Concerns for disadvantaged teenagers as activities to encourage them to apply to university disrupted during

Two fifths of those who took part in the research said changes should be made to contextual measures and extenuating circumstances considered by exam boards this academic year.

University staff working with prospective students are concerned about the prospects of those from disadvantaged homes as their work is disrupted or put on hold during the coronavirus lockdown, research shows.

Those working to widen participation in higher education have said they are worried predicted grades for GCSE and A-level students this year will be affected by lack of support this term.

Two fifths of those who took part in the research said changes should be made to contextual measures and extenuating circumstances considered by exam boards this academic year.

Most of the 262 people who took part in the survey said some of their planned widening participation activities would not now be possible.

The survey, from the Centre for Social Mobility at the University of Exeter was run online between the end of March and mid-April.

Respondents were most concerned about student well-being and mental health, and whether those from disadvantaged families would have access to adequate food or housing.

Around half of those who took part in the survey worked in universities on the Office for Students’ “Uni Connect” partnerships. Around half of respondents who worked in universities, were from Russell Group institutions. Most worked to deliver widening participation programmes.

Around eight of ten respondents said some activities would no longer be possible during this period. One Uni Connect partnership respondent said 182 events had been cancelled so far.

A third of respondents said they were worried about the disruption in communications or relationships with schools and teachers. Around 16 per cent mentioned issues around the ability to collect data or evidence on participants, and a further one in ten felt follow-up/tracking of pupils would become more problematic. Issues around uncertainty for budgets and finance for university widening participation activities were mentioned by 15 per cent. Some people were concerned that unspent funds would be clawed back, meaning less resources to make up for lost activities. One school had used money forecast to be spent on university outreach to support students learning at home, leaving nothing available for the summer term.

Just under half of respondents, 47 per cent, said they would like to see policy efforts from the Government now focused on students who have less support for home schooling, with support for those who lack access to the internet a policy priority for 46 per cent of respondents. A third said efforts should be focused towards students eligible for free school meals and a fifth said it should be focused in areas of low higher education participation.

Professor Anna Mountford-Zimdars, of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility, who led the research, said: “It’s clear much widening participation activity has had to be put on hold, understandably while schools and universities are closed. But respondents were also concerned about the future, that planning activities or engaging with students when they reopen will be more difficult because the priorities of schools may change.”

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