Andrew Photo 2016

Why we're here

Every morning I take a train from my house to central London. As I near the end of my journey, if I crane my neck and look out of the window just right, I can see my old primary school and the low rise estate where I grew up.

Normally I don't bother.

Growing up in inner city London in the 1980s is not something I reflect on fondly. Schools in the capital were notorious for all of the wrong reasons; one of my local secondary schools failed its first Ofsted inspection in the early 1990s, with only 5% of students achieving 5A*-C at GCSE. Other schools in my neighborhood were not much better.

I'm so proud that things have changed. London's schools are now the best in the country, and The Access Project's partner schools near my old neighbourhood like Globe Academy and Lilian Baylis Technology School now regularly send students to the top universities in the country. This year an Access Project student at Globe Academy became the first student from the school within living memory to receive an offer from Cambridge.

This shows what can be done if we unite to challenge educational disadvantage. In 30 years we have seen huge cultural shifts in inner London schools, a meaningful commitment of resources, and inspirational leadership from headteachers, middle leaders and classroom teachers. And we've seen real commitment beyond schools: as the saying goes - it takes a village to raise a child. Hands on support from the City's businesses and from volunteers like those of you who support The Access Project have made a huge impact.

It's right to celebrate the amazing progress that we have achieved in coming together to change inner city London for the better. But looking beyond London, educational disadvantage remains entrenched. This is why at The Access Project we have set ourselves an ambitious goal to level the playing field for young people across the country.

Despite the improvements in many schools in disadvantaged areas, you are still six times more likely to go to a selective university if you are from a rich home than if you are from a poor home. This matters: graduates of selective universities are hugely over-represented in the professions and will earn considerably more over their lifetime than graduates of other universities.

We are determined to close this Access Gap - and we know that participating in our programme gives students a real chance of making it to a great university. In fact, a recent UCAS control group study has shown that the programme almost doubles a disadvantaged young person’s chances of getting to a top third university (55% vs. 33%) or to a Russell Group University (34% vs. 18%). This is significant.

Our goal is to grow from working with approximately 950 students this year to 2,500 students by 2020. We will continue to grow in central London, and will also expand into a new region of the country where we are needed most. As a guiding principle we are making deliberate efforts to focus on schools outside of the big cities (including Enfield in London and the Black Country in the West Midlands). The scale of educational disadvantage in these areas is unacceptable, and we need to unite now to challenge it.

I hope you want to be part of making this happen. The first step is to build the case for change: we need to make others aware of the scale of the Access Gap. The best way to do this is to make others aware of the work that you are already doing - through volunteering, through financial support, through advocacy - to close it. If we are to succeed in our 2020 goal (and beyond), we need others to feel as passionately about this issue as we do.

Let's be proud that in 2017, being born poor in central London does not determine your destiny. And let's work together to make this true for more young people in the rest of the country by 2020.