Reach for the stars

King’s Col­lege Lon­don is mak­ing it a top pri­or­ity to en­sure that dis­ad­van­taged but tal­ented young peo­ple don’t miss out on a place at univer­sity, writes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - KING'S COLLEGE LONDON - So­phie Hea­wood

Sit­ting in an of­fice high above the River Thames, in the ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ing known fondly as the Krem­lin of King’s Col­lege Lon­don, there is one thing that Anne-Marie Can­ning, di­rec­tor of widen­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion for the univer­sity, wants to make crys­tal clear: “There is no as­pi­ra­tion gap.”

She ex­plains:“For years, the re­ceived wis­dom was that dis­ad­van­taged young peo­ple were lack­ing as­pi­ra­tion, but ev­ery­thing we do here is re­search based, and what we’ve learned is that most peo­ple want to go to univer­sity. The re­al­ity is, it’s rare that you meet a child who doesn’t want to do some­thing ab­so­lutely phe­nom­e­nal – what they don’t have is the road map and sup­port net­work to get there.”

That is why King’s, aware of its

“It’s rare to meet a child who doesn’t want to do some­thing phe­nom­e­nal – what they don’t have is the road map and sup­port net­work to get there”

pres­ti­gious po­si­tion in the Rus­sell Group but also its phys­i­cal po­si­tion in the heart of the cap­i­tal, is de­ter­mined to pro­vide more than a broad­ened ad­mis­sions pol­icy. In­stead, its widen­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion depart­ment sup­ports a range of chil­dren from pri­mary school right through higher ed­u­ca­tion and on to the labour mar­ket. It re­quires a di­verse team build­ing solid re­la­tion­ships in ev­ery community

“It is not enough to get more un­der­rep­re­sented kids through the door. You have to sup­port them through the en­tire ed­u­ca­tion jour­ney”

in Lon­don, and a real com­mit­ment to pre- and post-16 out­reach.

Can­ning says it is not enough to get more un­der-rep­re­sented kids through the door: you have to sup­port them the en­tire way through the ed­u­ca­tion jour­ney, which the univer­sity does via its K+ scheme.“It’s all about who you re­cruit to work on the is­sue,” she says. The best re­cruiters, she be­lieves, are peo­ple from the same back­ground as those you want to en­gage.“So, for black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic chil­dren, we’ve done quite a job of bring­ing peo­ple through third-sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“If, say, I needed more Latin Amer­i­can kids, I would go to Lon­don Cit­i­zens (an al­liance of 200 schools, uni­ver­si­ties, faith and community groups), who worked on the Lon­don Liv­ing Wage cam­paign: they know those com­mu­ni­ties,” she ex­plains.

“The prob­lem is get­ting uni­ver­si­ties to move out­side their com­fort zones, and for many of them, work­ing with these char­i­ties is a no-no.”

The team at King’s has also worked ex­ten­sively with refugee and asy­lum-seek­ing stu­dents, “par­tic­u­larly forced mi­grants, a for­got­ten group who just have the wrong pa­per­work and can’t ac­cess the loan sys­tem”, says Can­ning.

“We are build­ing a cul­ture of trust so we can talk to them and first ask,‘OK, what is your res­i­dency ?’” There are var­i­ous schemes on the go: sum­mer schools, fam­ily days, the King’s Schol­ars school out­reach scheme, Sanc­tu­ary Schol­ar­ships for refugees or forced mi­grants, as well as K+, which is soon to en­ter its sev­enth year.“We also just think cre­atively,” says Can­ning.

If there is no rel­e­vant re­search, the team com­mis­sions aca­demics at King’s to pro­vide some – for ex­am­ple, on white work­ing-class boys.“Theresa May is ab­so­lutely cor­rect in that as­ser­tion – they re­ally are the group least likely to go to univer­sity,” says Can­ning.

“So the gov­ern­ment is on the money with set­ting that as a pri­or­ity, but it is not so good at un­der­stand­ing how you make progress with them. Last year, we pub­lished a re­port with rec­om­men­da­tions on how we would start to in­ter­act with that group. And this year, we’re do­ing Gypsy, Roma and Trav­eller stu­dents.”

One white boy re­cruited via the widen­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion scheme, from the Lon­don bor­ough of Bark­ing and Da­gen­ham, is now a stu­dent on the med­i­cal de­gree pro­gramme.“I’m so proud when I think about him be­cause, by all the data, he shouldn’t be at univer­sity but he’s on a six-year pro­gramme and he’s the high­est-per­form­ing kid in the en­tire med­i­cal school.

“It’s so amaz­ing for our in­sti­tu­tion that the most tal­ented doc­tor is from Bark­ing and Da­gen­ham. And I’ve got to praise his mum – she’s not been to univer­sity her­self and she wanted to sup­port him but she didn’t know how, so our job was to help her.”

Can­ning says the best bit is that this stu­dent isn’t a one-off.“We’ve al­ready got 12 more boys like him in Year 12 now,” she adds, beam­ing. “We want King’s to be the top Rus­sell Group univer­sity for so­cial mo­bil­ity.”

So, how did she get into this work? “I was a widen­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion kid my­self,” she says. She grew

up in Don­caster with a labourer fa­ther and dis­abled mother, at­tend­ing a com­pre­hen­sive that was in spe­cial mea­sures, where prac­ti­cally no­body went to univer­sity.

A teacher en­cour­aged her to ap­ply to a Sut­ton Trust sum­mer school at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford. “I’d like to say I had a won­der­ful happy time that en­cour­aged me to ap­ply to Rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties,” she says. “But it was one of the most dis­tress­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of my life. I could sense I was bot­tom of the pile.

“Other kids would say‘ We’ve all worked equally hard for our A grades! Who­ever gets in, it’s fine!’ And I’d think, ‘You’ve got a lap­top and I’m self-teach­ing two A lev­els, my friend!’ But it made me re­alise what I was up against. So I did English at York, which was a re­ally mag­i­cal place, but I still got called a chav in my first week. I knew I had to change things for other stu­dents like me.”

Con­sid­er­ing the op­tions King’s Col­lege Lon­don of­fers sup­port and guid­ance to sixth-for­m­ers won­der­ing if univer­sity is for them

Reach­ing out white work­ing-class boys are among the groups least likely to go on to higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Young minds sum­mer schools of­fer a taste of univer­sity life

Aim­ing higher pupils from eth­nic mi­nori­ties are en­cour­aged to ap­ply

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