It’s time for real action on local outreach

Where a young person lives in England can have a significant impact on their chances of entering higher education (HE).

We know that HE participation of young people aged 18 and 19 has increased over the last decade, but levels vary significantly between local areas.

So, how is it possible to get to the heart of this issue at the local level and provide outreach that is genuinely defined by the specific barriers being faced by young people? One-size does not fit all.

Action stations

This week (4 – 8 June) 29 consortia funded by the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) will shine a spotlight on how their bespoke activities make an impact. Activities are happening across England, to highlight how networks of schools, colleges, universities, businesses, and charities – can come together at the local level to listen to, support, and inspire young learners, in ways that help them to consider higher education as an option.

For example, on Thursday 7 June, Year 10 students from NCOP target schools will be competing in the grand finale of the Speak Out Challenge. Aimhigher West Midlands have joined forces with The Speakers Trust and student mentors from local universities to help young learners hone their communication and presentation skills. The aim of this is to teach practical skills that prepare students for higher education but, crucially, also to build confidence and help young learners believe they can aspire to reach further than they’d previously imagined.

A popular initiative for many NCOP consortia is collaboration with current students or recent graduates to offer peer-to-peer support. On Friday 8 June, student mentors working with Aspire Higher in Bedford will be delivering a session to Year 9 students at Castle Newnham School in Bedford on health and nutrition – part of a wider wellbeing campaign – while also talking through their own student journey and discussing options for studying sports subjects.

In the South West, technology will give young learners – who may not easily be able to visit a higher education provider – an insight into life at a university. Next Steps South West will be launching their immersive campus tour that brings higher education experiences to life for target schools through 360 virtual reality headsets.

Families matter too

As well as working directly with students, NCOP consortia understand that many parents and carers of targeted learners may have never considered higher education themselves. So helping them understand what’s on offer can be incredibly important, too. The Greater Manchester Higher partnership are hosting a Uni:4U summer schools parents/carers evening this week to shift perceptions and demystify the higher education landscape in the local area.

This is just a flavour of the varied events that will be showcased through social media – follow #WeAreNCOP to keep up to date with what’s on.

While we know it’s too early to say with certainty how these activities have an impact on participation – many of the target students won’t be making their higher education choices for a few years to come – the early signs are very good. A recent OfS report on the first year of the programme shows that over 50,000 learners have been engaged with activities and events at over 1,200 schools and many colleges.

All these young people are targeted by the NCOP consortia activity because they live in areas where data shows that higher education participation is lower than might be expected given the local GCSE results. Where the biggest participation gap lies, there is the greatest potential for impact.

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