Social Mobility Summit 2019

22nd October 2019

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Socio-economic background and ethnicity: what can be done to create more equal access to university?

Recent Bridge Group research shows that compared to other students, young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are half as likely to achieve a strong pass (9-5) in English and Maths GCSEs as other pupils (24.9% vs 50.1%); and 7% less likely to secure a place at a leading English university even when controlling for prior attainment.

Inequality in our education system is still prevalent more than 100 years after Wadham alumni met in Toynbee Hall in 1899 to deliver social reform in London and Oxford. There is clearly much more to be done. 

With its comprehensive access and outreach programme, soon to be based in a purpose-built Access Centre in the new Dr Lee Shau Kee Building, Wadham College is working with a variety of partners to address this inequality.  

Discussion will focus on practical solutions and specific actions different groups (e.g. universities, schools, government, third sector) should take. 

Exactly 120 years after that first meeting of Wadham alumni at Toynbee Hall, guests at the College’s 2019 Social Mobility Summit will gather at the same venue to debate social equality in education, and to identify practical actions with experts from across sectors.   

Discussion will focus on practical solutions and specific actions different groups (e.g. universities, schools, government, third sector) should take. We plan to explore: why this agenda is important and the consequences of not addressing gaps in access and student outcomes; evidence and case studies illustrating what works; innovative practices from the UK and overseas. 

Speakers will also review practical support that could benefit pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds and the role universities should play in providing this, exploring how might this be approached differently for different groups of students, by socio-economic background and ethnic group.

Alumni and guests will be joined by expert speakers, and there will be significant time for audience contribution and comment. We will focus on how the school and university sectors can collaborate to greater effect; debate the latest policies from government; and focus on innovative, practical solutions to create positive change. This discussion will be an opportunity for guests to engage with this critical area of social policy; the output will also inform the College’s approach onwards, and the wider social change that we will advocate.

We are delighted that we will hear from: 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; Nik Miller, Chief Executive of the Bridge Group, a non-profit consultancy that researches and promote social equality; and Ken Macdonald QC, Warden of Wadham College.

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.