Press release

Working with primary schools is key to getting disadvantaged young people into university

Universities need to reach out to primary schools to increase the number from disadvantaged backgrounds benefitting from higher education.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Universities need to reach out to children in primary schools if they want to increase the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds benefitting from higher education, according to an interim report on promoting fair access published today.

The report found that outreach needs to begin earlier – at primary school age - and should then continue throughout school and college in order to gain the maximum impact.

Many universities already work with primary schools, for example running taster days, campus tours and mock lessons, but more needs to be done to replicate this throughout the country and improve the way universities work together.

The report was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). BIS has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) to produce a ‘National Strategy for Access and Student Success’, which maximises the impact of all the spending by government, HEFCE and institutions.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

Access to higher education shouldn’t depend on your background. It should reflect your potential. Universities plan to spend over £670 million through their access agreements to attract people from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2016/17. I want to ensure it is well spent.

This report suggests ways to get a better mix of people applying for university and how to help them to stay the course.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

Institutions are investing a huge amount of money widening access so it’s important that we really understand exactly what works.

This interim report is an important first step in the development of the national strategy. We look forward to the final report and the delivery of the strategy which will help government, HEFCE and institutions to better target funding.

HEFCE Chief Executive Alan Langlands said:

This report is the first step in the development of the national strategy for access and student success. This work has provided us with a welcome opportunity to demonstrate the effect of concentrated effort and investment in widening participation and how we might focus resources in the future.

We look forward to continuing to work with OFFA and the higher education sector to inject pace and rigour into our work on widening participation and improving social mobility.

Director of Fair Access to Higher Education Les Ebdon said:

In the development of this national strategy, we’re building on more than a decade of effort which has already substantially increased the numbers of people from disadvantaged backgrounds who go to university. However, there’s still a large gap between the participation in higher education of the most and the least advantaged in our society and we need to shrink this gap further.

Over the next few months we’ll be calling for evidence from across the sector and also examining the findings of new research that both HEFCE and ourselves have commissioned to inform the development of the national strategy. Our hope is that we will then be in a position to recommend where we should all be focusing our efforts to maximise the impact of investment in widening participation.

The initial research undertaken by HEFCE and OFFA also confirms much of the current understanding about the effects of university outreach work:

  • outreach is one of the most effective ways to promote progression
  • targeted outreach, delivered as part of a sustained, long-term programme, is more effective than one-off activities.

OFFA and HEFCE will submit their final report to ministers in the autumn.

Notes to editors:

1.The full interim report can be found at,78843,en.html.

2.Examples of university outreach work with primary schools:

On March 6th the Royal Veterinary College hosted a group of 30 Year 5 students from St Andrew’s Primary School, Islington, at their Camden Campus. They completed a quiz about bones in the Anatomy Museum (using a set of 15 real bones) and then examined a live cow, pony and dog with stethoscopes.

The University of York’s Green Apples Project is working with ten primary schools in the York area, running workshops and visits for over 300 Year Six students.

The University of Warwick runs a ‘Primary Taster’ event for local Year Six pupils. This year’s event will include chemistry and psychology taster sessions and a campus treasure hunt.

Manchester University runs regular Primary Higher Education Awareness Days on campus for schools in disadvantaged areas of Greater Manchester. Activities include a ‘Meet the Students’ speed-dating style activity, a learning exercise and a campus activity tour.

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) organises a languages and culture festival for primary school children in conjunction with undergraduate students. Additionally, on 15th March 60 students from Wendell Park Primary School are coming to SOAS to take part in language tasters and HE-related workshops. Led by student ambassadors, they include workshops such as “What is a typical student?” and a HE Quiz.

City University runs Gifted and Talented Law days for local Year 6 pupils. The days include ‘mock courtroom’ sessions.

3.To make sure that everything possible is being done to widen participation and promote fair access BIS Ministers wrote to HEFCE and OFFA (May 2012), asking them to develop a shared strategy for promoting access to HE which maximises the impact of all the spending by government, HEFCE and institutions.

Our expectation is that the strategy will consider how the impact of investment might be better targeted across the whole sector and the whole range of potential activity which supports widening participation, taking into account the latest available evidence here and abroad. This current report contains the interim findings; the full strategy is due to be delivered to government in the autumn.

4.The government has established a new widening participation framework, with increased responsibility on institutions to widen participation. Higher education institutions (HEIs) will deliver a range of outreach activities as part of their access agreements, agreed with OFFA, and their widening participation strategic assessments, agreed with the HEFCE.

The investment being made by HEIs through their access agreements is planned to exceed £600m in the coming year (13-14). They are responsible for investing in access activities which will have the greatest impact and OFFA will have a much greater focus on the outcomes of that investment, not just the inputs.

5.The government’s economic policy objective is to achieve ‘strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries’. It set four ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’ (PDF 1.7MB), published at Budget 2011:

  • to create the most competitive tax system in the G20
  • to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
  • to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
  • to create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe.

Work is underway across government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the government wants the economy to travel.

Published 7 March 2013