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Our findings

There has been strong evidence from policy documents, research, and our own work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds for over 20 years that self-concept and attitudes in children’s early stages of schooling inform youngsters’ decisions about Higher Education and future careers. So, it is vital to lay early foundations to prepare children to be intellectually confident which would ultimately influence their trajectories including their orientation to Higher Education.
  • Around 25% of children from poor backgrounds fail to meet the expected attainment level at the end of primary school compared to 3% from the most affluent backgrounds…’  (Promoting social mobility and HE by Sir Vince Cable 2012 at Brunel University national conference).
  • Koshy et al (2013, 2014) reported that parents from low-income families had high aspirations for their children, but the majority of them felt unable to engage with their child’s learning in the home due to their own lack of knowledge.
  • Building cultural capital of students, which is a requirement for educational settings by Ofsted(2019), is designed to provide learners with “the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life”. We have found that many of the factors that build cultural capital were denied to students from poorer backgrounds. 

What we know from the pilot project

The result of focus group discussions, feedback received during talks given to parents, individual interviews with head teachers and parents are presented here.

  • Three Head teachers described the level of living standards of the families as poor. Many of the parents rely on food banks. Children often come to school hungry and are given a mid-morning snack by the school to boost their energy levels and stop them falling asleep.
  • The University team was also told that most of the families do not have any books or magazines at home. Children loved puzzles and quizzes and self-analysis questionnaires and similar activities and wanted more. Children were reported to be clutching activity books sent to them
  • Less than 10% of the parents went to University; most had graduated from their country of origin.
  • Most families lived in high-rise flats which were “overcrowded” and children spent very little time outside their home. Television featured heavily for entertainment.

Aspirations, including plans for Higher Education

A total of 129 parents were asked if they had thought about their children joining universities. 24 of them said yes. Those who had not planned for Higher Education gave the following reasons:

  • There were worries about financial commitment as the fees were too high.
  • 40 told us that it was “too early” to think about HE as the children were not yet old enough.
  • The rest felt that they had not had university education and so were unable to help their children as they didn’t have the knowledge.

After our talks and workshops, 90% of parents asked for information about university entrance and careers

Parents were provided with websites and key information, such as the availability of student loans (and other support grants). In subsequent sessions, 78% of parents talked about websites they had looked at and having conversations with their children, both in the project group and with older siblings, about possible careers they may wish to follow.

The Brunel team explained that the intention was not to shatter the young dreams of becoming famous football players, pop singers or princesses, but to consider other options too. The other option became known as ‘Plan B’. One key aspect which was highlighted was the systematic talent search.

Promotion of greater wellbeing leading to overall self-fulfilment and transformation of outlook

Activities which focused on good habits, such as the importance of sleep, physical activities, hydration and conditioned well-being, resulted in children taking a central role in developing habits. Targeted evidence came in the form of children producing posters on sleep habits, physical activities and the importance of laughter.

Parents reported that they gained useful guidance from our activities.

More laughter at home was reported along with discussions of worry-lists and surveys of adults “mean” and “kind” behaviours during shopping trips.