The University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility

The University of Exeter and our commitment to help disadvantaged young people.

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility is the UK’s first centre dedicated to improving social mobility through evidence-informed practice and policy. Its goal is to help disadvantaged young people so they do better at school, access higher education and succeed at university and in later life.


The Centre, which was Highly Commended for Innovation at this year’s UK Social Mobility Awards, has carried out a variety of research since its inception two years ago, on topics such as contextual offers; the transition of BTEC students into higher education and the evaluation of university outreach.


What makes it unique is the close partnership between researchers and practitioners to make sure practice is informed by evidence and research is relevant and applied.


Professor Anna Mountford-Zimdars, Director (Research), led one of the first research projects during the initial period of coronavirus lockdown to understand the effects of school closures, particularly on disadvantaged students. Results were reported to the Government and other key organisations supporting children and families.


The rapid response project involved surveys and interviews with pupils, families, teachers and university staff. This showed a significant proportion of students were struggling with issues such as access to IT and quiet study environment and were anxious about losing control of their own futures. Teachers and university practitioners raised particular concerns in relation to disadvantaged pupils and the barriers presented by the home study environment; engagement and motivation to study; access to technology; and loss of personalised support and structured school environment. The project also uncovered changing attitudes to home teaching.


Last year, the Centre was joined by Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility and former CEO of the Sutton Trust. Lee delivered a session at our HE Advisors event earlier this year, sharing insights on effective strategies for transforming pupil progress in the classroom.  His book, What Works: Research and Evidence for Successful Teaching, co-authored by Steve Higgins, assesses available research and evidence to create a practical guide to support schools, particularly in making decisions about how best to focus pupil premium investment. The toolkit covers issues such as effective feedback for learning, digital technologies, homework, learning styles and mastery learning.


Look out for details of our seminar series and check out our Social Mobility Blog. This month Sam Braide considers the development of online outreach as a response to Covid.


We will be running online (Zoom) bitesize teacher CPD sessions based on research from the group in the upcoming weeks. The first begins on the 19th November 2020 at 3.30-4.30pm with Professor Lee Elliott-Major discussing how we can support students with successful strategies to stop the learning deficit as a result of the impact of 2020.  Please email for further information.


Watch our directors explaining the objectives of the centre

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