The Access Project CEO, Nathan Sansom, shares his concerns for disadvantaged students on A-Level results day and explains what we will be doing to help them.

A-level results day is a crucial milestone in the lives of The Access Project’s students. This year is more anxiety inducing than ever with growing concerns about the system for awarding grades after the disruption caused by COVID-19. Disadvantaged students are set to lose out under the process of standardisation where schools have a history of poorer results. We know this is hugely problematic, but we also know there are no easy answers. We are looking to universities to be flexible in their admissions and consider the wider context when confirming places. We welcome the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan’s intervention asking institutions to hold places for students appealing their results. As an organisation we will also do everything we can to help students navigate their way through a day of highs and lows.

How do we plan to help mitigate the impact of this year’s assessment process? Well, the work began some time ago. Students have developed a ‘clearing plan’ with their mentors – our University Access Officers or UAOs – which has helped to prepare them for unexpected results. We know that students are in greater need and have lots of questions this year so on the day our UAOs will be providing one-to-one support. They will help find courses at top universities through clearing and advocate for students with admissions teams, including explaining the context of their school’s historic results. TAP has strong evidence that our A-Level students attain higher scores across their best three A-Levels than similar pupils, around a quarter of a grade a subject and this will inform our conversations. Our UAOs are also there to empower students to take decisions about their next steps on the day.

Once results day is over the role of The Access Project team is to make sure that every student has secured a university place and for those who don’t to help them understand that it isn’t the be all and end all, that they can consider alternative routes, or reapply to university the following year. We know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to drop out of university in the first year and with the backdrop of COVID-19 making studying more challenging and unpredictable support for the transition from school to higher education is more important than ever. TAP students have created transition plans with their UAOs which focus on finding accommodation, settling in, getting across student finance, creating a budget, and looking for career opportunities as they go. 

Before the COVID outbreak we were planning to expand our work supporting the transition from school to university. TAP was delighted to be able to secure funding to bring that work forward and we believe it will make a real difference to students embarking on their journey in higher education in this difficult year. We are extremely lucky that TAP has a community of dedicated alumni who can offer peer mentoring and support once students arrive at university and will develop these bonds further in future. 

For my part it feels fitting that I will be supporting students at Highbury Grove School in London, where The Access Project began back in 2008. In those days it was a small-scale venture by a teacher who wanted to boost his students’ grades by asking friends and colleagues to offer tuition. Nowadays we work with thousands of young people across three regions and know that our programme works. Independent research shows our programme makes it four times as likely that students will attend a top university as similarly disadvantaged peers. This has been a year like no other for TAP. It has been extremely hard on our young people who have had to cope with school closures and worries about what their grades and their studies will look like going forward. We can only hope their results reflect their hard work, but we are standing by to help them make the most of their achievements and to make sure doors aren’t closed to them as they strive for a successful academic future.

Nathan Sansom, CEO