Increasing the participation in Russell Group universities of high potential learners from low-performing institutions

Project Details


This research aims to understand decision making around higher education (HE) participation of high-potential learners from different types of school and college where high attainment and future HE participation is not the norm.

Many students who start A-level study in Year 12 clearly have the potential to work towards HE participation at Russell Group Universities. However, some of these students are in schools or colleges with low average attainment where few students progress to Higher Education at all, let alone to the most prestigious institutions. The experiences and perceptions of young people with high potential, in this type of school or college, are likely to differ from those of their equally able peers in better performing institutions – and such experiences and perceptions may hold these young people back.

Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, this research will investigate which home, school and personal characteristics of students in Key Stage 5 are the key influences potentially leading to HE and Russell Group University participation. The research will explore individual factors such as: the nature of career aspirations; financing considerations; knowledge of opportunities and the “system”; self-confidence; and perceptions of school and teacher support; and school- and teacher-level factors, such as: school ethos; setting and streaming; leadership focus on HE/RG attendance; parental engagement; and use of mentors and role models.

The first strand of the research will identify a set of key influences on decision making from quantitative analysis of the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, a large-scale nationally representative dataset of learners who were 18 or 19 (so could potentially have started HE participation) in 2010. The second, qualitative strand will comprise a set of up to 60 case studies of high achieving young people across 6 institutions in Bristol and Birmingham, as they progress through KS5, and make decisions about HE participation. The findings will help us to understand which experiences and beliefs are the greatest deterrents on the path to a RG university, in the specific context of high achieving young people in schools and colleges with low average attainment.
AcronymHigh-Potential Learners
Effective start/end date1/04/1331/01/16

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education
  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


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