Synopsis of EHE research for Centre for Social Mobility April 2024

Lou Graham, Luke Graham & Anna Mountford-Zimdars  

 

For further information contact Luke Graham  

 

Forthcoming research funded by the University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility small grants scheme shows relevant finding for Higher Education (HE) policy. The research explored the cultural and academic aspects of university student identity as a product of individual experiences of elective home education (EHE). 

 

A ‘spectrum of reasons’ are offered for choosing to home educate (Adamson, 2021; Morton, 2010) with the decision tending not to be based on one factor but a ‘push-and-pull’ of balancing a best fit for individual children within family considerations (Fensham-Smith, 2017). EHE students in the study also had a high prevalence of neurodiversity, common with other studies of pupils who have left the mainstream school system, though these tend to be under-diagnosed as EHE pupils do not have access to the same support (Fisher, 2023) 

 

While EHE students articulated evolved learning habits, such as the ability to work independently and creatively, the administrative and procedural aspects of accessing HE make it more difficult for EHE students to access higher education. It identified the limitations of university administrative, cultural, and academic structures to celebrate and utilise the potential of this group of highly self-aware and engaged students well-used to independent learning. These barriers include an inherent lack of visibility and perceived prejudice towards those following a non-traditional education pathway, or those with an alternative portfolio of academic experience.  

 

Recommendations are made to work towards equalising access to HE for EHE young people.  The overlapping recommendations from students who applied to university at different times over the past four years led to a clear set of suggestions for UCAS and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) which could reduce barriers to access and promote wellbeing for individual EHE students.  

 

The application pathway was made difficult for EHE students, in a number of ways. There is no recognition of EHE in the UCAS application form, and it is functionally difficult for EHE pupils to enter their details, for example they tend to sit exams as external candidates at schools they don’t attend, and it is not possible to add this to the application form. They felt that the application process did not give them an opportunity to explain their atypical qualification portfolio.  

 

HEIs do not have sufficient awareness or understanding of common and unique EHE student circumstances. EHE pupils have to bear the cost of their own exams (Wheeler, 2023) and so tend to sit fewer exams in series over several years. While some EHE pupils do return to post-16 main stream education, many do not. This makes the provision of predicted grades difficult, and many EHE students do not have access to the same applicant support as students in school, they do not receive feedback on their personal statement, and they do not have a teacher who can provide a traditional reference.  

 

Collectively, participants requested a ‘WISE’ culture: a welcoming, informed and supportive admissions process, with EHE visibility. HEIs could do more to provide access support for EHE students and welcome them on applicant facing websites. The welcoming of EHE applicants could be improved by including a statement of inclusion and to promote students sharing their EHE status and including peer stories of successful EHE students at university to provide motivation and inspiration. This would help to overcome the paucity of information for EHE students about the application process. We recommend that HEIs provide information aimed at EHE students that gives a contact to ask specific EHE applicant questions. This should include explicit information relating to standard requirements e.g., practical science endorsements and speaking tests at A level and GCSE. Guidance on how to complete the UCAS form, manage predicted grades, and how to frame a personal statement and academic reference would be a valuable addition to the IAG offered to EHE applicants. Further guidance on how EHE students can identify themselves on their application and reassurance that this will not be detrimental to their chances of being successful would help to raise the EHE visibility and make EHE students more welcome. 

 

Further consideration is required for additional ways to support those EHE young people who have not been able to overcome the barriers to HE due to lack of information, lack of support, ill-health or pandemic restrictions (Atkinson et al., 2007). Where young people have missed moving on through the set educational timeline of qualifications, despite being academically able to achieve a place at university, further accommodations are required to allow these young people to succeed requires exploration and understanding to inform post-16 providers and HE institutions.  

 

 

Adamson, C. (2021). Stepping out of the System? A grounded theory on how parents consider becoming home or alternative educators. British Journal of Educational Studies, 1-23.  

Atkinson, M., Martin, K., Downing, D., Harland, J., Kendall, S., & White, R. (2007). Support for Children Who Are Educated at Home. ERIC

Fensham-Smith, A. (2017). New technologies, knowledge, networks and communities in home-education Cardiff University].  

Fisher, N. (2023). A Different Way to Learn: Neurodiversity and Self-directed Education. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.  

Morton, R. (2010). Home education: Constructions of choice. International electronic journal of elementary education, 3(1), 45-56.  

Wheeler, L. (2023). Widening access for home-educated applicants to higher education institutions in England. Int. J. Educ. Life Transit, 2, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.5334/ijelt.54  

 

Inclusion: the compass of higher education

George Koutsouris, Lauren Stentiford and Tricia Nash

Inclusion is a matter widely discussed in higher education (HE). However, our previous research has indicated that it is often treated superficially and in ways that do not translate into educational reform, with the danger being that it is reduced to academic ‘chatter’. We recently conducted a new piece of research to analyse inclusion policies of elite Russell Group universities and found that inclusion was generally approached across institutions as a quality and performance index to enhance a university’s global reputation and its ability to attract students as ‘consumers’ and staff as an employer. However, there should be a recognition that inclusion is linked to the very purposes of HE – or that it can, at least, challenge narrow perceptions of these purposes. Read More

Farewell to the university love letter? Reforming personal statements will help level the playing field of university admissions

The love letter from a university applicant to their chosen subject has for decades been an uncontested element of the university admissions process. The opportunity to sell yourself in under 500 words (officially, under 4,000 characters) is seen as a chance for applicants to express their passion for their chosen study. Otherwise, admissions officers only have A-level grade predictions, teacher references and a few other criteria to go on. Most don’t have time to interview thousands of hopeful candidates.

 

My own book, The Good Parent Educator, has added to a vast industry offering tips on how best to write the statement. This covers everything from how to stand out from the crowd, to showing off your academic credentials, to avoiding writing that poor opening sentence. Read More

Employability Monsters: exploring barriers and challenges to employability

Written by Dr Dawn Lees PFHEA, Student Employability and Development Manager, Kate Foster SFHEA Employability and Careers Consultant (WP) and Alice Potter, SCP

When an outgoing student commented that she hadn’t felt entitled to use the Career Zone, we were obviously concerned. After all, the staff are all highly approachable and knowledgeable, and there are a number of ways for students to engage both through the curriculum and in voluntary ways – so what had gone wrong? Why had this particular student not felt able to engage, how many others were there like her, and what could we do about it? Read More

Breaking the Cycle of Working class Underachievement in Education

In 2013 I became the first person in my family to pursue higher education. In 2017 I became the first to have a degree – graduating with a MEng in Mechanical Engineering. Since then I have (nearly) completed a PhD in Engineering and am currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Control Engineering department.

Unfortunately as things stand one of the greatest predictors for a person’s academic success is not their genetic capacity to learn but the academic success of their family, creating a vicious cycle which prevents social mobility and exacerbates the wealth divide. Read More

The Ups and Downs of Social Mobility (A Quick Guide for Newbies)

A couple of years ago I was prepping for a job interview and roped in a friend (who happened to be my old boss) to help me out. She works in the further education sector, so we’re not worlds apart on the job scene, but when she launched into a passionate speech about social mobility my brain immediately tuned in…partly out of panic and partly out of curiosity. Why was she so enthusiastic about something I knew so little about? Yes, it sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn’t really get what I could do about it.

So, for those who have perhaps heard the term but not quite connected the dots, here’s a quick crash course in social mobility, and why it matters.

Read More

The Importance of Identity and Visibility In Outreach

When the topic of ‘visibility’ arises in outreach, it is usually to do with raising the profile of students from under-represented groups. Sometimes this manifests in a push for more diverse marketing campaigns, to represent the true (or aspirant) diversity of students at a given institution, or as an initiative within a university to recognise the presence and achievements of groups who fly under the radar.

However, when it comes to student-facing visibility, I believe it is just as important that applicants see diversity in the range of people creating, organising and delivering outreach, too. And not just from students. Read More

Flagging extra learning loss alongside grades will make exams fairer

How do you make exams fair? It’s a challenge that has vexed the greatest education minds for centuries. But never have so many people thought so hard about this question than for national school examinations in 2021.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson last week spoke about putting “fairness into the system” as he unveiled a package of measures for GCSEs and A-levels in England. The measures include advance notice of exam topics, exam aids, and more generous grading (in line with that for 2020). All are justified for pupils who have suffered widespread disruption in the wake of the pandemic. Not least it will provide clarity for teachers about what lies ahead next summer – and for over a million stressed teenagers currently in the midst of their mock exams.

But in my view the biggest question of fairness remains unresolved. How do we recognise the extra learning loss experienced by some pupils, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds? Covid-19 has exposed the stark social class divide that lies outside the school gates. Reduced schooling has left the world an even more unequal place. Read More

Should the UK be moving to post-qualification admissions?

In short: Maybe. But the decision should not be made now.

Periodically, policy makers and UCAS wonder: shall we reform the admissions system? Would a post-qualification admissions (PQA) system be fairer, more efficient – better? Would more disadvantaged students enter selective higher education institutions if we had PQA? These questions are raised at the moment with UCAS and UUK reviewing the issue.

Many countries, indeed many of our European neighbours successfully practise post-qualification admissions. But, one must exercise caution in transposing experiences from one system to another. For example, in a country like Germany – which uses PQA – few courses have restrictions for enrolment or prior attainment. So, the task for students of enrolling themselves at their chosen university tends to be an awful lot simpler than the current selection set up in the UK. Notably, highly competitive courses such as medicine operate pre-qualification admissions even in Germany. Read More