High Attaining Pupils Programme:  University of Derby and The Bemrose School Derby

By Jo Astley, Widening Access Manager at the University of Derby

The findings of the Social Mobility Commission, in regard to Derby City, are stark. The report found that the local authority’s Key Stage Four (KS4) outcomes are amongst the worst in England and in regard to the Social Mobility Index (Social Mobility Commission 2017); which ranks all 324 local authorities in England; in terms of the social mobility prospects of its young people from a disadvantaged background, Derby City is ranked 316th.

In terms of the progression rates to higher education of the most socio-economically disadvantaged young people, you are still twice as likely to go to university if you are from a more advantaged neighbourhood.  When including additional signifiers such as gender and ethnicity, that number rises to up to 5 times more likely, and 15 times more likely for entry to more selective universities (Office for Students briefing 2019).  As recently as 1 May the Office for Students has called for higher education providers to be more considerate of context when considering applications (Office for Students briefing 2019).

It is against this backdrop that the University of Derby’s Widening Access team, works intensively with 19 partner schools across Derby City (and 14 in Derbyshire).  The team delivers outreach activity designed to raise awareness of opportunity and attainment levels, and provide the young people that engage in our programmes with the information they require in order to make well informed decisions regarding their futures.

We work closely with our partner schools to identify their widening participation (WP) students and those judged to be most in need of outreach interventions.  Delivering not just a general outreach offering, we also deliver activity designed for particular WP target groups.  

The Bemrose School in Derby is a school which offers primary to post-16 provision.  Its secondary provision is rated ‘Good’.  The school performs well despite a number of challenges. The pupil population in 2017/18 included 53% of pupils whose first language was not English (compared to a national average of 21.3%), 53.3% of pupils who were eligible for free school meals (FSM)[i]  (compared to a national average of 24.3%) and 24.6% of pupils who required special educational needs (SEN) support (compared to a national average of 12.2%).

The school has worked closely with the University over a number of years, including in 2016 co-designing a Year 10 (14-15 years old) white working class boys outreach programme, which is now in its third year of delivery to three schools.  Following on from that pilot the school is now collaborating with the University to deliver a longitudinal outreach project specifically designed for high attaining WP pupils.

The programme is an intensive, multi-interventional ‘drip feeding’, outreach programme engaging 15 students from Year 7 (aged 11-12 years) through to Year 11 (aged 15-16 years).  It will run from 2018/19 to 2023/24.  Regular awareness raising and attainment raising activity will be delivered, and through the programme participants will be exposed to the progression and careers opportunities that will be available to them in the future. Participants will also acquire knowledge, skills and cultural capital through their experiences which are expected to serve them throughout the whole of the student lifecycle and early careers.

The aim of the intervention is to inspire participants to maintain high levels of engagement with their learning and ‘aim high’. In addition it is intended that the programme will counter any negative attitudes towards education and ability that they may experience currently within their habitus.

Activity will take place 4 times a year and will be delivered by a range of University and school staff, employers and third party organisations.

Participatory methodologies derived from Participatory Action Research have been, and will continue to be, applied to the development of the programme’s content, the intention being to ensure that the participants’ voices are heard and that the programme is not ‘done to’ the participants but instead empowers them. But there are other stakeholder’s voices which must be heard in the programme’s development too. Due consideration must also be given to the aims of the school, given the investment of their time and the time of their pupils, which has been entrusted to the University to be made good use of. The University’s needs will also be a consideration.

Participants have been identified by the Year 7 Pupil Progress Lead (PPL) using a number of common WP signifiers including POLAR4 postcode data[ii], ethnicity[iii], eligibility to free school meals[iv], pupil premium[v] , the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD)[vi] and a supplementary index, the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI)[vii].  The group’s profile is demonstrated in the graphs below.

The Widening Access team’s existing logic model has been developed to ensure that short and long term, quantitative and qualitative, monitoring and evaluation is conducted across the full range of the team’s outreach provision.  A mixed methods approach to evaluation is central to that model and has been applied to the programme.

Evaluation tools utilised in regard to participants included pre and post knowledge and ‘distance travelled’ questionnaires, reflective diaries and regular focus groups to evaluate the programme at interim points and identify need in regard to content.  Semi-structured interviews and questionnaires employed to collect data in regard to tutor evaluation.

In February 2019 the Office for Students (OfS) issued guidance in regard to expected standards of evidence of impact, and justification for WP expenditure and activity (OfS 2019). The University’s commitments through our Access and Participation Plan, require us to invest outreach resource in activity that has strong evidence of impact through practice and research, and which is underpinned by a theory of change model.

In addition the OfS has provided a self- assessment tool to aid institutions in measuring and directing their practice (OfS 2019).  Included in that guidance are three types of evidence of impact; narrative, empirical research and causality.

It is the type three, causality, level of impact that will be the expected level of evidence outcome for this project. Given the small numbers of participants in comparison to cohort size, with the support of the school, a comparator group can be identified to measure outcomes without risk of encountering the ethical considerations which often challenge practitioners, or the difficulties of identifying a group which are not receiving similar interventions from other parties.

Due to the openness and willingness of The Bemrose school to be innovative in its approach to seeking new ways to support and inspire it’s students, and their willingness to commit to a longitudinal project, the University and the school have the opportunity to provide a significant experience for the programme’s participants.  One that can be intensively evaluated to inform the University’s and the sector’s future practice.

The programme has already delivered two on-campus ‘getting to know you’ sessions, and a third, an outdoor experience day, is planned for June. The consultation process in order to develop programme content is underway, and over the coming months, more activities, experiences and resources will be developed.

FACE readership will be updated via regular blogs regarding the challenges, successes and findings of the project as it develops.


Jo Astley Widening Access Manager

Widening Access team, Social Mobility Unit

University of Derby

Email: j.astley@derby.ac.uk

[i] Free school meal entitlement is a measure of socio-economic disadvantage commonly used by schools and higher education institutions to identify widening participation students. Entitlement to the benefit is based on low household income or receipt of a range of state benefits.

[ii] POLAR4 data (Participation of Local Areas Data) rates areas according to the likelihood of 18-19 year olds in those areas participating in higher education.  They are rated in quintiles; 1 being least likely to participate and 5 being most likely. Quintiles 1 and 2 signify WP status

[iii] Under-represented groups or sub-groups, include white males and females from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and young people from black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds.  Also students from traveller or Roma backgrounds.

[iv] Free school meal entitlement is a measure of socio-economic disadvantage commonly used by schools and higher education institutions to identify widening participation students. Entitlement to the benefit is based on low household income or receipt of a range of state benefits.

[v] The pupil premium is additional funding for publicly funded schools in England.  The additional funding is provided to help disadvantaged pupils of all abilities perform better, and close the gap between them and their peers.

[vi] Index of Multiple Deprivation indicates the relative deprivation of small areas using a number of indicators including education, health, income and employment. The lowest 40% are classed as WP areas.

[vii] The Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) is a measure of the proportion of children (aged 0 to 15) living in income deprived families

IACDI guidance


IMD guidance


OfS Briefing


OfS Regulatory Notice 1


OfS Using standards to evidence to evaluate impact of outreach


Participatory Methodologies


Polar data guidance


Social Mobility Commission (2017) ‘State of the Nation 2017’: Social Mobility in Great Britain’ on line https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/662744/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf  (accessed November 2018)

Social Mobility Commission (2017) ‘Social Mobility Index: 2017 data https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-mobility-index-2017-data (accessed November 2018)

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