HMC schools / leading universities inaugural summit on transitions for 16-21 years

At a time when teenagers’ wellbeing is at the top of the educational and political agendas, leading independent head teachers and university leaders will today (Tues) launch a new initiative to help students as they move from school to university.

The conference, convened by HMC, will for the first time call on university and school leaders to work together to improve pastoral and academic support for 16-21 year olds as they make one of the major changes of their lives.

Richard Harman, Chair of HMC and Headmaster of Uppingham School, will tell the conference that new challenges face both leading independent schools and universities and there is urgent need for consistent and thought-through transition.

“The students we teach every day, and their peers in state schools, are arguably under more pressure than ever before.

“They are anxious about high-stakes exams, unreliable marking, 24/7 pressures of social media, lack of jobs and housing, increased debt and constant upheaval in all levels of their lives. And they have to live with predictions that they will be the first generation worse off than their parents. Anxiety and depression pay little attention to income or academic prowess.

“In HMC schools we have already substantially increased our pastoral care over five years and have formed a new high level working group to drive further innovation. These innovations will need to complement similar initiatives being undertaken by some universities.

“For we all know school and college leavers do not magically turn into fully fledged adults the minute they step out of the classroom and into the lecture hall. Leaving school, leaving home and creating a new life at 18 is bound to be a time of acute anxiety.

“The answer undoubtedly lies in a package of measures to ensure all students are resilient at each stage of their development, take relevant qualifications, have appropriate levels and styles of teaching and assessment and are equipped with the skills as well as knowledge to make them highly employable.

“Today, on behalf of my colleagues at the HMC, I commit to a programme of change which helps our students navigate an already difficult path to successful adulthood and empowers them to face the future with confidence.

“Schools and universities have different jobs to do but we share a responsibility to ensure students in full-time education navigate their way safely, effectively and confidently from being teenagers to young adults.”

Co-host Professor Sir Bob Burgess, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Leicester and Chair of the Higher Education Achievement Report steering group, will question whether the first year of university should count towards degrees in more subjects, and whether employability should be a theme linking school and university.

“At a time of unprecedented concern over young people being equipped to face the future with confidence and optimism, this is an important new joint initiative,” he said.

“Together we need to ask hard questions about how we continue to support our students, the structure of degree exams and courses, and teaching styles.

“I am confident there is common ground that will allow us to build on the good work already being done, find answers and provide a better experience for all students in our care.”

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice Chancellor and Principal, University of Birmingham said:

“I am delighted that HMC and colleagues from Higher Education are addressing the issue of transition from school to universities. We all know how important and urgent the issue is, and I hope that this will be the start of regular, formalised contact to improve communication and understanding between both sectors, for the good of students.

“Enabling students to thrive at universities is critical and partnership working to support them as they move from schools to universities will be invaluable.”

NB Sir David will not be attending the conference.

Conference aims

Independent schools and universities will be joined by ASCL to identify and highlight:

  • common interests and expertise of school and university leaders in managing the support of 16-21 years olds
  • increasing importance of partnership working to help students through these key transitional steps
  • ways to address key issues – qualifications, assessment, teaching, student support – for the UK’s greater educational and social good.

Conference speakers and seminar themes


Qualifications reform and admission to higher education 

Styles of teaching and learning in higher education

Student assessment pre- and post-18

Skills for life/educating the whole person, including employability, resilience and personal well-being

Anticipated conference outcomes

A range of initiatives between schools (independent and state maintained) and universities in the areas of

  • qualifications
  • assessment
  • teaching
  • student support

focused on better and more coherent support to young people aged 16-21 moving though stages of full-time education and into work

Background data

Two surveys are particularly relevant:

a) HMC/Populus 2011 survey on undergraduate satisfaction with teaching and student support (previously unpublished)

500 state school educated and 500 independent school educated final year undergraduates attending Russell Group or 1992 Group universities in Britain were interviewed in May 2011.

The students surveyed were paying annual tuition fees of between £0 and £3,225, depending on UK domicile.

b) HEPI-HEA 2014 Student Academic Experience Survey (published in May 2014 at:
15,046 undergraduates were surveyed during February - March 2014.  43% were in their first year of study.

Respondents were those paying annual tuition fees of between £0 and £9,000, depending on UK domicile and year of entry.

Key finding

Student satisfaction declines considerably following the transition from school to university, with independent school pupils experiencing the greater contrast in satisfaction.

Further findings, 1: Teaching quality:

HMC/Populus 2011 survey

  • 52% of all respondents said they had had better teaching at school than at university (Ind.Sch. 61% vs. State Sch: 42%); 28% felt the reverse (IS: 18% vs. SS: 38%).  Reasons given included: more personal attention at school, clearer guidelines and more detailed feedback.
  • Conversely, 41% had felt more motivated to learn at university compared to school (IS: 38% vs. SS: 44%).
  • Students studying humanities and social science were much less satisfied about value for money at university than STEM students.  A mere 14% considered that their course would have been value for money if fees were to rise to £9,000

HEPI-HEA 2014 Student Academic Experience Survey

  • 27% of students felt their expectation of their course of study had been exceeded; 12% that it had been worse; and 50% in some ways worse and in others better.
  • Those feeling it had been worse gave the following reasons: I haven’t put in enough effort myself (36%); poor course organisation (32%); fewer contact hours than expected (32%); lack of support for private study (28%); teaching worse than expected (27%); poor feedback (26%); low level of interaction with staff (26%).
  • Only one third of students described pre-course information as accurate.  18% described it as vague.
  • Across the UK, 44% of students felt that they were obtaining good or very good value for money; the figure solely for England alone was 36% (down from 52% in 2012).
  • Across the UK student priorities for greater institutional expenditure were: reducing fees; increasing teaching hours, decreasing class sizes; better training for lecturers; better learning facilities.

Further findings, 2: Are undergraduates happy?

HMC/Populus 2011 survey

  • Respondents rated this provision as having been much better (‘very’ or ‘quite’ good) at school (75%) than at university (53%).
  • Students who had attended independent school were much more likely than their state school peers to have rated the school-age provision as very good (57% vs. 22%).
  • This difference by school background disappeared when final year students rated the university-age provision they had experienced: only 18% considered it to have been ‘very good’.

HEPI-HEA 2014 Student Academic Experience Survey

  • Most undergraduates report being happy and purposeful.
  • However, undergraduates appear to experience less well-being than those in the general population, including those aged 20-24.
  • Levels of well-being experienced in the first undergraduate year are not sustained in the remaining years of the course.
  • Wellbeing is lowest among Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi undergraduates.

House of Commons seminar

At a recent HEPI breakfast seminar at the House of Commons, attended by politicians and leaders in higher education, the following points were made.

  • 60% of students experiencing mental health difficulties do not disclose this to their university.
  • The number of undergraduates disclosing mental health problems has doubled over a decade to around 5% of the age group.
  • Principal worries are: getting a good degree, personal finance and the university experience not matching expectations.
  • Students reporting disappointment with their course were most likely to blame their own level of commitment to it.

For further information please contact:

Sue Bishop, Director of External Relations, HMC  Tel: 07787 294808 [email protected]

Dr William Richardson, General Secretary, HMC [email protected]

NB: journalists are not invited to the conference but participants may be available for interview

Click here to download this press notice.