Outreach coverage data for England

It's not complete data, but we now have a sense of which schools are likely to be working with HE providers and which are not.

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

The Office for Students has been working with three tracking providers (HEAT, Aimhigher West Midlands, EMWPREP) to bring together information on what outreach data has been going on in England since 2017.

Despite being full of that absolutely rotten cold that is going round – I had a look at the dashboards that the project made available and wondered if I could build something a bit easier to work with. Knowing which schools are well served for outreach activity from higher education and which are not

This is what I built:

[Full screen]

The top graph shows the proportion of students in a “secondary-ish” school (anywhere where students leave after the age of 14) eligible for free school meals, against the number of “outreach activities” a school has had from HE between 2017-18 and 2019-20. The bottom one plots the POLAR4 participation rate for the MSOA the school is in. You can select a local authority in England and then click on an individual dot to see roughly (an approximation via postcode sector as the national schools database uses eastings and northings for some reason!) where that school is. The colours show POLAR4 quintiles.

You’d perhaps expect that schools in POLAR4 quintile to enjoy more outreach activity, or schools with a high proportion of pupils on free school meals. This does not appear to be the case. As an aside, POLAR4 participation by the area a school is in doesn’t have a relationship with free school meal eligibility – almost as if POLAR4 wasn’t a measure of deprivation.

Of course outreach activities are not just about widening access – many providers have built up relationships with particular schools over a number of years (indeed, driving up participation in the local area). This kind of demonstrates why a national approach to outreach might be more effective than just letting providers do their own thing.

And one other thought – the data doesn’t appear to show any outreach activity in special schools or PRUs, which could be a data artefact but also feels a little bit discriminatory. There’s some bright kids in those schools that would benefit from higher education – why not talk to them?

2 responses to “Outreach coverage data for England

  1. It’s almost like HEIs concentrate their “outreach” in schools with better rates of progression because they are likely to get better recruitment outcomes from it. Weird.

    You point out that a national approach to outreach might be more effective. I note you’ve excluded counts of Uni Connect activities (a national outreach programme aimed at low participation areas) which are included in the dataset and demonstrate that these schools are receiving a lot of outreach – it’s just not from HEIs.

  2. Fantastic resource, thank you. Intuitively the data feels right in the schools I am familiar with (Uni Connect programme). However, I wondered if the count of activities has been adjusted for the presence of a sixth form or not. Two of the schools we work with have a much lower profile than I expected but both are yr 7 – 11.

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