Poor educational attainment linked to lower HE participation
Secondary schools are important not only for attainment but also to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to apply to high-status institutions.
Recent IFS research into the determinants of Higher Education (HE) participation among individuals from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds follows two cohorts of students in England – those who took GCSEs in 2001-02 and 2002-03 – from age 11 to age 20 (11). Findings suggest that while large raw gaps in HE participation (and participation at high-status universities) by socio-economic status remain, these differences are substantially reduced once controls for prior attainment are included. So students who perform well in earlier stages of education – regardless of background – are likely to go on to HE participation. Moreover, these findings hold for both state and private school students.
This suggests that poor attainment in secondary schools is more important in explaining lower HE participation rates among students from disadvantaged backgrounds than barriers arising at the point of entry into HE. These findings highlight the need for earlier policy intervention to raise HE participation rates among disadvantaged youth.