Year 13 Swindon Scholars completing their four-year pathway.
Mrs Morgan commented: “I was really impressed to read the results that Villiers Park were achieving with children who were very able but often from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“You see how their aspirations have been raised and they are all now thinking about university and some of them about apprenticeships. I think a model like Villiers Park clearly is successful and they’re clearly working across the country so I think they’ve definitely got lessons that we can learn from and likewise share that expertise.”*³
The Government’s recent education white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ cites the work of Villiers Park stateing ‘Children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds can already achieve great results.
‘Villiers Park Educational Trust in Cambridgeshire, for example, runs a four-year Scholars Programme for able students from disadvantaged backgrounds, with residential courses and personalised mentor support.
‘According to the Trust, in 2015, 49% of pupils taking part achieved A or A* grades at GCSE and 74% of A-level grades were A*-B. The equivalent national figures were 22% and 53% respectively. 79% of participants gained a place at university; 90% said the scheme had boosted their self-confidence and communications skills, and 87% said their enthusiasm for learning had increased’. The success of the Scholars Programme, as recognised by Nicky Morgan, is the reason young people in seven areas across the UK, including Swindon, are benefiting from it.’
The programme uses one-to-one sessions with Learning Mentors; undergraduate e-mentors; workshops, masterclasses and residential courses, the programme sets out to develop the personal and academic skills essential to enable students to fulfil their potential. The participating schools/colleges will benefit from access to the Villiers Park Advisory Service, allowing teachers to reflect on teaching and learning in the everyday classroom, and Villiers Park Plus which uses Scholars as drivers of improvement in their schools and colleges, helping to raise the aspirations and attainment of their peers.
The Villiers Park Scholars Programme is improving social mobility across the UK with programmes now working in seven areas with the support of five universities, one corporate and two charity partners: Swindon (University of Bath), Mid-Sussex (University of Sussex), Hastings and Bexhill (University of Cambridge), East Lancashire (Lancaster University and Wolfson Foundation), Tyneside STEM (Reece Foundation), Norfolk (University of East Anglia) and 2020 STEM, Bedford/Peterborough (ARM Holdings plc, The Smallpeice Trust and Arkwright Scholarships Trust). In addition we are working with 48 schools on the Scholars Programme and over 400 on the Inspiring Excellence Programme making the reach and impact of our work on social mobility nationwide.
*¹ UCAS, End of Cycle Report 2015
*² Brett Wigdortz, Teach First, quoted in the Telegraph ‘Educational Inequality’, September 2014
*³ Cambridge News ‘Education Secretary: UK can learn lessons from Cambridgeshire’s Villiers Park Educational Trust’, February 2016