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GCSEs not universities are improving access, says expert

Better education at GCSE level is behind a rise in the number of disadvantaged students at university rather than widening participation activities, the former head of the university admissions system has claimed.

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service from 2010 to 2017, said that higher-quality education at GCSE level had more impact on getting disadvantaged students to university than universities’ own efforts to improve participation. Curnock Cook, who is now strategic adviser to the University of Buckingham, was speaking at the Creating Positive Futures for Boys and Young Men event in London on 19 November.

“One of the things that always fascinated me in the discourse about widening participation in higher education was that for all the fuss made by the Office for Fair Access and so on…actually the gains in participation from lower-income groups were completely in lock-step with improvements in GCSE scores—arguably, not a lot to do with the widening participation activities,” said Curnock Cook.

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