The Deprivation gap is narrowing & the Gender gap is widening

Over the next few posts we will be discussing the main outcomes from the ‘Mastering the Dragon’ Teaching and Learning conference from the South West Academic Trust (SWAT).

You can see more links and discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #SWATConf14

Special thanks to Iain Anderson @iainanders2008 and all of the SWAT Coordinators for organising such a fantastic event.

First up was the opening keynote presentation from Professor Sir Steve Smith – The Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Exeter University and the current Chair of UCAS.

One of the main messages coming out of his presentation was that ‘The Deprivation gap is narrowing & the Gender gap is widening’ hence the tile of this post. This is potentially a worry particularly those of us working with mostly boys.


However there were many other interesting talking points too. He spent time talking about the recent changes to student finance and it was interesting to hear his outlook on this as something that could be viewed more positively.

Students now hold the purse strings

Although students are paying more with that comes more power and since 2012 we have had the emergence to a ‘real market’ for Universities due to the financial changes. There has been a shift of where the income from Universities comes from – shift from the government to individual students/student loans. With this shift has come power. He highlighted this through conversations that he has with staff at the University:

Why should we serve coffee at midnight on campus? Because that is when it is needed – our students are customers and they demand this service.

Why do we need computer support between 1-3am? Because that is when most coursework is completed – our students are customers and they demand this service.

But what is the real cost of this power? A massive increase in student debt. I wonder how students feel about this ‘shift in power’?

Student numbers are on the rise

It is important to remember that Universities however must be doing a good job. The UK is 21st in the world for resources put into HE but 2nd highest for outcomes – so Universities under invested but highly successful.

Perhaps it is for this reason that numbers are increasing not decreasing as first predicted due to the financial changes.

495,000 students were placed in University last year this is an increase of 36K accepted places in 2013.

The number of 18 year olds in 2011 who went to university in 2011 and 2012 is lower than 2012 & 2013. Therefore students haven’t been put off by the financial changes. 30% of 18 year olds are now going to University.

The knock on effect though is that many universities have increased where some universities have dropped dramatically. The best universities are getting more students. E.g. Exeter applications up by 50%. Therefore the Russell Group are increasing numbers significantly where those not are decreasing. How does this impact on those students from the poorest backgrounds?

Well apparently the number from the poorest backgrounds are increasing in participation and the gap is closing.

Narrowing the gap

In 2004 if you were in the lowest quintile for socio economic group – around 14% went to University where today it is over 20%. They estimate in 2019 the difference in between participation rates will narrow further by socio-economic factors however there is a potential issue with gender.

Women are more likely to go to University, Women are more likely to get the A levels – how does this impact on Boys? Therefore the deprivation gap is narrowing, whereas the gender gap is widening. From someone who is working in a boys school, I believe that we are doing fantastic things to ensure our boys are engaged and inspired to achieve the best that they can. We ensure they achieve strong academic qualifications whilst ensuring they receive the right guidance on their next steps. However what is happening nationally? What are you doing to support boys in raising participation rates?

Finally Sir Steve went on to say that today’s 16 year olds by the time they are 36 will have had 6 jobs – employers are increasingly concerned about whether students are developing skills like team working, conscientious, ability to be adaptable and change, IT literate etc. How are you developing these skills in the classroom and in your school?


One thought on “The Deprivation gap is narrowing & the Gender gap is widening”

  1. The gender ‘thing’ is interesting. As a woman I’m not sure that in one sense I’m worried about it. Finally the gender imbalance is being addressed. If girls work more successfully in a male-dominated system well done- they’ve learnt to play the game. Actually what will be really interesting is what happens over the next 30 years – will women actually succeed in careers as well as education? But this is not the place for this. In terms of teaching boys; well educationalists have tried the ‘make the books more interesting for them’ route & it’s not worked. It seems to me that there’s an air of gender complacency and entitlement at times and a failure to engage with socio-economic realities. Certainly boys play on-line games more than girls who perhaps communicate via social- networks more which, although it has it’s evident issues, does not infantilise them as does the incessant game playing. It would be interesting to analyse gender performance by school-type and also region – do boys in London also underachieve? Is this still, as claimed, a white, lower middle class issue? From my recent classroom experiences? Girls just get it, they see the need for following teaching requests and make the simple connections about what you need to do to succeed. They also challenge less and generally vocalise less in class discussion – but then so do new boys joining the school in the 6th form. I’d love us to focus on this as I’m sure it’s key to BfL success as well. No easy answers, but lots of questions.

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