Do grades still make the grade? 1

September 22, 2006

Stephen Gorard and his colleagues have produced a very comprehensive and valuable review of the literature on widening participation ("Experts: access policy futile" and Opinion, September 15).

While the Higher Education Funding Council for England does not agree with all its conclusions, we published it as a contribution to debate.

Gorard is right to point out that educational achievement is "strongly stratified" by socio-economic factors. But he concludes that we should not use qualifications "to determine who goes to university". Hefce draws a different conclusion. We prefer to keep challenging unequal educational outcomes rather than living with them. This is why Hefce and the Government are investing in Aimhigher to work with children in secondary and primary schools in disadvantaged areas to improve attainment and raise aspirations. We are also investing in Lifelong Learning Networks to improve progression for vocational learners.

This is designed to ensure that more people achieve the qualifications necessary to enter higher education and can make informed choices about whether to do so and what to study and where.

We have never claimed that this is going to be easy or quick - but we do not accept that it is "futile". Neither, to judge from comments that he made elsewhere, does Gorard.

John Selby
Acting director, widening participation, Hefce

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