Tailored targeting

January 1, 2009

Small wonder that the success of Aimhigher is not evenly distributed ("Aimhigher's success unevenly distributed", 11 December), since levels of participation in higher education vary widely between communities.

In rural areas, such as much of the South West, targeting by use of deprivation data is problematic because a "local super output area" (a cluster of postcodes) covers a large geographical area and a varied population.

In densely populated urban areas, it is more likely to contain a homogeneous community in which low aspiration and progression are the norm (or the opposite, of course). There are exceptions, but generally those who have the means avoid residing in the poor areas of large cities and towns.

In Aimhigher, the level of deprivation is the clearest indicator of likely attainment and subsequent participation in higher education and is used to define the target communities and the schools that serve them. The final judgment about which learner can most benefit from a limited resource must rest on local knowledge and understanding.

We work closely with co-ordinators within the schools we target and they have ultimate responsibility for identifying the learners who can benefit. These are young people who may otherwise never make it to higher education. They are also those who, with imaginative support, could be the first in their family or in their community to go on to higher-level study. Only teachers can make this judgment.

Sitting on the edge of a very large working-class estate in my Open University office, I know that few of the young people across the road ever see anybody go to university from their school, family or peer group. If we are to help them to change their educational direction, we must give them the courage to stand out from the crowd. It is no mean feat. We can demonstrate that we are making a difference in difficult urban territory and we must not stop the work just as we approach a critical mass that will accelerate our progress.

Let us acknowledge that social class exhibits itself in different ways in urban and rural areas and that different approaches to targeting are called for. Each has its own challenges. We must make progress in both.

Jo Wiggans, Aimhigher Greater Manchester.

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