Meet Emily Maloney, 17 years old and from Middlesbrough. Emily is also a pupil that joined our Futures programme at the end of last year.
The first things you notice about her; that she is intelligent, and has a fantastic ability to describe herself and tell stories. On what motivates her in life, she highlights that she always sets out to defy people’s expectations before reminiscing on her sporting ambitions as a child.
‘Despite being blind in one eye, I actually signed up to play netball as a child. I then regularly came home with at least one black eye.’
She is also refreshingly open about her love of science, and her fascination with the planets – a passion that she is keen to pursue at university and beyond, ideally with somewhere like NASA. On her reasons for why she loves astrophysics, she explains that it is because it ‘gets [her] thinking, and [I] love to be challenged’.
So with such an enthusiasm about subjects like astrophysics, surely a university like Cambridge – where some of the greatest minds have also studied - is naturally the next step for her?
As Emily herself acknowledges, universities like Cambridge are rarely considered the next step for her and her peers. When told about the numbers of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) that do go on to top universities, she is unsurprised about how few do.
“Not many kids will go to those universities anyway. There can be people that are down about it because you’re from the north east – friends, parents and stuff. Kids like me don’t always have the same opportunities to go to universities like Cambridge, and even when they do, they don’t know what to do with it.’
Through our own work around Access, we know that the national figures tell a similar story. Studies have shown for instance that children from state schools who are eligible for FSM have only a 2,000:1 chance of winning a place at Oxbridge compared to children private schools who have a 20:1 chance.
From speaking to Emily, it’s brilliant to hear how our Futures programme is addressing where problems persist. From visiting a variety of universities across the country, including Cambridge, to hearing from motivational speakers and meeting other students from similar backgrounds, Emily is excited by how the programme has helped to open her eyes to the options that are out there.
“Seeing the universities makes such a difference to what I thought was out there. It makes it seem more achievable, and that I have every right to go there too. And plus, I like to prove people wrong!”
Since 2006, Futures has been an important example of the transformative effect that sixth-form outreach programmes can have on pupils. Only last year, 82% of Futures pupils went on to university, with 40% of them going on to study at highly selective institutions including the University of Manchester, Queen Mary University of London and the University of Southampton. These universities as well as Oxbridge have been at the heart of this work.
More widely, there were an estimated 103,000 young people from working-class backgrounds from the UK who began a higher education course at university in 2013-14. This compares to only 77,000 pupils a decade earlier in 2003–04.
Of course, more work is still needed to be done. But hearing from pupils like Emily, there are great reasons to be optimistic about the future.