Widening Access and improving FSM data

This week saw the launch of two key elements of HMC’s commitment to widening access for all. Destination University is a compilation of tips from contributors which focuses on the transition to University in order to help widen access.  The Free School Meals Contextual Data Service enables independent school pupils to apply through UCAS on the same basis as their state school counterparts: with externally-verified data about their individual and family circumstances. Please register your interest in the FSM data service here.

The seemingly intractable problem that was the absence of FSM data for all Sixth Formers has been addressed in the space of a few months.  I am particularly grateful to James Turner at the Sutton Trust for his work on this, and for throwing down the most collegiate of gauntlets to us to come up with a verification mechanism for independent schools, and to Jo Beer of Bursary Assessment Associates and Jonathan Parkes at ISC for working with UCAS and HMC in making this happen. As Vice Chancellor of Oxford University Louise Richardson noted back in 2019, the independent sector has long been excellent at awarding bursaries to disadvantaged pupils, and she observed that a disproportionate number of the FSM-eligible Oxford students were from independent schools. 

Destination University was launched at Tuesday’s IDPE Conference, a celebration of Bursaries and Partnerships work in the independent sector - and a call to action, too. The pandemic highlighted the educational and access divides in the UK; it also created opportunities for change for the better.  Schools which had good pandemics had partnered with local schools to share ideas, best practice, technology and innovation.

At the HMC Spring Conference, the third aspect of the Widening Access Task and Finish group’s work will also be launched.  This is another toolkit, this time for independent schools: on how to optimise bursary applications from encouraging applicants, assessing their needs financial and otherwise, to supporting them fully once they have arrived. 

It has been a good week for cross-sector partnerships and aspiration. While the world shut down during the pandemic, the independent sector built bridges and continues to do so. But there is little point in our doing this if those bridges are not useful and used. Similarly, we can’t measure the impact of this work without widening our own participation.  So please forward the link to the Destination University toolkit to anyone in your network who might use it, and please sign up (here) to the FSM data service LINK for more information.  Also please send any comments on any aspects of this work to Kate Howell at HMC, to Charles Fillingham or to me. We’ll be reporting early next year on how the project has been received, and what impact it has had.  Your help in gathering that information will, as ever, be vital.

Helen Pike is the Master at Magdalen College School Oxford.