In 2017 I wrote for UniTasterDays about the launch of the (then) government’s latest effort to “improve social mobility” via the creation of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). The aim was simple: double the amount of the most economically disadvantaged young people entering Higher Education by 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago now, given the political changes through two general elections, and a global pandemic.
I’d like to think, though, that all avid readers of this blog, who had not heard of NCOP in 2017, now have heard of us (or ‘Uni Connect’, as we have recently been re-branded). I’d also like to think that, like many teaching colleagues across our region, the first thoughts you may have are ones of good, solid, reliable provision; creating straight forward pathways for our working class students as they navigate ‘what next?’
The 29 Office for Students funded English
partnerships, made up of your local universities
and colleges, have certainly made excellent
progress. Well over 600,000 13-19 year olds have engaged
with the programme since I penned my 2017
piece. Over half a million of those young people
are entered onto tracking systems so we can
monitor what they have engaged with and see
what their ultimate educational destination
is. Many are choosing higher education.
Something, UCAS statistics suggest, would not
have been their route without the Uni Connect
interventions. In fact, at Keele University, our local
lead institution, the proportion of students from
postcode areas with the lowest rates of young
people going on to university have risen from
12% in 2014 to 20.1% in 2019. We are on the right
track, for sure.
Uni Connect teams, along with teaching and school staff are now - through deep evaluation and monitoring - starting to get a real grasp on ‘what works’. The days of one-off careers and higher education fairs are behind us. We now know that sustained and multiple touch point interventions over the years - relationship building and barrier breaking - will see more of our young people going into university or wider higher education. The evidence is there to see.
Like all educationalists, we were, and are, worried about the impact of COVID-19 on our hardest to reach communities and young people. From August 2019 until the first signs of COVID-19 and with pending school closures, Uni Connect had worked with 1,722 schools and colleges across England. When COVID-19 really hit us, activities, summer schools, video sessions (and even tik toks!) were moved online, with print-out packs left at schools and materials dropped at food-banks for those with little access to ICT at home. We were part of the national effort, standing with teachers to keep our young people engaged with education.
As things return to some form of a new normal, we again turned attention to securing more funding to continue to support schools, colleges and communities who will need it most in the post COVID-19 world.
Although the programme has seen a national 33% funding cut for next academic year, the 29 partnership have been left with enough manoeuvrability to at least stick together and function. As we turn our attention to supporting our fantastic young - and now adult - learners through a changeable educational and vocational climate we must keep lobbying for more government support to ensure the levelling up agenda is more than a soundbite.
Would you like to find out more about Uni Connect,
and what the programme can offer your school or
Please visit https://www.ofsuniconnect.org - where you can quickly find your local Uni Connect partnership as well.
Find out more about the Uni Guide programme in Episode 10 of the UniTasterDays Uni Guide Podcast. Featuring Ant's colleague, Dr Hannah Merry from Higher Horizons in the expert seat.
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