Topic briefing

Strategic relationships with schools and raising attainment

Published 27 July 2020

The issue

There is a clear link between educational attainment in schools and colleges and access to and success in higher education.

By establishing stronger partnerships with schools and colleges, higher education providers play an important role in supporting the educational attainment of young people from underrepresented groups and reducing the gaps between these students and their more advantaged peers.

Key facts 

  1. Evidence suggests that the gaps in educational outcomes between underrepresented students and their peers start very early in a child’s life and increase over time.
  2. Recent research shows that the coronavirus pandemic has stalled any progress made on closing the disadvantage gap and has increased the number of children in poverty.
  3. Research shows that when students from underrepresented groups achieve the same levels of attainment as their advantaged peers at age 16, in many cases they are similarly likely to go on to higher education.
  4. However, research shows that students who are underrepresented in higher education are far less likely to get the GCSE grades they need to enter higher education.
  5. Long-term, strategic partnerships between schools and higher education providers can support those from underrepresented groups to develop the knowledge and skills required to succeed. This can include skills sought by specialist providers, such as in art, music or agriculture.
  6. Analysis also shows that entry grades are directly linked with continuation and degree outcomes, indicating that there are clear benefits to providers engaging with schools and colleges to support learners from an early age.

The OfS will encourage providers to support the government’s aims to raise pupil attainment in schools by 2030:

  • 90 per cent of primary school children will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by a third.
  • In secondary schools, the national GCSE average grade in both English language and in maths will increase from 4.5 in 2019 to 5.

The government has signalled that it will encourage greater engagement from higher education providers and OfS in supporting these aims.

Read about our refreshed approach to access and participation


Strategic relationships with schools are relationships between higher education providers and schools that look at governance, the curriculum, teaching methods and extra curricula activities.

Attainment means academic outcomes achieved by young people in schools.

Published 27 July 2020

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