It’s time to put mature students at the heart of widening participation

Why should we care about mature students?

It has become almost routine to read stories giving ‘more bad news’ about part-time student numbers in universities.

Tom Sperlinger is Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol.

Lizzie Fleming is Widening Participation and Student Recruitment Officer, and a postgraduate student, at the University of Bristol

On 29 June, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), which monitors access to universities in the UK, published its outcomes for 2015-16. The report highlights a ‘crisis’ in part-time numbers, which have fallen for a seventh consecutive year, a decline of 61% since 2010-11. Since more than 90% of part-time students are over 21, this has also led to a significant decline in the number of mature students in the sector.

This also means that, overall, the number of students entering universities has fallen significantly since 2012. Continue reading

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How can universities tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities of Brexit?

Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol Law School

Brexit will present the UK with a vast number of political, economic, social, and legal challenges and opportunities in the months and years ahead. In this short piece, Professor Phil Syrpis reflects on the steps taken within the University of Bristol to begin to tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

From the time that it became clear, on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, that the UK had voted to leave the EU, academics have been absorbing, reacting to, and in some cases seeking to shape, the political agenda. Events have been occurring at a dizzying pace. David Cameron was swiftly replaced by Theresa May; Parliament, after Gina Miller’s Supreme Court victory, voted to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the EU; White Papers and Negotiating Guidelines were issued; and we are now set for a General Election on 8 June, which looks set to be dominated by Brexit (that’s one of the very few predictions I feel able to make). Continue reading

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Trump, Brexit and a crisis of participation in universities

Tom Sperlinger is Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol.

A friend of mine recently posted a link on Facebook to a Wall Street Journal article, ‘Blue Feed, Red Feed’, which allows readers to pick a topic – Hillary Clinton, say, or abortion – and see how the ‘other’ side of Facebook is talking about it. My friend wrote:

I and everyone I know (well, nearly everyone) finds Trump utterly disgusting, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For others worried that we all (mostly) agree with each other, this is a useful side-by-side comparison of liberal and conservative Facebook.

I looked at the split screen on the topic of ‘guns’ and saw posts I recognised on the ‘blue’ side condemning Republican measures to reduce checks on those buying firearms. The ‘red’ side, meanwhile, included a link to a Federalist Papers website article criticising ‘leftists who don’t like guns’.

The divides that were exposed by Trump and Brexit are complex. Yet, in both votes, two sides emerged that were incomprehensible to each other and they split, above all, along levels of education. Continue reading

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How can schools help talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university?

Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University Graduate School of Education

Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University

There are many bright young people who come from disadvantaged family or school contexts where university attendance is not the norm.

As part of the High-Potential Learners Project, we investigated how these young people could be supported in making decisions about university. In particular, we wanted to know how to encourage high-achieving young people to consider the highly-selective, research-intensive, Russell Group universities as an option.

Over a period of two years, we worked with a group of 44 sixth-form students from schools across Bristol, to understand how and why they made decisions about university. We also analysed a large-scale, nationally-representative dataset of 2290 high-attaining learners who had turned 18 in 2009/10.

Our project found that school context was highly important with regards to subsequent university attendance, and identified some of the ways in which schools and universities can work together to support students’ decision-making.

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Why we need to teach political philosophy in schools

Dr Jonathan Floyd, Lecturer in Political Theory, SPAIS, University of Bristol

Dr Jonathan Floyd, Lecturer in Political Theory, SPAIS, University of Bristol

What is the spectre haunting Europe today? It’s simple. The thing that truly dogs us, that really drags at our heels, is ignorance. Ignorance of the fundamental ideas at the heart of politics. Ignorance of the key terms of political argument: liberty, equality, power, justice, and so on. Ignorance of the subject matter of political philosophy.

This ignorance is a spectre precisely because it is invisible to us. You might, for example, not know how a microwave works. But you know you do not know that. Now imagine there are purple aliens growing yellow mushrooms on the other side of the moon. In this case you are unaware that you unaware of them.

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Tongue-tied: Britain has forgotten how to speak to its European neighbours

Dr Martin Hurcombe, Reader in French Studies, University of Bristol

Dr Martin Hurcombe, Reader in French Studies, University of Bristol

The decline in the number of students of modern languages from GCSE to degree level is an annual lament. Only 10,328 pupils in the UK took French at A Level in 2015 and although Spanish enjoyed a rise in entries at A Level of 14%, German continued its steady decline.
As Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, noted last year, the study of French and German at A Level has declined by more than 50% since 1999.

Similar patterns can be observed at GCSE where entries for French, for example, declined by 40% between 2005 and 2015. The rise in interest in Arabic and Portuguese has not offset the overall trend towards the marginalisation of language learning in Britain’s secondary schools, and most notably those in the state sector.

A Level language entries, 2006-2015. JCQ

A Level language entries, 2006-2015. JCQ

It’s hard for language learners and teachers to remain optimistic in this climate, and harder still with widespread Euroscepticism and the possibility of the UK voting to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23.

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From the narrative of failure to the narrative of potential?

Professor David Berridge. Professor of Child & Family Welfare. He is a leading national and international child welfare researcher and is author/co-author of 13 books and numerous other chapters and articles.

Professor David Berridge. Professor of Child & Family Welfare. He is a leading national and international child welfare researcher and is author/co-author of 13 books and numerous other chapters and articles.

David Berridge, Professor of Child and Family Welfare at the School for Policy Studies, considers the process of making an impact on policy and practice by discussing his research on children in care.

It is interesting, and advisable, at the completion of a research project to reflect on how it went. There can be a tendency to delay this process, encouraged by feelings of relief as well as driven, no doubt, by the need to catch-up with other, overdue responsibilities.

These thoughts were with me at the end of 2015 on the conclusion of our research on the Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England.  Many challenges arose, including: obtaining and analysing large government databases; negotiating access to six contrasting local authorities; contacting groups of older teenagers in care, their social workers, carers and teachers; obtaining and analysing large amounts of qualitative data; and writing-up the results.

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Schools need to do more to improve children’s religious literacy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

This article was originally posted on The Conversation.

British society is in serious need of higher levels of religious literacy. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge – and schools have a big part to play in putting this right.

Religion has dramatically changed in Britain. Fewer people profess Christianity, more profess a post-Christian spirituality, humanism or atheism, while Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities assert themselves in public and seek to play a role in shaping policies.

Yet the degree of understanding of these faith actors and of religion in general is low. The need for investment in religious literacy is one of the main themes of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB), which has just published a report called Living With Difference – in which I was involved as a member of the steering group. As religious literacy and experience of diversity begins at school, we have recommended some changes to the place of religion in state education.

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GE 2015: Schools manifestos: how do they compare?

http://www.bris.ac.uk/contact/person/getDetails?personKey=E4bnD5yF4XYRYhjGCaE2LXtkFXGdtj

Simon Burgess,
Professor of Economics

We now have the education policies of all the main parties in this election. Some of them have been summarised for The Conversation: Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, and Plaid Cymru. How do they compare? Which policies, if any, provide the best hope for better schools?

A full comparison of all the policy components is obviously not possible in about 600 words, so I have picked three key aspects here: school funding, school turnaround, and teachers. This leaves out admissions, accountability, curriculum and qualifications, pay, provision for the 16-19 age bracket and many other important issues.

In most public services, perhaps the key issue is the level of funding. In schools, that over-riding emphasis is absent. The basic facts are that Labour and Tories promise about the same, around a 9% – 10% cut in real per-pupil terms over the parliament. The Lib Dems promise a bit more funding , and the Greens a whole lot more. Does money matter for schools? In one sense, obviously it does – people’s jobs are at risk with budget cuts, and tight budgets make life a lot harder for Headteachers. And yet whether money matters for pupil attainment is much less clear. While there is evidence on both sides, possibly the majority of researchers in this field would agree that increases in a school’s resources are unlikely to have a major effect on attainment. So some difference in policy but maybe not much that will hugely affect attainment.

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Is it really worth investing in smaller primary school classes?

Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education, Head of Graduate School of Education

Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education, Head of Graduate School of Education

Ed Miliband’s pledge that Labour, if elected, would limit school classes for five, six and seven-year-olds to 30 pupils reignites a core question about how best to spend money to improve education.

In making this a plank of Labour’s emerging manifesto, Miliband blames the coalition government and, in particular, the former education secretary Michael Gove, for a trebling of the number of primary pupils in classes with more than 30 children from 31,265 in 2010 to 93,345 in 2014.

Labour’s policy – which echoes a pledge by Tony Blair  in 1997 – might appeal to parents and teachers, but it is also backed by evidence that smaller class sizes do help push up attainment in the first years of primary school.

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