Closing the attainment gap - can curriculum interventions positively impact those coming from widening participation backgrounds?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Universities are encouraged to ensure that they are evidencing widening access by recruiting more diverse student populations. However, in order to fulfil the broader social justice perspective underpinning this agenda it is important that students with widening participation (WP) characteristics are not just recruited but retained and achieve in equal measure.This presentation will examine student attainment and graduate destination for cohorts of students studying undergraduate sport programmes at a Scottish HEI in the period 2000-2015. The university has a long history of enrolling students with WP characteristics and the most recent institutional data reveals that almost a fifth of students come from households aligned to postcodes associated with deprivation (SIMD20) and more than a third of students enrol from a further education college. The sport programmes initially began as ‘top up’ degree courses for those with higher national qualifications but since 2001there have been a range of entry points.Scottish Government strategy has focussed on increasing the number of ‘non-traditional’ student enrolments and 23% of graduates from the sport programmes in the period 2000-2015 came from an SIMD postcode associated with deprivation and 47% had articulated from college. Parental enrolment in higher education was only recorded from 2009, and the data in this regard is incomplete, however, it would appear that just over a quarter of students had had a parent attend university. A third of the enrolments on the sport programmes are female and approximately 11% have a declared disability. Learning gain, graduate employability and social mobility are gaining greater prominence and accordingly, the degree and graduate outcome data for students with widening participation (WP) characteristics was explored. The objective was to determine whether the belief that a university degree enhances life chances (Byrom & Lightfoot, 2013; Macmillan & Vignoles, 2013; UUK, 2015) and acts as a ‘catalyst’ for social mobility (Johnson, 2016) had been realised or whether the WP students alumni experiences had been more akin to that outlined by Ebdon (2014) ‘disadvantage can follow you like a shadow down the years, affecting the degree you end up with and your ensuing postgraduate study or search for a job’.The data revealed that the cohorts that graduated from 2010 onwards, subsequent to reformation of the curriculum, had no differentiation in degree or graduate outcome regardless of route of entry or WP characteristic. The qualitative responses indicated that some of the curriculum interventions that enabled the development of transferable skills had been of most utility in preparing the students for employment. These interventions (mandatory placement at every stage of study, careers talks from former graduates, skills and client-based assessments, assessed coaching practicals, assessed class presentations, LinkedIn webfolios, personal development planning) are transferable to other disciplines and the presentation will explore the challenges of embedding diverse and employment-focussed activities and assessments in the curriculum with the aim of ‘closing the attainment gap’.ReferencesByrom, T. & Lightfoot, N. (2013). Interrupted trajectories: the impact of academic failure on the social mobility of working class students. Br. J. Sociology of Education. 34 (5-06): 812-828.Ebdon, L. (cited in Vaughan, R. (2014, July 7)). University support for poorer school leavers must not 'stop at the front door'. Retrieved from Johnson, J. (2016). Speech: Jo Johnson: Universities UK annual conference 2016. Retrieved from, L. & Vignoles, A. (2013). Mapping the occupational destinations of new graduates. London: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.UUK (Universities UK). (2015). Patterns and trends in UK higher education 2015. London: UUK. Retrieved from
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2018
EventAdvance HE Attainment Symposium: Closing the gap: Student success for all - York, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 May 201823 May 2018


OtherAdvance HE Attainment Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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