Topic briefing: White British students from low socio-economic status groups
Case study: University of Sheffield
The University has quantified their activity with White British students from disadvantaged groups by measuring ethnicity, gender, and whether participants meet one or more socio-economic status measure of disadvantage (POLAR3 quintile 1, areas of deprivation measured by the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and eligibility for free school meals). They have therefore been able to evaluate the number of participants on their existing programmes. In addition they have considered the demographics of the local area to assess whether their outreach activities and student body reflect the community. They are currently developing a new programme aimed at year 7 and 8 pupils to ensure their outreach activity provides sustained interventions throughout secondary education at all key decision points. This new programme will be based on shared parent and child learning experiences, as the University believes parents are a key influence at this stage. The programme will include visits to the University and is targeted at whole school cohorts in areas of deprivation. This is because they take a funnel approach to outreach, with broader, less selective outreach for younger students, and more targeted, recruitment focused outreach for older students. They can therefore address barriers relevant for the student at each stage of education.
For further information, contact James Busson, Head of Outreach and Widening Participation on firstname.lastname@example.org
Case study: Leeds Beckett University
Leeds Beckett University are expanding their Young Professionals programme to target more White British males from low socio-economic status backgrounds due to its success with other under-represented groups. The programme aims to demonstrate the link between university degree courses and professional careers within Education, Business, IT and Health. They take a whole lifecycle approach and therefore the programme involves subject taster days, in-school revision workshops, a residential, and information sessions for parents and teachers.
The University has defined this group using POLAR3 data and eligibility for pupil premium. Through this approach they have identified how many students currently participate in this programme and have set targets accordingly. To promote the programme to this target group they have approached schools with a high proportion of White British males from low socio-economic status groups.
Using expertise from their own institution, they are adapting the programme to meet the needs of White British males from low socio-economic status backgrounds. For example, they have extended the programme to include Boys into Leadership and Boys into Health and Education events. In addition they have recruited more male student ambassadors to act as role models, and evaluated taster sessions to find that the music technology and games design sessions were the most popular and engaging for this group of students.
For further information, contact Inderjeet Hunjan, Head of Access & Widening Participation on I.Hunjan@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
This briefing gives an overview of the current information available to help inform access agreements and the development of activities to support White British students from low socio-economic status groups. Some reports and media coverage have referred to this group as ‘White working class children’ or ‘White working class boys’. However, the evidence which identifies the disadvantage faced by this group is primarily based on socio-economic status measures (such as education, income and occupation), as distinct from social class, which relates to personal perception and is more subjective. Therefore, to promote evidence-based practice, this topic briefing focuses on socio-economic status in defining this group. We recognise that, due to difficulties with defining this group, there are ongoing challenges with ensuring all students who may be disadvantaged are supported.
The focus of this briefing is on access to higher education due to the lack of nationwide data on student success and progression based on ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status combined. However, research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) shows that disadvantage tends to follow students throughout higher education, and therefore institutions should analyse their own data to assess how best to support access, student success, and progression for this group.
We hope this briefing will stimulate thinking and discussion about how White British students from low socio-economic status groups can be supported more effectively by universities and colleges, using evidence-led, focused approaches.
How to define this group:
- Defining individuals using multiple measures of disadvantage
- Targeting a school or college by area of deprivation
How could institutions address this issue?
The issue of low attainment among White British children in receipt of free school meals was identified in Ofsted’s report Unseen Children (2013). Since then the issue has also been identified in higher education by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) report Socio-economic, ethnic and gender differences in higher education participation (2015) and the UCAS End of Cycle Report (2015), which both concluded that White British males from low socio-economic status groups are less likely to progress to higher education than any other ethnic group from any socio-economic status quintile (figure 1).
Following this, the Government’s White Paper Success as a knowledge economy: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice (2016) stated that White males from disadvantaged groups are a key target group for fair access to higher education. The ministerial letter of guidance to the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education in February 2016 asked institutions to “improve participation amongst young White males from lower socio-economic groups”. In addition, in her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May commented that “if you’re a White, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university”, highlighting this as a key injustice she would like to see addressed.
At present, there is very little information reported in access agreements due to the recent emergence of this as a specific target group. In response to the Government’s emphasis on addressing the inequalities faced by this group, OFFA has placed greater prominence on this topic in our Strategic guidance: developing your 2018-19 access agreement (OFFA publication 2017/01). OFFA is also collaborating with other organisations to produce further research about this issue.
White British males from low socio-economic status groups have the lowest progression rates to higher education
According to research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2015) White British males from low socio-economic status groups have lower higher education participation rates than any other socio-economic status/gender/ethnic group (figure 1). The UCAS multiple equality measure (MEM) also demonstrates that the group of young people least likely to enter higher education are predominately male, White, educated at schools in the state sector, from low income families and living in neighbourhoods with lower higher education entry rates. In addition, the gap between the lowest and highest socio-economic status groups of White British males is greater than for any other group; over five times more White British males from the highest socio-economic status quintile participated in higher education (50 per cent) than from the lowest quintile (10 per cent). By comparison, ‘Other White’ males from low socio-economic status backgrounds are more likely to progress to higher education than White British, Black Caribbean, and Mixed ethnic groups (figure 1).
Figure 1: Higher education participation at age 18 or 19 by ethnic and socio-economic quintile group for the cohort taking their GCSEs in 2008, males only
Data source: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Socio-economic, ethnic and gender differences in HE participation (2015).
The UCAS End of Cycle report (2015) identified that 5.6 per cent of White British males and 8.3 per cent of White British females from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods (POLAR3 quintile 1) in receipt of free school meals progressed to higher education between 2011 and 2015 (figure 2). This is lower than for any other ethnic group.
Figure 2: Entry rates for English 18 year old state school pupils receiving free school meals at age 15 by ethnic group, sex and POLAR3 quintile (quintile 1 and quintile 5 who were at a state school between 2011-2015)
Data source: UCAS End of Cycle Report (2015).
It is the combination of factors which makes this group the most disadvantaged
The Sutton Trust’s report Background to success: differences in A-level entries by ethnicity, neighbourhood and gender (2015) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2015) identify that the disadvantage faced by this group can be explained by a combination of three different factors:
- socio-economic status (greatest factor in explaining the differences)
- gender (explains small differences)
- ethnicity (explains differences at high tariff institutions).
White British females from the most disadvantaged groups also have low progression rates
White British females eligible for free school meals are the second least likely group to progress to higher education (figure 2). The UCAS End of cycle report (2015) highlights that, although as a whole females are more likely to participate in higher education than males, when combining multiple measures of disadvantage such as gender and socio-economic status, this is not necessarily the case. For example, females from the most disadvantaged areas are less likely to participate in higher education than males from the most advantaged areas. In addition, White British females from low socio-economic status groups (as measured by a combination of deprivation measures) are only slightly more likely to participate in higher education than White British males from the same group. For this reason, the Department for Education, Sutton Trust, and Social Mobility Advisory Group have stated that interventions should ideally consider both males and females in this group.
Low prior attainment is a key barrier for this group
White British males in receipt of free school meals have been either the lowest or second lowest attaining ethnic group for the past decade, with only a quarter of boys and a third of girls achieving five A* to C grades in their GCSE’s according to the Sutton Trust’s report Class Differences (2016). The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Sutton Trust all identify that GCSE attainment is a key factor in determining the low progression to higher education for this group.
White British students are less likely to make choices which traditionally lead to academic study
White British students are less likely to make choices which enable progression to higher education. The Social Mobility Commission’s report Social and ethnic inequalities in choice available and choices made at age 16 (2016) highlights that White British students are less likely to progress to sixth form study, and are more likely to drop out of education at age 16 than any minority ethnic group.
The Southern Universities Network report White Working Class Males in British Higher Education: Pre and post-entry perspectives (2017) states that “Alternatives to HE, including progression to apprenticeships, were frequently viewed as a ‘better’ option” and that learners at further education colleges were less likely to receive information about higher education.
Family expectations and identity are also barriers to progression
The LKMco report (2016) identified through a round table discussion that, for ‘White working class boys’, higher education may be seen as a poor form of investment. This is because they have less exposure to informal role models in their community who can communicate the benefits and ‘lived experience’ of higher education. Therefore, they may opt for alternative career and education paths which carry less financial risk. The report states that many students perceive the ‘high status’ of some institutions as the greatest form of investment, but others believe it is not compatible with their working class identity. The LKMco report also highlights that although families of ‘White working class boys’ may aspire for them to go to higher education, they are less likely to expect that this will be achievable.
This is not just an issue of raising aspiration
The Southern Universities Network report (2017) highlights that, contrary to popular discourse, ‘White working class males’ may have greater aspirations than their peers. The report concludes that the issues for this group are related to the inaccessibility of the education system and the perception of risk, with higher education often viewed as an inaccessible, stressful and irrelevant option. The report also highlights that there are variable levels of support available to help these students make informed choices at key decision points.
The disadvantage faced by White British students from low socio-economic status groups becomes apparent when data is analysed by more than one demographic factor. The key factors for this issue include ethnicity, socio-economic status, and gender, with socio-economic status identified as the greatest contributing factor. Although gender is a compounding issue, due to the variation in participation between advantaged and disadvantaged White students, if you look at gender and/or ethnicity alone then the disadvantage faced by this group will not be apparent. Therefore, we recommend that you base evaluation on:
- socio-economic status and ethnicity or
- socio-economic status, ethnicity, and gender.
We would encourage institutions to use at least one or more socio-economic status measures to identify the relevant target group under this category. An example of an acceptable definition for this group would be students who are either in an area of deprivation (using POLAR3 quintile 1 and 2 or Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) for example) or have a low household income (free school meals or pupil premium status) and are White British.
For example, the University of Sheffield is defining this group by ethnicity, gender, and meeting one or more socio-economic status measure of disadvantage (POLAR3 quintile 1, areas of deprivation measured by IMD and eligibility for free school meals). The University is continuing to monitor this definition to ensure it encompasses all disadvantaged students.
OFFA understands that, although progression to higher education is an issue for this specific group, targeting interventions based on individual characteristics may not be desirable. Therefore, institutions may wish to target areas of deprivation with a high proportion of White British students, such as a whole school in an area of deprivation. The Sutton Trust report (2015) found that disadvantaged White British males who live in affluent areas were more likely to progress to post 16 study than those from disadvantaged areas. The UCAS End of Cycle Report (2015) (figure 2) also highlights that White British males in receipt of free school meals from POLAR3 quintile 5 are more likely to go to university than those from quintile 1. However, focusing on such a narrow deprivation measure could miss some disadvantaged individuals living in areas classified as affluent by the POLAR3 measure.
How could institutions address this issue?
Evaluate how many White British students from low socio-economic status groups participate in existing initiatives
Your institution may already be working with White British students from low socio-economic status groups. Therefore, you may wish to consider evaluating existing provision to inform whether you create a new initiative or develop an existing programme. For example, using a definition of White British students from either POLAR3 quintile 1 and 2, or eligibility for free school meals, the University of Bristol has analysed application and admissions data, participation in existing outreach programmes, and the local area. This will form the foundation of evidence-based practice for future activities.
Collaboration between organisations
The Social Mobility Advisory Group’s report Working in partnership: enabling social mobility in higher education (2016) and institutions which contributed to the NEON report About a boy: the challenges in widening access to higher education for white males from disadvantaged backgrounds (2016) highlighted that this issue can only be addressed in collaboration with other higher education institutions and organisations in the education and community sectors. As this is an emerging area of interest, there is an opportunity for institutions and organisations to work collaboratively to address the issue, for example through the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). OFFA’s access agreement guidance has highlighted the benefits to institutions of working collaboratively for some years.
Intake or outreach targets
The Sutton Trust (2015), Ofsted (2013), Social Mobility Commission (2016), and LKMco (2016) reports highlight that only a small percentage of White British students progress to post 16 study due to academic attainment at GCSE level, academic choices, and identity issues. This suggests that early intervention is necessary to support progression to higher education. Therefore, it is important to assess which age group(s) you intend to target, and how you will measure impact. We would encourage institutions with a low proportion of White British students from low socio-economic status groups to focus on increasing the engagement at outreach level and introducing new targets here, particularly where it is too early to set an achievable intake target.
- Analyse your project(s) to identify how many of this group of students you currently work with, using the information provided in this topic briefing on how to define this group. Assess this in relation to your local area and your institution’s aims to decide whether this is a group you should target.
- Consider whether you are providing outreach interventions at key decision points, and throughout the admission process. GCSE attainment has been highlighted as a key barrier for this group of students. Early intervention is advisable, as differences in attainment can be observed from five years old (LKMco report, 2016). In addition, from your analysis of the local area, consider where to reach this group of students. For example, you may wish to target vocational course providers or local services, such as youth groups, who have contact with these students.
- Consider how you can involve parents and the community in your outreach work. Could you run a parents’ evening or graduation as part of your project? If you are involved with a National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), could you involve parents and the community and promote lifelong learning alongside the programme? You may wish to provide these influencers with information about higher education, both to make them aware that university is a realistic possibility for the young people in their community, and so they can help their young people make informed choices. This could also provide opportunities to promote mature student study.
- Understand how White British students in your area identify within the education system by conducting focus groups or questionnaires for example. This can be used to inform how you make your institution and outreach interventions more inclusive and tailored. AccessHE’s report The more colours you add, the nicer the picture: unlocking artistic potential in London (2016) states that “Of every five [White] men from the lowest participation neighbourhoods in London that went into higher education, one did a creative arts and design subject. This finding reiterates that males from these groups are not solely interested in sports-related courses.”
There are several reports highlighted in this topic briefing which discuss the access and achievement of White British students from low socio-economic status backgrounds. Four significant pieces of further reading are listed below.
- The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills report Socio-economic, ethnic and gender differences in higher education participation (2015) is a large scale statistical analysis of socio-economic status, ethnicity and gender which seeks to understand how these demographic factors drive participation in higher education.
- The Department for Education report Underachievement in education by white working class children (2014) provides details of the Government’s approach to this issue in primary and secondary education.
- The LKMco report White working class boys and higher education: widening participation (2016), commissioned by Kings College London, provides a useful literature review, a discussion of key issues and barriers in this area, and further details about best practice in widening participation.
- The Southern Universities Network report White Working Class Males in British Higher Education: Pre and post-entry perspectives (2017) highlights the barriers faced by this group and provides helpful recommendations. It is also a useful example of an analysis of this issue in the context of the local area by a group of institutions.
- What are the demographics in your region and in your institution? Is this group under-represented at your institution? Are you representing your community both in the diversity of your institution and in your outreach provision?
- Are you going to target initiatives at all White British students from low socio-economic status groups, or males only? If you are reallocating resource towards White British males from low socio-economic status groups, how can you ensure White British females from low socio-economic status groups and BME groups are also supported? How do your efforts to support this group of students fit in to your wider strategy for increasing access and widening participation?
- How are you going to define White British students from low socio-economic status groups? OFFA suggests that best practice is using ethnicity, gender, and multiple socio-economic status measures where students meet one or more criteria.
- If using POLAR3 data, which quintiles are you going to target and why? Figure 1 identifies that students from quintiles 1 and 2 are both less likely to progress to higher education than any other ethnic groups.
- Could you use multiple proxies for socio-economic status, accounting for income, family and areas of deprivation, so that the majority of disadvantaged White British students are included?
- How are you going to quantify White British males/students from low socio-economic status groups who already participate in your programmes? How could you tailor these programmes to address specific barriers for White British students from low socio-economic status groups?
- In terms of this target group, which aspects of the student lifecycle are priorities for your institution?
- If you are focusing on access and defining your success by intake, how are you ensuring that you are addressing issues of attainment and identity prior to GCSEs?
- What are you doing beyond your work on access to ensure student success and progression for this group of students?
- How are you going to target initiatives towards White British males from low socio-economic status groups? Are you going to work with individuals who fit a set of criteria, or a whole school/area of deprivation?