On the day: AccessHE’s ‘London Factor’ event and ‘POLAR Opposite’ report launch


On Monday 17 June 2019, AccessHE held its annual conference to launch the inaugural #LondonHEWeek. Held at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, The London Factor: The Future of Access and Participation in the Capital brought together 70 delegates from Higher Education (HE), schools, central and local government and the third sector to discuss how cross-sector collaboration can drive forward the social mobility agenda in London, widening access to HE and improving student outcomes.  

Click above to read AccessHE’s new research report, launched during #LondonHEWeek.

Following Dame Margaret Hodge MP’s opening keynote call to ‘think outside the box’, alluding to the need for widening participation practitioners to work resourcefully in times of increasingly restricted budget and resource, attendees heard from James Lee, Principal Policy Officer from the Greater London Authority (GLA). James outlined the Mayor’s vision for skills and employment in the capital, in view of the GLA’s release of this year’s London Education Report. Aligning with the HE regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), this approach increasingly focuses on evidencing ‘impact’ and progressing learners from low-skilled work and through pursuing qualifications at level 4 and above. Attendees also heard mare about the Mayor’s initiatives for a Careers for Londoners Action Plan, a newly-developed Skills and Employment Knowledge Hub and more.

Taking to the stage next was Heather Stannard, Vice-Principal at Bower Park Academy. Heather talked about the impact the AccessHE London NCOP (more below) has had on the Academy. We heard inspiring stories from the Bower Park Academy students themselves and how the outreach activities had improved their school grades and transformed aspirations for the future. It was valuable for all in the room to also hear the school’s perspective on what is wanted from HE outreach provision: knowing logistics and timings well in advance and offerings linked to soft skills, school curriculums, careers education and Gatsby benchmarks. 

Dr. Richard Boffey, Deputy Head of AccessHE, then introduced the AccessHE Outreach Hub. This forms part of phase two of the OfS-funded National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). Launching in August 2019, across nineteen London boroughs as part of a wider pan-London hub delivered by the London NCOP consortium, AccessHE’s Outreach Hub will help to build a sustainable outreach infrastructure for the capital. It will support collaborative and locally-tailored outreach provision across a strategic network of schools, HE outreach providers, third sector organisations and other partners, with soon-to-be-appointed AccessHE staff coordinating this activity. Dr. Boffey emphasised the breadth of opportunity for London stakeholders to get involved with the collaborative networks as phase two begins to take shape.

Attendees were then presented a showcase of innovative best outreach practice, led by AccessHE Members from the University of Law, University of West London and Middlesex University London. Member HEIs and external partners take part in the AccessHE Action Forums, thematic groups taking whole lifecycle approaches towards best practice, resource-sharing and outputs to support the Members and their underrepresented student groups.

Dr. Graeme Atherton, Head of AccessHE, then took the spotlight to launch a new AccessHE research report, POLAR Opposite: How the targeting of learners for widening access to HE work could be improved (PDF, 1MB). It explores the POLAR indicator as an ‘ecological fallacy’ and its weakness as a measure to identify ‘disadvantaged’ learners for widening access to HE work. The report, supported by surveys and case studies conducted with the AccessHE Membership, recommends a change in approach in defining and targeting ‘disadvantaged’ learner groups currently under-represented in HE. It calls for a new, individual income-based measure of socio-economic disadvantage through engagement with Year 7 and Year 8 learners and their parents to identify a ‘national widening access cohort’. The report is available to download above and is covered on WonkHE and in the Times Higher Education. 

Attendees were then presented a showcase of innovative best outreach practice, led by AccessHE Members from the University of Law, University of West London and Middlesex University London. Member HEIs and external partners take part in the AccessHE Action Forums, thematic groups taking whole lifecycle approaches towards best practice, resource-sharing and outputs to support our Members and their underrepresented student groups. 

Sir Vince Cable MP’s closing remarks re-emphasised the need for multi-sector collaboration between Government, labour market, early years education, FE, HE and stakeholders further afield to break down the barriers that continue to prevent the achievement of social mobility in education. This provided some final food for thought for attendees, who were left inspired by the call to work together towards achieving the lifelong learning mission and ensuring better outcomes for all. 

We would like to thank all attendees to the ‘The London Factor’ event and we hope you found the day insightful.  Presentation slides are available upon request – please e-mail richard.boffey@londonhigher.ac.uk or tanyel.kazim@londonhigher.ac.uk to receive them. Finally, we encourage all readers to engage with AccessHE by visiting our website and our Twitter page. If you have any questions about or would like to get involved with our work, please contact us.