From free school meals to university

The proportion of key stage 5 (KS5) advanced students eligible for free school meals (FSM) progressing to university is seen as a measure of social mobility. It’s clearly a statistic of interest, even if the data raise more questions than answers about what factors are most significant in promoting social mobility.

There are also deeper questions about the very notion of social mobility as a social policy objective, these can be addressed in a future post.

In a previous post I showed that the Social Mobility Index recently produced by the Sutton Trust seems to miss out the majority of FSM students; those who are attending colleges. This post aims to give a sense of what happens if college students are included. The Sutton Trust measure also includes early years, Key Stage 2 and GCSE performance of disadvantaged pupils as well as their progression rate to professional occupations.

The table below, drawn from base data from the government for 2012/13, ranks the top local authorities by the proportion of advanced FSM students who progress to university. It also provides actual numbers to give a sense of scale. It’s a fairly rough and ready first pass and I’ve only included the top 25 local authority areas (of around 150). It compares the actual ranking with the Sutton Trust rankings to show any difference the college data makes. Although the ranking systems aren’t strictly comparable it’s clear that, as it currently stands, the Sutton Trust table does not rank the areas accurately for this measure; the rankings are jumping around all over the place with many high performing areas under-ranked.

Key points:

1. Colleges are the major providers in educating disadvantaged sixth form students

  • The majority of FSM students at KS5 are studying in colleges: 19,580 or 62% of the total
  • The majority of these FSM students who progress to university also come from colleges: around 7,600 or 54% of the total.

2. The London effect is very marked with higher progression rates than any other region

  • London’s FSM university progression rate is 58% compared to the national rate of 45% and it is the only region with above average FSM university progression.
  • 30% of all FSM KS5 students are from London, this rises to 38% of those who progress to university: 5,449 students
  • 20 out of the top 25 local authorities for progression rates are London boroughs.

3. The progression gap* between FSM and all students varies widely between areas

  • The most successful local authorities often have no progression gap and many have a small positive advantage for FSM students.
  • The least successful local authorities also often have a big progression gap, sometimes numbers are small but Kent stands out with only 140 FSM students progressing to HE out of 500 and a progression gap of 17%.

*The FSM progression rate minus the all student progression rate.

Area: top 25 FSM progression rate FSM students progressing Progression gap Actual rank ST rank
Redbridge 67% 260 1% 1 13
Brent 67% 180 1% 2 16
Ealing 65% 150 1% 3 25
Enfield 65% 150 2% 4 18
Tower Hamlets 64% 360 2% 5 18
Camden 64% 270 12% 6 34
Wandsworth 63% 260 6% 7 81
Harlow 63% 190 1% 8 349
Barking 63% 170 6% 9 18
Hackney 63% 200 3% 10 62
Bexley 63% 50 3% 11 34
Kensington & Chelsea 62% 80 -3% 12 34
Luton 61% 110 2% 13 x
Hillingdon 61% 170 5% 14 8
Islington 59% 290 5% 15 157
Calderdale 58% 70 4% 16 74
Lewisham 58% 180 2% 17 101
Wolverhampton 58% 110 -2% 18 48
Haringey 57% 170 7% 19 34
Waltham Forest 57% 390 2% 20 11
Newham 57% 350 0 21 1
Hamm. & Fulham 56% 190 1% 22 46
Richmond / Thames 55% 110 5% 23 81
Westminster 55% 230 8% 24 25
Coventry 54% 130 -1% 25 48
England 45% 14,252      

Data for Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) for the same year shows that our college sent more disadvantaged students to university (270) than any other single sixth form provider in England and many whole local authorities. This represents 10% of all FSM students progressing to HE from Inner London. It also had a much higher than average progression rate for its KS5 cohort – equivalent to one of the top 11 local authority areas and with higher numbers than most of them.

  FSM progression rate to HE FSM students progressing
NewVIc 63% 270
England 45% 14,252

More on that here:

NewVIc: highest number of disadvantaged students going to university

More about where our students progress to:

Where do all our A level students go?

Vocational education: rejecting the narrative of failure.

Investing in East London’s future

College success with disadvantaged students


About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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