Blogpost: “We must cooperate if we are to boost higher education rates in Harlow”

Education: Secondary / Mon 10th Aug 2020 at 08:14am

In Common Endeavour: we must cooperate if we are to boost higher education rates in Harlow
By Jake Shepherd

AS a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT), I am excited to start teaching in September. Aside from the events of recent months, there remains an issue within education that is of epic proportions. Last Friday the government published the latest figures for the 2018/19 academic year, revealing the results of efforts to widening participation in higher education. Nationally there is still a need to level the playing field; students from the most advantaged areas are more than twice as likely to progress to higher education as those from the most disadvantaged (at 57.8% compared to 27.3% in 2018/19). Whilst this gap has narrowed over time – with the progression rate for the most advantaged increasing by 6.6 percentage points since 2009/10 compared to 9.3 percentage points for the most disadvantaged – this gap continues to undermine my very central belief as a teacher that all students deserve the same opportunities and life chances regardless of their background or postcode.

At this point it is important to clarify that (dis)advantage does not refer to differences in wealth or socio-economic inequality, but merely the fact that some local areas see a greater proportion of young people decide to progress to higher education than others. However, it is also true that socio-economic inequality is a significant factor in determining educational outcomes and student destinations. No where is this more evident when examining the outcome for students in receipt of Free School Meals (FSM), where the gap between FSM and non-FSM students increased to 18.8% in the 2018/19 academic year, up 0.2% from the year previous and the largest gap since 2006/07.

The Office for Students (OfS) which monitors participation rates and works to promote access within higher education have created a mapping tool to allow teachers, parents/carers and the wider community to explore participation rates in their area. The OfS’ new experimental measure, Tracking Underrepresentation by Area (TUNDRA) has allowed Harlow to be viewed in its own context, separate from the national picture. Previously in the Harlow constituency, 80% of postcodes fell within the most and second most disadvantaged areas in terms of access to higher education (quintile 1 and quintile 2).

However, tracking this underrepresentation has shown that in more recent years access to higher education in Harlow has risen in every ward across the town. Where Church Langley had previously been the only ward not in quintile 1 or 2, Katherines now joins it having seen a 10% increase a participation rates; raising it to the next quintile.

Undoubtedly this is good news. Harlow is levelling its own playing field at a faster rate compared to the rest of the country, but the pace of change should be much greater! The recent announcement of a multi-million-pound investment to Harlow College and Harlow Central Library will no doubt assist students in reaching their potential, but I am more eager to change how Harlow’s schools and educational leaders cooperate in order to benefit all of Harlow’s students.

If we are to tackle this disparity in access to higher education and hasten the change that will ensure that a student in Harlow has the same opportunities as a student living in Harrogate, then teachers and particularly headteachers must cooperate with each other. Shockingly, you don’t have to travel as far as Harrogate to see the difference in higher education opportunities for students. Harrogate and Bishop’s Stortford have almost identical participation rates, both being nearly double the mean average in Harlow. Harlow’s stark contrast with its neighbouring towns and villages is exactly why local schools must come together to support each other’s already fantastic efforts in raising students’ aspirations and self-confidence.
During my training year, I was fortunate to work in a school local to Harlow and saw first-hand the difference that consortium working makes in allowing teachers to share best practice and exchange ideas. If other schools can work on a consortium basis for the benefit of the communities they serve, why can’t Harlow?

Looking ahead, I am more determined than ever to ensure that our common endeavour as education professionals is to ensure that every child has the same opportunities and life changes, regardless of circumstance or disadvantage.

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3 Comments for Blogpost: “We must cooperate if we are to boost higher education rates in Harlow”:

2020-08-10 15:44:04

I'm sure that the shortage of Geography teachers in the area, will now benefit from the input of this young man. Bournemouth Tech is renowned for producing Geography wizards. The college is more renowned for it's boozing record. Formidable.

chris snow
2020-08-10 16:10:59

Great article. Schools in Harlow as you rightly point out have improved but the idea of a well-paid and/or rewarding professional career for kids (and for their parents to want for their kids) is a lot harder to imagine and plot-towards for someone from Harlow than Bishops Stortford. The idea of a consortium is brilliant as there is excellent work in pockets of Harlow. Schools being adversarial and focusing on their own 'performance' is inevitable but doesn't achieve the 'paradigm shift' in opportunity and aspiration the kids here need. Chris (Quintile 1)

2020-08-11 14:47:20

If the teachers unions have their way ,he'll be lucky to be in work before the New Year.

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