Widening Participation – Research Led?

The Aspirations Programme, from the outset has endeavored to use the available research as the foundation to all we do. The reason is embodied in Simon Sinek’s excellent TED talk on inspiring action; people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. From research, we have so much of the why. Research also underpins the next stage; the how. How do we take this indisputable disparity in progression and work to close it?

By harnessing research, we can better understand the challenges facing our disadvantaged pupils and the most effective ways of overcoming these. The answers for each school may vary according to geography, ethnic diversity, parental engagement, the regional labour market, and the multitude of other factors which contribute to progression, but we do not need to guess – much more often we need to synthesise the knowledge that is already available to us. It is this knowledge which provides firm evidence for the provision we have and authority when anyone raises doubts. It allows us have confidence in what we do.

This is not always easy; academic literature often seems inaccessible and new research is not always well publicised. But by understanding the research underpinning the challenges to progression, we successfully create grassroots solutions.

I am often asked what I mean when we talk about the programme being research led and for me this means two things:

  1. Before we implement anything new, we examine what the research can show us. Does our opinion based on a small scale sample match the large scale, robust research? What does the evidence say about the problem we are trying to tackle?
  2. What does the newly published research or research we continue to find tell us about what we already do? Do we need to change anything as a result of this?

This can be a frustrating process and has involved the adjustment of programmes and reframing of messages. Most recently, King’s College London published research on white working class boys which ran contrary to much of what we had implemented for our Learning Guide Programme and the staff training I had given. However, we knew the research had merit and continuing poor practice would reduce the long term impact of what we were trying to do. We changed the programme, discussed this with staff and implemented the new ideas… I’ll let you know the impact later this year!

Below are some of the key pieces of research we have used to inform practice at Dyke House. These are neither prescriptive, nor the whole picture – a comprehensive list would be impossible and it continues to evolve.

Widening Participation & Social Mobility – The Big Picture:

Early Intervention:

Geographical Challenges:

Highly Selective Progression:

Gender and Ethnicity:

Supra Curricular & Non Cognitive Skills:

Curriculum & Subject Choice:

Aspirations and Careers:


Parental Engagement:

Check out my Top Tips for Widening Participation in Schools.

Next blog will be on using data in widening participation – what, why and how we use it for maximum impact.

Want to see what we do day to day? Follow the programme on @DHC_Aspirations and Sally on @SallyAnnHolt . Tweet us questions or things you want to hear more about!


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