Understanding the educational trajectories of young people from target wards

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In this post, Dr Neil Raven discusses the findings of a recent piece of research exploring the educational trajectories of young people living in areas targeted by the Uni Connect programme


Over the last few years, I have conducted various studies exploring the characteristics of neighbourhoods with low HE participation – especially the target wards that are the focus of the government’s Uni Connect programme (formerly known as the National Collaborative Outreach Programme or NCOP). These are districts where higher education progression rates are not only comparatively low but lower than expected given GCSE attainment.

The study

My most recent investigation has sought to profile the educational routes taken by young people residing in these neighbourhoods, and compare them with those pursued by their counterparts in high participation districts. In doing this, six principles were identified that, in combination, appear to inform the trajectories taken by young people from target wards.


These principles initially derived from an analysis of secondary sources, including government and regulator reports, as well as academic studies. Their validity was then assessed – and confirmed – in interviews with 10 outreach and careers practitioners from across England, all of whom had experience of supporting young people from educationally deprived areas. The six principles are reproduced below:

1. A comparatively small proportion of young people in target wards gain the level-2 (GCSE and equivalent) qualifications necessary to progress onto level-3 courses.

2. Fewer young people who embark on level-3 courses in target wards take A-levels (the level-3 qualification associated with the highest HE progression rates). Conversely, more are likely to choose professional or applied general courses, such as apprenticeships and BTECs.

3. More of those who start A-levels in target wards are likely to drop out.

4. Fewer of those who complete their A-levels in target wards will opt for HE.

5. Fewer of those in target wards who take advanced apprenticeships or level-3 BTECs will progress to HE.

6. Fewer of those from target wards who progress to HE will do so by the age of 18/19.


Whilst the insights provided by these practitioners derived from different parts of the county, a number of shared explanations were offered for the local patterns of progression they described. These included the influence of the neighbourhood on the decisions being made, with young people being drawn to the local pathways most regularly taken. In this respect, one interviewee argued that “if they are from an area where there are [few] people with degrees, they will not hear the positives so much”. Reference was also made to the lack of ‘graduate opportunities’ available to young people in target wards. Should they go to university, it was suggested that they are likely to return to “lower than degree jobs, [which] raises questions about why do a degree” in the first instance.

Recommendations for practice

From these findings, the study made a number of recommendations for practice:

  • When working with young people from [NCOP] target wards, deploy undergraduates, especially those who come from the same neighbourhoods, and who can offer relatable examples of progression.
  • Encourage and support schools with catchment areas that encompass target wards to maintain contact with former pupils who have gone on to graduate-level employment and who can discuss the benefits of HE-level study and training.
  • Acknowledge and inform learners that opportunities for HE progression exist for those aged 19 and over.
  • Ensure the availability of local vocational and work-based pathways that can lead to HE and ensure these are recognised by young people, their parents and those advising them.

Find out more

If you have any comments on these findings or would like to share your experiences of working in these neighbourhoods, please do contact the author, Dr Neil Raven.  

Blog by Dr Neil Raven - FACE Executive Member and Educational Consultant

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