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Cara Baer, a doctoral teaching assistant and recent masters graduate, worked as a Research Assistant over the summer to explore how the BA (Hons) Education course helps support students from underrepresented groups through the application and admissions process. Underrepresented groups include students from different socio-economic backgrounds, BAME students, mature students, students with disabilities, carers and care leavers, who might not have considered a pathway within Higher Education. 

The BA (Hons) Education and Education with Foundation programmes are committed to Widening Participation (WP). Their course content illuminates challenges and ways to support underrepresented groups within education and society, and their inclusive admissions processes engages with all applicants, including those who do not initially appear to meet standard university entry requirements.

Cara conducted a three stage research study starting with narrative biographies. This included analysing student assignments that explored their journeys throughout education, which informed how she designed and created a survey. This was sent to students from Foundation, first and second year on the Education course. Students who expressed an interest to participate in an interview enabled Cara to conduct case studies around their experiences of accessing the programme and University.

University of Plymouth open day

In Cara's report, she found that conversations with tutors on open days made a significant difference for students, who felt encouraged, reassured and believed in. When asked to explain why they felt a specific way prior to starting university, one participant who selected ‘Like I didn’t belong there’ went on to explain ‘I was not confident. I believed the university was taking a chance with me’. 

However, after a discussion with a BA Education tutor at an open day the same participant stated that ‘I felt wanted and believed in’.

Other participants shared, "it was the individualised support. It was the feeling of genuinely wanting me as opposed to just a faceless number" which helped make a difference for them during the admissions process.
Students who were worried or concerned that they did not have the qualifications to meet the entry requirements, had encouraging conversations with staff about a tailored approach. In some cases, staff could consider individual circumstances such as contextual offers based on experience alongside alternative tasks to determine their interest in education, prior learning and study skills.

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The BA (Hons) Education programme considers:

  • individualised support including time given to students to discuss their options
  • supporting students to overcome negative emotions about Higher Education 
  • encouragement and reassurance which boosted self belief and confidence.

Cara writes, 'without the opportunity to have an individualised approach to admissions, 4 out of the 6 respondents would have not been able to access HE. BA Education has engaged and supported students who would have otherwise been rejected by the grade/admissions algorithm; this inclusive admissions process promotes inclusion, acknowledges the diversity of applicants, and considers individuals based on their capability and potential rather than formal qualifications.'

Students on Plymouth Hoe

Research with Plymouth Institute of Education

Research in Plymouth Institute of Education (PIOE) is both excellent and highly distinctive, with its lifelong and life-wide approach; foregrounding the vital role learning plays in society and culture. Our researchers explore how and why people learn at every stage of life, from babies to the very old. We have strong research links and networks across the world and a wide range of externally funded national and international research projects.
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