Schools don’t let us speak to pupils, claim universities trying to widen access

Guidance teachers ‘play down the chances’ of pupils going to university, conference delegates claim

University staff have criticised schools for not doing enough to get poor teenagers into higher education, claiming that some teachers have low expectations of pupils and even prevent visits from widening-access teams.

An event on fair access heard how some teachers were dismissive about certain pupils’ chances of getting into higher education – and even “ashamed” by their behaviour.

But Gerry Lyons, the only headteacher at the event – titled The Journey to Fairness: Widening Access to Higher Education – later made a staunch defence of schools and called on universities to up their game.

The Holyrood Events conference, held in Edinburgh, heard that some schools were harder for universities’ widening access staff to visit than others, and questions were raised about some teachers’ commitment to helping all pupils. One university delegate expressed concerns about guidance teachers who played down the chances of certain young people getting into higher education.

‘Difficult to work with’

“The attitude of guidance staff can be really detrimental,” she said, recalling one who was unhappy when a group of less academic pupils was sent to meet a university representative. “Her attitude was, ‘I know for a fact that these pupils are in learning support and it will be very unlikely that they will ever be capable of getting a degree’…I’m not saying all guidance teachers are like that – there are some absolutely incredible ones out there – but quite often, guidance staff can be difficult to work with.”

Another delegate recalled meeting teachers who seemed uncomfortable working with visitors from universities because certain pupils were liable to misbehave or use bad language. “It was almost like the teachers themselves were ashamed of the potential behaviour of their pupils. That worried me,” he said.

Mr Lyons, the headteacher of St Andrew’s Secondary, in Glasgow’s East End, suggested that universities needed to improve their approach to widening access: there had been lots of work done over the years, but it had not had “the impact you would want”. He added that the vast majority of guidance teachers were highly supportive of pupils.

On the issue of university staff finding it difficult to get into some schools, Mr Lyons – a member of Dame Ruth Silver’s Commission on Widening Access – told delegates: “I am astonished about that, because I can’t quite understand why any school wouldn’t want to engage with higher education.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 24 June edition of TESS. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android and iOs. TESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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