The University of Cambridge has been instrumental in establishing a new group to promote opportunities Higher Education can offer to parents in the Fenland area of Cambridgeshire.
Through the project, we highlight what is available to support parents locally and nationally
The group’s first major event was held in May when 25 parents and carers and 25 young people took part in a visit to the University of East Anglia. They toured the campus, met with current students, and took part in training sessions on student finance and university accommodation.
The trip was the first outing for members of Parent Power Fenland, a new group which aims to tackle educational inequality in the area.
Mrs Nunn, a member of Parent Power Fenland, said: “We found out a lot about university fees, help and other resources…it makes the choice of going [to university] so much easier. Being from the Traveller community, it was nice to see everyone make us welcome and…not feel excluded from stuff or that my child would miss out….thank you Parent Power.”
Parent Power provides training, advice and guidance sessions on accessing university, so parents and carers can secure opportunities for their children. It is targeted at parents who may not feel comfortable navigating the university admissions system, including those who have not been to university themselves.
Parents also take part in community organising training so they can make change in their wider communities and ensure that everyone has a fair chance at success in education and beyond.
Fenland parents have identified a lack of public transport as a key barrier to their children accessing developmental opportunities. During the trip, parents came together to sign a letter to Fenland power holders asking to meet and discuss this issue. Parents Jenny and Karen said: “We didn’t realise and appreciate the effect of a lack of public transport and the correlation it has with the percentage of 18-year-olds who go to university.”
In the UK today, graduates from the most competitive universities are more likely to access professional careers and have higher rates of life satisfaction. On average they will also earn £10,000 more annually than their peers. But access to these life-changing opportunities is not equal.
Parents and carers from Cromwell Community College, Neale-Wade Academy, Sir Harry Smith Community College, and Thomas Clarkson Academy have been invited to take part in the network. These schools are in areas where the percentage of young people who go to university is lower than the national average.
Across the UK, 37% of 18-year-olds went to university in 2020. But, according to POLAR4 data, which is a way of measuring the percentage of young people in local areas who progress to university, that figure drops to 27% in Whittlesey, in Wisbech it is 25%, in March it is 33.%, and in Chatteris it is just 23.2%.
The Education Endowment Foundation estimates that parental engagement can help children and young people make an average of 4 months’ additional progress in education, with higher impact for students with lower prior attainment and younger students.
Parent Power Fenland, which is co-founded by the University of Cambridge, is part of a UK-wide network of Parent Power groups coordinated by education charity The Brilliant Club. The Brilliant Club mobilises the PhD community to support students who are less advantaged to access the most competitive universities and succeed when they get there.
Other Parent Power groups have obtained bespoke open days and transport to the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Leicester, received training on student finance, and obtained bursary places at private summer schools for their children. The programme offers opportunities for parents too. Parent leads from other groups have launched a podcast which covers key topics such as resilience and creative thinking, and some have progressed to higher education themselves.
Each group is unique because it is driven by the parents and carers themselves who decide which activities will benefit their local communities. Parent Power Fenland will meet every six weeks over one year, led by a local PhD researcher trained in community organising by Citizens UK. At the end of the first year there will be a celebration event for parents and their families to celebrate their achievements.
Jon Datta, Deputy Head of Widening Participation at the University of Cambridge, said:
“We know that parents care about their children and that they have a colossal influence on their future outcomes. However, parents from less advantaged backgrounds often struggle to navigate their child’s complex and daunting educational journey to higher education, particularly if they didn’t go to university themselves or know anyone who did.
“Parent Power Fenland aims to give parents, based in one of the least socially mobile regions in the UK, a say on their children’s futures and involvement in decision-making at critical points in their education. Parent Power works on the basis that each parent is unique, just as every child is an individual, and that we need to work with them as such. Through the project, we highlight what is available to support parents locally and nationally so they can become more knowledgeable and empowered to support their child’s journey to higher education.”
Jimmy Pickering, Head of Communities at The Brilliant Club, said:
“Our mission is about supporting students who are less advantaged to access and succeed in university. At The Brilliant Club, we know how crucial parents and carers are in their children’s education. Parent Power Fenland is about working with parents and carers so they can support their children to get the opportunities they deserve.”
Sara Basuc, Inclusion Projects Lead for Fenland and East Cambridgeshire Opportunity Area, commented:
“Fenland has been identified as an area of significant disadvantage, meaning children and young people’s chances of doing well in life are particularly low. There are numerous issues facing the area in part caused by its geography, high levels of deprivation, lack of good transport links, digital connectivity that all result in a marked gap in attainment across Fenland.
“By empowering parents and carers, they can influence change that will support not only their child’s future but other children in their community. Parental engagement has a significant and positive impact on children and young people’s learning seeking ways to collaborate and work with parents and carers through Parent Power is a positive way to create change and narrow the gap, improving their life chances.”
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