Widening Participation

Widening Participation to Higher Education and Social Mobility

Widening Participation is a complex proposition within which there are taken-for-granted assumptions that themselves may need challenging. We work alongside and often in partnership with the University’s Undergraduate Office and the Students’ Union, the North East Raising Aspirations Partnership and the HEFCE-funded North East Collaborative Outreach Programme.

Our research interrogates the ways in which we conceptualize social mobility, aspirations and agency through working in dialogue with young people. We aspire to work with a primarily asset-based, rather than needs-based framework to supporting school pupils and HE students designated as disadvantaged. We interrogate how far we should focus on individuals without attending to structural issues which may routinely disadvantage some in society. We believe in the importance of situating this work alongside research on school-based fairness and out-of-school learning, as these are critical to widening participation.

4) Widening participation to HE and social mobility

  • Under-represented groups and progression to HE
  • Aspirations and educational progression
  • Critical approaches to social mobility

Key projects:

  • 2016 – 2017 Changing Stories – narrative and relational agency in widening participation, ESRC Impact Accelerator Account. Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith (PI), Karen Laing.
  • 2016 Changing Stories scoping and pilot, Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal. Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith (PI), Karen Laing.
  • 2012 Can Raising Aspirations Impact on Educational Attainment? Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • 2013 – 2014 Supporting the Progression of Looked After Young People to University: Evaluating the work of the North-East Raising Aspirations Partnership in the context of analysing differing pathways to university progression for looked after young people, Catherine Cookson Foundation. Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith (PI), Karen Laing.
  • 2010-2011 Interventions in aspirations and attitudes: influencing educational attainment, Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Funded review of evidence: Prof Liz Todd (PI), Colleen Cummings, Dr Elaine Hall, Dr Pam Woolner, Prof James Law (Speech), Dr Janice McLaughlin (Sociology) Dr Ivy Papps (Economics).


Thumbnail: transition
Transition between key stages in schools: [second output report] 2001
thumbnail stories that make a difference book
Creating a transformational space through narrative: looked after young people 2016
Thumbnail: Choices Together
Supporting the Progression of Looked After Young People to University: Evaluation of the Choices Together Programme 2015
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Family beliefs and practices around academic ability and social mobility 2014
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Can changing aspirations and attitudes impact on educational attainment? A review of interventions 2011

















Creating a transformational space through narrative: looked after young people tell their life stories. Laura Mazzoli Smith, presentation at ESREA European Society for Research on the Education of Adults, Life History and Biography Network, March 2015 (presentation slides)

Can democratising widening participation discourses contribute to the resources of hope available to marginalised learners? Laura Mazzoli Smith, presentation at ESREA Life History and Biography Network Conference 2016 ‘Resources of Hope’ – The place of hope in researching learning lives (presentation slides)

Supporting looked after young people and thinking through issues around labelling. Laura Mazzoli Smith and Karen Laing, presentation at CfLaT Showcase September 2015 (presentation slides)

Newcastle University: A Leader in Widening Participation. Lucy Backhurst (Head of UK Recruitment and Admissions) and Liz Todd (Professor of Educational Inclusion) (presentation slides)