I’m really glad that social mobility is so firmly on the agenda for Wadham. The very fact that they are on their third Social Mobility Summit but much more importantly the Access Centre being constructed in the Back Quad, the emphasis they have given in terms of the leadership they are providing in Oxford – these things are very important.
Recognition of the attainment gap and the need for financial, academic and social support for students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds were among topics addressed at London’s Toynbee Hall, the pioneering venue for social reform founded by a Wadham alumnus in the late 19th century.
The Warden of Wadham College, Ken Macdonald QC was joined by Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office for Students; Supriya Menon, Deputy Head at Challney School for Girls in Luton; Dr Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust; and Nik Miller, Chief Executive of the Bridge Group and partner at More Partnership.
As Wadham builds Oxford’s first Access Centre to house the College’s ground-breaking access and outreach programmes, Supriya Menon described “grabbing with both hands” the opportunity to collaborate with Wadham on the Luton Project for pre-16 pupils which started in 2015. She outlined her pride in her students and her desire for them to become the influential women of the future but her frustration that many of those going to higher education looked no further than their local university. Describing the academic support programme provided by Wadham combined with the visits to Oxford she told of how participants have, in the short term, had the confidence to become Head or Deputy Head Girls, and in the longer term had successful applications to research intensive universities.
If we are really going to solve the ethnic inequalities in higher education we have to address racial discrimination
Ms Menon called for better support for parents and communities from universities saying: “My Challney Girls’ parents are ambitious for their daughters – they want them to go to London, Russell Group Universities or Oxford and Cambridge. But there is a gap between the aspirations in their hearts and having strategic, practical solutions to support their children on this journey.”
Dr Omar Khan focussed his presentation of the specific problems faced by students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds at every step of the educational journey. “It is important to think that in addition to opening up doors and getting people in, we need to look at what we are doing once they are through the doors so that they have a positive experience,” he said.
“White graduates are three times more likely to get a first than black graduates. If you don’t get a first it is very hard to get an ESRC studentship to study for a PHD. If you don’t have a PHD then it’s harder to become a lecturer. There are only 25 black women professors in all of the UK. If you are a black woman you are 50 times less likely to see a lecturer that looks like you than a while male.”
“If we are really going to solve the ethnic inequalities in higher education we have to address racial discrimination,” he continued.
Dr Khan spoke of the need to collect granular data in order to be able to design social mobility interventions which will work, such as contextualised admissions. “If you don’t properly collect data you are in danger of designing interventions that won’t work or you can’t test whether the intervention was successful,” he commented.
Highlighting the need to used contextualised admissions he asked: “Think of someone who was the best performing free school meal student at their school – maybe that was two Bs and a C at A level but the best in their year group. Surely that would be a better sign of aptitude drive and potential than being one of 40 well off children who got three A’s at A level?”
Sir Michael congratulated Wadham on its energy and commitment to social mobility issues. “I’m really glad that social mobility is so firmly on the agenda for Wadham. The very fact that they are on their third Social Mobility Summit but much more importantly the Access Centre being constructed in the Back Quad, the emphasis they have given in terms of the leadership they are providing in Oxford – these things are very important,” he said.
He stressed that social mobility is about access to university, success at university and progression from university and that this requires financial, academic and social support.
He commended Wadham’s contextualised admissions procedures and stressed the importance of tracking those students through university and researching any relationship between contextualised admissions, and student retention and performance.
Sir Michael also commented on the enormous part that college alumni can play as mentors, supporters and advocates, particularly as increased cohorts of BME students are coming through and can be seen as role models.
In answer to a question about the apparent lack of co-ordination of the number of organisations working to improve social mobility Sir Michael responded that the Office for Students was ‘on the case’ and has set up TASO, the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes, to continue evaluating and sharing best practice on issues of access in Higher Education.
As the panel session concluded the Chair, Nik Miller, thanked the panel and the attendees and commended Wadham for its twin commitment to delivering effective activity to support access, and to evaluating what is working most effectively to help inform wider practice.
Commenting after the event, Wadham’s Access Officer Hugh Munro added: “Wadham is consistently working with a huge number of school students from Year 6 to Year 13 numbering approximately 6,000 a year. Evaluating the impact of our work is therefore vital. Wadham is collaborating with UCAS to evaluate the impact of our sustained programmes targeting Year 12 and Year 13 pupils to see their university destinations. Alongside this, the College is working with More Parnership to help assess the impact of our programmes, particularly with younger age groups, where university is further away.
During final remarks, in answer to a question on social equality at university, the Warden gave the example of the Wadham Ball where Governing Body insists that a number of Ball tickets are available at a lower price for students who couldn’t otherwise afford to go. He also mentioned differential room subsidies for students with incomes below the national average.
In summary he said: “The support that Wadham gets from the alumni community bolsters us in our resolve to continue our work in this area. I was very moved by the way Supriya described the impact that our Luton programme has on the lives of Challney Girls. It underlined for me how right Wadham is to be doing this work – it is a central to what we do.”
The support that Wadham gets from the alumni community bolsters us in our resolve to continue our work in this area
Message from the director of Development, Julie Hage
Wadham College is committed to becoming a beacon for fair access in higher education. The College operates one of the most extensive access programmes in any Oxford college, reaching over 6,000 pupils annually in our 200 regional link schools. The Access to Excellence programme is widening participation and supporting students in every part of their educational journey.
Gifts from alumni and friends make this work possible, and have enabled the construction of Oxford’s first purpose-built Access Centre, to open in October 2020 at Wadham.
Advised by the Bridge Group, we constantly scrutinise and improve our access work, so that it delivers greatest impact and serves best the interests and needs of our prospective and current students. This is evident in our annual Impact Report, which is available publicly on our website.
Wadham and Toynbee Hall
Wadham historian Jane Garnett reflects on the relationship between the College and Toynbee Hall:
In February 1899, a Toynbee Hall meeting was held in Wadham, at which Samuel Barnett spoke, alongside other prominent activists of social reform in London and Oxford. The links between Wadham (where Barnett had been an undergraduate in the 1860s) and Toynbee Hall (founded by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett in 1884) remained strong. The sub-warden of Toynbee Hall in 1899 was a younger Wadham alumnus, Edward Urwick, a social economist who pioneered social work and social science courses in Britain and Canada.
Residence at Toynbee Hall was intended to put social philosophy in creative dialogue with the practical experience of living and working in a very poor part of London and the forging of cross-class relationships. The Barnetts’ commitment was to radical social transformation through the modelling of what they saw as ‘practicable socialism’.
Like many other Wadham undergraduates of his generation who spent time in east London, Urwick was inspired by this vision. Education was at its heart. Both tutors and students in Wadham at the turn of the twentieth century engaged in critical debate about political economy, and put their ideas into practice in social projects in Oxford and beyond. There was support for Ruskin College (founded in 1899, and named after one of the Barnetts’ main heroes) and the Workers’ Educational Association (established in 1903). In 1914, Barnett House was set up in Oxford in Samuel Barnett’s memory as a centre for social inquiry as well as training for social work (the Warden of Wadham at the time was one of the two founding vice-presidents). Dedication to the meshing of the practical and the intellectual to an ethical purpose has continued to characterise Wadham, and it is exciting to reactivate connections with Toynbee Hall, with which we share some important history and ideals.