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How do education professionals identify the ‘potential for higher education’ in young people? A groundwork for further research

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The targeting criteria for the Aimhigher widening participation programme were to select learners with the potential to benefit from higher education (HE) who came from communities that are under-represented in HE. Far more research has been pursued on how to identify learners who are among the under-represented than on how to identify learners from these groups who have the potential to benefit from HE.

The purpose of this paper is to offer a basis for further enquiry into the understanding of what is meant by the term ‘potential for HE’ by exploring the ways in which Aimhigher practitioners and others have applied this criterion in practice. It notes the parallel between selection on potential for widening participation and selection in admissions to HE and shows that as the character of HE changes both the criteria for selection and what constitutes the potential for HE will change with it.

The paper will make a distinction between two conceptions of assessing potential: (1) HE potential as one of the inclusion criteria for interventions, or (2) HE potential as an outcome of interventions. Then the paper will consider findings on how ‘potential’ is being operationalised, in particular the use of ‘potential to progress to HE’ rather than ‘potential to benefit from HE’, and the use of Standard Assessment and Cognitive Ability Tests combined in a triangulated approach with professional judgement.
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Keywords: Aimhigher; Widening participation; intervention; potential; selection

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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  • The journal is based on the belief that there are neglected links between research and theory, and policy and practice in the promotion of widening participation in post-compulsory education and lifelong learning. It aims to provide a forum for the development of theory, the addressing of policy questions and the dissemination of innovative practice in the field of widening participation and lifelong learning.
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