Methodology

Widening participation in higher education

Published

Progression to Higher Education by Pupil Characteristics

The release covers progression to HE by Free School Meal status, gender, ethnicity, first language, Special Educational Need (SEN) status, Looked After Children, Children in Need and POLAR disadvantage.

For the most recent data, the denominator used for these measures covers pupils aged 15 in 2015/16 in English state-funded schools and special schools (including non-maintained special schools). This denominator is broken down by the pupil characteristics identified above.

The numerator is calculated by identifying pupils who progressed to UK Higher Education (HE) in either 2018/19 at age 18, or in 2019/20 at age 19.

The measures are calculated using matched data. This matches the National Pupil Database to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) Individualised Learner Record and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Student Record and Alternative Provider Student Record. This allows pupils to be tracked from English schools at age 15 to higher education (HE) by age 19. The measures cover HE courses at UK Higher Education Institutions, Alternative Providers and English Further Education Colleges. It must be noted, due to the matching procedures deployed, all figures in this publication should be treated as estimates, and may include a small amount of double counting where pupils attend more than one school. Further details of the matching procedure can be found in the Matching Process section below.

The following table helps to demonstrate how the cohort is tracked through to HE entry.

Academic YearAge at start of academic yearStage of Education
2015/1615GCSEs or equivalent (Key Stage 4)
2016/1716AS Levels or equivalent (Key Stage 5)
2017/1817A Levels or equivalent (Key Stage 5)
2018/1918Entry to HE
2019/2019Entry to HE (following a gap year)

Figures are presented from the earliest point we have consistent and reliable data for each characteristic. Most of statistics in the release relate to progression to HE from 2009/10 onwards, however for Free School Meal pupils we are able to present figures from 2005/06 onwards.

Caveats 

  1. These measures only track entry to HE by age 19. A number of pupils may enter HE at a later age and are not included in these measures.
  2. Prior attainment is not accounted for in these measures. Many pupils will not continue their education; therefore will not hold the qualifications to progress to HE.
  3. Due to the matching procedures deployed, all figures in these measures should be treated as estimates.

Free School Meal Eligibility

Free school meals may be claimed if parents receive any of the following: 

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The Guarantee element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) that does not exceed £16,190
  • Working Tax Credit 'run-on' - the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

The proportion of pupils eligible for (and claiming) Free School Meals can change over time depending on economic factors affecting employment and earnings and any changes to eligibility criteria. This means that in some years, when the proportion of pupils eligible for FSM is lower, the FSM cohort can be relatively more disadvantaged compared to All Other Pupils than in other years.

The table below shows how the proportion of pupils eligible for FSM has changed over time. 

Proportion of pupils eligible for Free School Meals by year aged 19 - 2005/06 to 2019/20

Academic YearPercentage of Pupils Eligible for FSM
2005/0614.4%
2006/0714.1%
2007/0814.0%
2008/0913.8%
2009/1013.2%
2010/1112.9%
2011/1212.5%
2012/1312.9%
2013/1413.4%
2014/1514.0%
2015/1614.3%
2016/1714.9%
2017/1814.5%
2018/1913.9%
2019/2013.4%

For those turning 19 in 2019/20, 13.4% were eligible for Free School Meals at age 15. This is down from a peak of 14.9% for the 2016/17 cohort. It could therefore be argued that the 2019/20 cohort is relatively more disadvantaged than the 2016/17 cohort and we might expect, all other things being equal, that they would therefore have less chance of progressing to HE in 2019/20 than the FSM cohort of 2016/17.

Caveats

  1. There may be pupils who are eligible for FSM but do not claim for a number of reasons. Such pupils will not be classified as in receipt of FSM for the purposes of this measure.
  2. Pupils may have claimed FSM in earlier school years, but not when age 15. Such pupils will not be recorded as in receipt of FSM in this measure.

Progression to Higher Education/High Tariff Higher Education by school type

Changes to Key Stage 5 cohort 

There has been continued reform to KS5 qualifications and methodological changes in the way the KS5 cohort is counted. It is not possible to directly compare figures for HE progression rates from 2017/18 with earlier years and changes in the latest year have added further volatility to the time series.

In the latest year (students who were age 19 in 2019/20) the number of students in the cohort is down around a fifth compared to the previous year. This drop in students is mainly driven by a reduction in the number of students entering tech level and applied general qualifications following the implementation of the full requirements for these qualifications in 2018. There has also been a fall in AS level entries as a results of A level reform.

More information on the changes can be found here: A level and other 16-18 results

Due to these changes, this publication focuses on HE progression for A level students in the main text of the publication, where the cohort is more stable over time. Progression figures for the wider KS5 cohort are still available for download to enable comparison of progression rates by school type within years, however it is not possible to create consistent comparisons over time. 

Changes to A level cohort  

In the latest three years the cohort includes students who took a single AS level (as well as those combining one AS level with vocational qualifications). We would expect these students to have lower progression rates than in the past when the threshold for inclusion in school performance measures was at least one A level. The change has most impact on the state-funded students, who are more likely to study AS levels. 

Figures from 2017/18 onwards are therefore NOT directly comparable with earlier years

The estimated percentages of A level and equivalent students, by school and college type, who progressed to higher education and high tariff higher education providers by age 19

For the most recent data, the denominator is defined as pupils aged 17 in 2017/18 who were entered for A levels or equivalent level 3 qualifications at English schools and colleges. This denominator is broken down by the school/college type: state, selective state or independent.

The numerator is calculated by identifying pupils who progressed to UK Higher Education in either 2018/19 at age 18, or in 2019/20 at age 19, and of those, which pupils progress to high tariff Higher Education Providers (HEPs).

This measure is calculated using matched data. This matches the National Pupil Database to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) Individualised Learner Record and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Student Record and Alternative Provider Student Record. It must be noted, due to the matching procedures deployed, all figures in this measure should be treated as estimates. 

The following school types make up the state school/college group in this measure:

  • Academy – Sponsor Led
  • Community
  • Voluntary aided
  • Voluntary controlled
  • Foundation
  • City Technology College
  • Community special
  • Foundation special
  • Further Education
  • Academy – Special
  • Academy – Converter
  • Free School – mainstream
  • Special Free School
  • Converter Special Academy
  • Free School – UTC
  • Free School – Studio School
  • Free School – 16-19

Independent schools include the following school types:

  • Non-maintained special
  • Independent School approved to take pupils with Special Educational Needs
  • Independent
  • Independent special

Caveats 

  1. Prior attainment is not accounted for in this measure. Many pupils may not achieve the required Level 3 qualifications to progress to HE.
  2. Due to the matching procedures deployed, all figures in this measure should be treated as estimates.

HE Provider Tariff Groupings

Providers have been grouped into low, medium and high tariff providers based on the normalised mean tariff score of their intake.

The cohort used for the calculation is UK domiciled full-time first year entrants to undergraduate courses at UK Higher Education Providers who are aged under 21. The providers relate to those providing returns to the HESA Student Record and Alternative Provider Record.

The calculation of mean tariff is based on the UCAS tariff points of the cohort, where each individual points score is normalised to reflect the equivalent of the top three A level score achieved by the entrant.

The UCAS points used in the calculation for the current year are shown below for A level grades:

A Level GradeUCAS points
A*56
A48
B40
C32
D24
E16

The maximum score achieved by entrants is therefore set to 168 UCAS points (3 A levels at A* or equivalent). The calculation is carried out for each individual year, with the tariff points used relating to those that were in place at the time.

Only entrants with UCAS tariff points recorded are included in the calculation. The calculation is carried out for entrants in each individual year and so providers may change between groupings year on year.

Once the mean tariff score is calculated for each provider, they are ranked and then allocated to low, medium and high tariff groupings with each forming roughly a third of the student cohort.

Although all providers are included in the calculation of low, medium and high tariff, we suppress the provider level data for the smallest providers, where the figures are likely to be volatile and less representative of the provider as a whole. Data for providers is suppressed where the number of students included in the calculation is below 23 or where there are fewer than 50% of the cohort with tariffable qualifications.

For this publication we focus on high tariff providers but breakdowns by low, medium and high tariff groupings may be included in future publications. We will continue to update the groupings as new data becomes available.

More details on tariff points are available on the UCAS website:

UCAS undergraduate tariff points

The measure is not intended to be used to rank providers based on their selectivity or to judge their quality. In particular, some providers, such as those specialising in single subjects such as music and drama, are less likely to rely on UCAS tariff points for entry than more general providers. Judging selectivity based on UCAS tariff points alone is therefore likely to give a false impression. In addition, some of the more diverse providers are likely to be selective for some subjects and not others and this would be hidden by a measure covering the whole provider.

It should also be noted that the measure is based on UK entrants aged under 21. The measure may therefore be less representative of providers where they have a large proportion of non-UK domiciled students and/or older students.

This publication relates to progression to HE by age 19 for students who attended English schools and colleges. Given the coverage differs from that used to identify the tariff scores, we would not expect to see a third of students who attended English schools and colleges in each tariff group. The proportion in each group is also likely to be less stable than a measure that includes the full UK cohort.

POLAR Disadvantage

Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) is produced by the Office for Students (OfS) and classifies small areas across the UK into five groups according to their level of young participation in HE. Each of these groups represents around 20 per cent of young people and are ranked from quintile 1 (Q1) (areas with the lowest young participation rates, considered as the most disadvantaged) to quintile 5 (Q5) (highest young participation rates, considered most advantaged). This has been updated over the years to POLAR2, POLAR3 and POLAR4. This publication presents information using POLAR4.

More information on POLAR can be found here:

Participation of local areas

Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) was introduced to assess, recognise and reward high quality teaching and student outcomes in higher education. Universities are awarded a rating of Gold, Silver or Bronze taking into account factors such as student satisfaction, employment outcomes and retention rates.

In the TEF, a higher education provider is rated:

  • Gold for delivering consistently outstanding teaching, learning, and outcomes for its students. It is of the highest quality found in the UK
  • Silver for delivering high quality teaching, learning, and outcomes for its students. It consistently exceeds rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education
  • Bronze for delivering teaching, learning, and outcomes for its students that meet rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education

TEF is currently a voluntary scheme and so not all providers participate. The awards relate to the rating held by providers as at June 2021. A full list of providers and their TEF rating can be found here:

TEF Outcomes

Matching Process

The National Pupil Database (NPD) contains administrative data on all pupils in schools in England, collected by the Department for Education. Key Stage 5 (KS5) data and Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC) records were matched to the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) Student Record and Alternative Provider Student Record, and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) Individualised Learner Record (ILR).

The matching process allows for school pupils to be tracked through to Higher Education. The match achieved is called a “fuzzy match” where we rely on names, postcodes, dates of birth, etc and there is some potential for minor errors in the matching process. For this reason, the figures are deemed estimates due to the reliability of the matching procedure used.

Changes in 2019/20

Changes to KS5 Figures

The HE progression figures now include HE in Further Education colleges for all years in order to give a fuller picture of progression to HE across all provision types.

The table below shows the impact on HE progression rates of including FE colleges for A level students by KS5 school type. 

Change in HE Progression rates for A level students due to inclusion of HE in FE colleges (Percentage Points)

TotalIndependentOther StateSelective StateTotal
2010/110.41.40.41.2
2011/120.41.50.51.3
2012/130.52.00.71.7
2013/140.62.20.81.9
2014/150.62.10.81.8
2015/160.51.90.71.6
2016/170.52.01.01.8
2017/180.72.11.21.9
2018/190.62.01.41.8
2019/200.62.01.51.8

The inclusion of HE in FE colleges has most impact on the HE progression rates for A level students who attended non-selective state-funded schools at age 17, increasing progression rates by around 2 percentage points in most years.

For the wider KS5 cohort, progression rates increase by up to 3 percentage points.

The change has a marginal effect on high tariff HE progression rates.

Additional geographic breakdowns

The publication now includes local authority and regional figures by gender, ethnic group and Special Educational Need status.

These can be found in the Explore data and files section at the top of the main release.

Changes in 2018/19

Children in Need

Figures on progression to higher education for Children in Need were included for the first time.

A child in need is defined under the Children Act 1989 as a child who is unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health or development will be significantly impaired without the provision of services, or the child is disabled. 

This publication presents figures for Children in Need at 31st March for state-funded and special school pupils who were 15 at the start of the academic year.

More information about Children in Need statistics can be found here:

Children in Need statistics

Note that figures are only available on a consistent basis for Children in Need progressing to Higher Education from 2015/16 onwards.

Deduplication

The matching process leads to a small number of duplicates appearing in the data. The method of deduplicating the data was changed to prioritise entry to Higher Education Institutions above Alternative Providers and Alternative Providers above Further Education colleges where a student attended more than one provider in the same year.

The deduplication method was also changed for a small number of pupils where they appear to have two distinct records at an individual school.

These changes were applied to the full time series, which resulted in small changes to some of the statistics presented.

Other Widening Participation Measures

The measures given in the main body of the publication should be considered alongside other statistics on widening participation in Higher Education. 

Some other measures are described in the following section. 

 

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS): End of cycle reports

UCAS releases widening participation data in December each year, including analysis of entry rates by POLAR disadvantage and entry to higher tariff providers: 

UCAS End of Cycle Reports

 

Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA): Performance Indicators in Higher Education

HESA has published Performance Indicators in Higher Education since 2002/03 and the latest information is available from the HESA website: 

HESA Performance Indicators 

The Performance Indicators provide information about the proportion of entrants who are from state schools and low participation neighbourhoods as well as previously provided data on young peoples’ socioeconomic class. The indicator for state schools reflects the percentage of young, full-time entrants to first degrees in English Higher Education Institutions who had previously attended a school or college in the state sector. These measures differ from the widening participation measures as they focus on the composition of the HE student population rather than progression rates into HE. 

 

Destinations of Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 pupils

DfE also produce destination measures showing the percentage of students progressing to further learning in a school, further education or sixth-form college, apprenticeship, work-based learning provider or higher education provider. The KS4 measure is based on activity at academic age 16 (i.e. the year after the young person finished compulsory schooling). The KS5 measure is based on activity in the year after the young person took their A Level or equivalent qualifications. 

The latest information is available here: 

Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 Destinations

Main differences between the KS5 destination measures and the progression to HE by school type measure in this Widening Participation in Higher Education (WPHE) publication: 

  • In the past the DfE destinations figures only covered those in the first year after KS5 exams, whilst the WPHE figures are those entering HE by age 19. An additional destination measure has now been added which looks at progression in the two years after KS5. This new measure is more comparable with the WPHE figures.
  • Destinations figures cover those entered for A levels or equivalent qualifications at ages 16 to 18 (at the start of the academic year), WPHE figures cover those studying A levels or equivalent qualifications aged 17 at the start of the academic year.
  • Destinations figures cover only those who stayed in the education destination (in this case HE) for at least the first two terms, WPHE covers all entrants except those who dropped out in the first two weeks.