Written evidence submitted by the Humber Outreach Programme - Uniconnect

The Humber Outreach Programme is part of the Uniconnect Partnership which works with Office for Students (OFS). We aim to equip young learners from disadvantaged groups to navigate their way through and into Higher Education and reduce the persistent Higher Education attainment gap in the UK.[1]  We work collaboratively with schools, FE colleges, Universities and local authorities to support disadvantaged students, particularly those in receipt of Free School Meals (FSM), by providing independent careers information, advice and guidance. We are based at the University of Hull and cover the four local authority areas of Hull, East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire.


  1. Recognising that attainment is the main barrier to progression, the OfS has recently asked Uni Connect partnerships to broaden their focus to support and broker collaborative approaches by Universities and other higher education providers to raise pre-16 attainment in state secondary schools. This is in addition to its continued role delivering collaborative higher education outreach.


  1. Hull’s economy is based on manufacturing, ports and logistics, health and social care with ambitions to further develop carbon neutral green energy, medi-health technology, and rapid manufacturing utilising the ultrafast fibre network. But Hull faces the structural challenges of a persistent low skill, low wage economy, limiting its economic prosperity. [2] Over half (55%) of lower super output areas (LSOAs) in Hull are within the 20% most deprived nationally, and Kingston upon Hull ranks at 319 (out of 331) on the qualification index ranking, [3] with 25.3% of the population between 16-64 possessing no qualifications at all and only 21.3% L4 qualified or above. There are particularly high patterns of deprivation and benefits dependency in parts of the city with the average healthy life expectancy of residents significantly below the current state pension age. Many adults continued to work during Covid-19 lockdowns in the food and care industries and many of our students were unable to access online learning, due to lack of home computers or study space.


  1. We welcome this inquiry into absenteeism, particularly amongst disadvantaged pupils whose rates of attendance are causing significant concern and threaten to widen the HE gap between FSM and non-FSM pupils.[4] Yorkshire and the Humber has the highest rate of persistent absenteeism in the country, with 13.6% of pupils missing 10% or more of lessons on a regular basis [5]. (2020-21 data released March 22). There is robust evidence of the link between poor attendance and academic achievement at KS2 and KS4 [6]. Good school attendance is a necessary condition for KS4 attainment, without which pupils cannot access Higher Education or many apprenticeship opportunities. Absenteeism is also associated with increases in risky behaviour, including criminality and poor integration into the school environment.


  1. HOP has a collaborative board structure which includes local school heads. Since the pandemic they have advised that schools are facing unprecedented barriers to attendance. In areas of deprivation this is further exacerbated by the substantial increase in the cost of living. Schools are providing more wellbeing, counselling, and family support than ever before, yet attendance nationally is still at its lowest ebb.
  2. Since the pandemic many students, who previously had not had an issue with attendance, have been struggling to return to school regularly.  Absence from school was also adding to mental health anxieties and undermining students’ confidence in their ability to persist and prosper. Schools believe that Covid-19 disruption has left a “hangover” or second “long Covid” effect and asked HOP to provide additional targeted support, to supplement their own whole school attendance strategies.


  1. One local school advise that they are currently on 37% of students with an attendance of less than 90%. Many of the reasons given are mental health related (stress, worry, anxiety) and absences are often unauthorised due to a lack of medical evidence. Some parents/carers do not particularly encourage their children into school when they have physical pain but are mobile, have a headache or feeling of sickness.


  1. HOP designed and delivered in 2022 a 6 week mentoring course to selected students (attendance <90% and on track for grade 4-5 in Maths and English, no other known issues) focusing on options and pathways; resilience; stress and time management; interview skills and CV writing in order to support school interventions in absenteeism with the aim of improving pupil motivation and attendance.


  1. Pre and post attendance data results were mixed with approx. 1/3 of students who attended the course improving their attendance.  


  1. A short pre-intervention survey (n=23) found:



Responses averaged 3.17 on a 1-5 Likert scale in response to the statement “I go to school everyday and attend all lessons”. Only 1 student out of 23 answered that they saw their attendance as poor. 8 students answered 4 or 5 on the 5 point scale; 10 students picked the mid-point 3; and 4 students option 2.





-          9 students (39%) advised sickness as the main reason;

-          6 students (26%) other

-          3 students (13%) family

-          5 students circled more than one factor (not done for other statements) - 2 students reporting that school and sickness were their main reasons for absence and the others varying mixtures.


  1. These responses suggest


  1. Whilst a small sample, our work suggests:








  1. Funding to support both schools and interventions such as the Uni Connect programme are necessary and important to prevent the HE gap widening even further and mitigate income disparities in the UK.  Uni Connect is a real positive and well evidenced example of a programme which succeeds to support under represented young people, particularly in places like Hull.   Despite this the OfS has cut the programme’s funding by 52% since 2019, sending a worrying signal to schools who rely on the programme for in person impartial outreach and Careers information and guidance support to tackle what is a worsening situation.




  1. Without additional support and funding for schools and impartial support to disadvantaged students now, the effects of the pandemic on state school pupils are likely to persist. Short-term this will mean that the attainment gap will widen, requiring more costly interventions to rectify. In the medium term, persistent economic disparities will intensify and prospects for levelling up across the country will be bound to fail.

February 2023






[6] Pupils who did not achieve grade 9-4 in English and Maths GCSEs 2019 had an overall absence rate of 9.8% over the key stage compared to 5.2% for students who obtained a grade 4 and 3.7% among pupils who achieved grade 9-5 in both English and Maths.