A Campaign for Positive Change 

Reaching out to higher education establishments recently led me to discover an initiative called FOCUS West (Focus on College and University Study – West of Scotland). The initiative is the west coast branch of Scotland’s ‘Schools for Higher Education’ programme, which seeks to increase pupil progression into higher education by enabling and encouraging collaboration between secondary schools, colleges and universities. FOCUS West was founded in 2008 in answer to the original initiative GOAL, which ran in Scotland from 2000 – 2008 but worked only with secondary schools and universities, missing vital links in the form of Higher National Qualifications and higher education level credits provided at local colleges. FOCUS West works with students from s3 (English and Welsh year 9, around 13 – 14 years old) to s6 (English and Welsh year 12, around 16 – 17 years old). The general structure of the programme seems to be that those in the first two years are invited to participate in open days hosted at a local college or university campus. Those who engage in these provisions are then invited to select from four further initiatives in their fifth and sixth year at secondary school. These options consist of various pathways dependent on the students likelihood of progressing straight into higher education (named their ‘Top-Up’ programme), progressing through further education beforehand (‘Routes For All’), their need to build a portfolio for progressing into an art course (‘Portfolio Development’), or audition and interview preparation required for progressing into a performance or production arts related course (Widening Access to the Creative Industries’). 

Whilst the programme sounds like a much needed development area within our curriculum, there are several pieces of information that I have struggled to find online, and so have reached out for clarification. I am currently awaiting response. 

1) What schools does FOCUS West work with, and how are these schools selected?

2) Is the programme optional in schools and if so, what are the average engagement rates?

3) Are those engaging individually assessed? What are their backgrounds and academic achievements like prior to the programme?

4) Have progression rates increased from the thirty seven secondary schools into further or higher education since FOCUS West was rolled out in 2008?

5) Do you continue to monitor the rentetion and attainment of those progressing once they access further or higher education and if so, what are these rates?

6) Do you work with learners who hope to progress into further or higher education out with the West of Scotland?
FOCUS West state on their website that they are affiliated with thirty seven secondary schools with low higher education progression rates in the West of Scotland, as well as being partnered with nine colleges and seven universities in the same area, and one of these universities in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which was recently ranked third in the world for performing arts education. It is from this conservatoire that FOCUS West’s ‘Widening Access to Creative Industires’ programme is led, and I recently reached out to the programme coordinator to request a meeting in regards to my studies. If any fellow practitioners have questions of their own that they would like to me to raise I would be more than happy to take suggestions in the comments section below. 

1) Have you seen a notable increase in students entering from the low achieving schools that FOCUS West work with?

2) FOCUS West deliver the Widening Access to Creative Industries programme to students in their final two years of secondary schools. Do you believe progression rates into performing arts could be increased if they were engaged in the programme from a younger age? 

Researching the Class Barrier

I recently contacted the UK’s elite performing arts educational establishments and asked if they could supply their percentage of current higher education students from low income households: 

Bird College – Awaiting response 
Birmingham Conservatoire – Awaiting response


Italia Conti Arts Centre – Awaiting response 


Leeds College of Music – ‘Of our full time undergraduates who apply for Student Finance, approximately 30% of them are from the lowest income bracket, which the Office for Fair Access count as their priority group. (This means those with a household income of less than £25,000 per year).’


The Royal Academy of Music – ‘The Royal Academy of Music does not collect financial information from all students (only from specific students who have chosen to let us see information through the Student Finance system). We are therefore unable to provide you with any information, as any data that we were to disclose would not provide an accurate overall percentage of Academy students who may be from a low income home environment.’


The Royal College of Music – Awaiting response 
The Royal Northern College of Music – ‘ …unfortunately we are unable to share anything other than the data publically available through HEFCE.’


The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – ‘Deprivation with SIMD20 and SIMD40 counted as those students coming from the areas of 20% and 40% most deprived data zones in Scotland. Based on our student population and those coming from SIMD 20 or SIMD 40, as a percentage of our overall student numbers this amounts to 12.68%.’

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – Awaiting response 
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – Awaiting response 
The Royal Northern College of Music and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland both replied almost immediately to assure me that they would share these figures as soon as possible, having passed my query on to the relevant staff. My contact at Northern even added a personal note to say that she was delighted to see research being done in this particular area, which was a particularly encouraging response.