Impact

The ‘Access Gap’ is widening -- here’s how we are fighting to close it.

The Access Project’s Impact Report launches today, celebrating the achievements that we have made on student outcomes in the past academic year. However, we believe there is still much work to be done. Below, Andrew Berwick, Director of The Access Project, outlines what we need to focus on over the next three years and why this matters for the young people we are yet to reach. 

Our success

I entered the classroom in 2006, with the optimistic aim of improving life chances for young people in a tough part of outer London. Ten years on, our society remains deeply unequal in many ways. Against what can seem a bleak backdrop, I’m so proud that The Access Project has reached some huge milestones in the last year. Our causal impact on student attainment has been verified by Nesta, and analysis by UCAS shows that we have had a statistically significant impact on our students’ university outcomes in both of the last two years. 

Why it matters

This success has been achieved through the hard work of so many different groups of people. I would like to thank all of you: every one of our 962 volunteers who provided one-to-one academic tuition this year; each of our 18 inspirational partner schools; all of our financial supporters, including Impetus-The Private Equity Foundation; and every one of my wonderful colleagues who demonstrate such commitment to our young people every day. Despite this hard work, much remains to be done. Our Impact Report outlines the challenges we face in making access to top third universities fair, why it matters, and our vision for the future. 

The Access Project focuses on improving access to top third universities for young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. There is good news: more young people from less affluent backgrounds are going to these universities than ever before. However, the bad news is that – like in so many other areas of our economy – the gap between rich and poor is growing year on year.

The ‘Access Gap’

There is a yawning gulf – an Access Gap – between the number of less affluent young people going to our top third universities and those from more affluent backgrounds. In 2010, this ‘gap’ was 36,900 students. By 2015, it had grown to 39,600 young people, an increase of 2,700. This Access Gap is driven largely by the continued gulf in attainment between the most and least affluent young people. The barriers to attainment for less affluent young people are numerous. This is exacerbated by a booming private tuition industry that provides intensive one-to-one support for those who can afford it – whilst state schools across the country are facing real-terms cuts in funding.

This Access Gap matters. On one hand, it’s an issue of fairness. Not everyone should go to university at age 18. However, we believe it cannot be right that if you’re poor you are far less likely to go to university, and six times less likely to go to a top third institution. This segregated system does not reflect the talent of our young people, and is deeply unfair. The Access Gap is also an issue of life prospects. Young people leaving education today face an increasingly complex labour market. 

Our vision

Reviewing all of the available evidence, it is clear that going to a top third university remains the most reliable vehicle for less affluent students to be socially mobile and achieve financially secure, high status employment. We believe all young people should have the opportunity to access this. This is emphatically not the case today.

This a critical time for all of us who are committed to improving social mobility by making a difference to young people’s life chances. In this report we share conclusive evidence that The Access Project can and should be a part of the solution to the growing Access Gap. Our goal is to work with 2,500 young people in the areas of highest need by 2020 – and in time to work with all of the 400 schools in England that meet our eligibility criteria. By achieving this goal, we would support an additional 1,400 pupil premium-eligible young people to top third universities each year.

Getting there will not be easy – and will require us to work with more partners than ever before. Whether you are reading this as a leader in education, business, charity, or government, we need your support to realise our vision to close The Access Gap and make a real and lasting difference to our young people’s lives. I hope you will join us.