University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Dr Hannah Merry

by Dr Hannah Merry

Head of Higher Horizons Operations

posted on 14 Nov '22

How universities can support school and college attainment raising activities

If you have been your school’s careers lead or outreach co-ordinator for a while, you will know that the government often change their mind about how they want universities to support schools.

The government’s latest priority for universities is to support attainment raising. This should, they say, boost equal access to university because we know the attainment of student groups underrepresented in higher education is often lower than their more advantaged peers. If pupils achieve better grades in their exams, it should widen their options for post-16 and post-18 study.

The first thing to say here is that universities are not the experts in how to support attainment raising in schools. And we know that. Teachers support young people to achieve their best every single day, and we are not going to claim we have all the answers. We also know that so many of the challenges young people face happen outside of school, and neither universities nor schools can solve these without the support of other agencies. But we do believe we can work in partnership with you to complement your school’s attainment raising strategies.

Image of a teacher working on initiatives to support students

So, what can we do to support attainment raising, and what do we do already?

University outreach teams already do a lot of different things that are designed to support attainment. Some of this activity might have an explicit focus on attainment like offering revision or study skills sessions, tutoring or academic mentoring from undergraduate students. This type of work is designed to boost skills used for learning (what you might hear referred to as metacognition) or improve confidence in academic skills (what we refer to as self-efficacy). You may have taken cohorts to university taster days - these are often subject- specific, with extra- or supra-curricular activities designed to enhance knowledge gained inside the classroom.

Universities also deliver other types of activities which might have the secondary effect of boosting attainment, by helping young people improve their motivation and give them a route to higher education. This work is just as important as work directly aiming to boost attainment - good exam grades might widen choice, but if students aren’t empowered to understand their options or understand how they can achieve their goals, they may not be able to make an informed choice about which university is right for them, or which type of qualifications they should take at sixth form or college to facilitate entry to the course or university they are aiming for.

You should expect to see the continuation of these types of information, advice, and guidance activities, along with campus visits which show young people the realities of university life so they can picture themselves there.

Supporting good attainment is only one part of working towards equal access to higher education. If we want to improve access to higher education, we not only need to give young people the tools (study skills, exam technique, motivation) to succeed, but also the knowledge to make informed choices. Universities should be aiming to do both - and you should not be afraid to remind them of that.

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