How to identify potential in disadvantaged students

Jan 6, 2017 | Diversity

Naomi Kellman, Schools, Universities and Data Manager at Rare Recruitment shares her latest insight, which is helping employers to better identify potential in candidates from lower socioeconomic status groups. 

I grew up in Croydon as the eldest of six siblings, born to parents who didn’t attend university. I attended a local comprehensive school, where I achieved the top GCSE grades in my year. Worried that my school had little history of sending students to top universities, I moved school with the hope of increasing my chances. Thanks to a combination of hard work, expert advice, and a dash of good luck, I secured a place at Oxford to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

When I got to university I realised I was clueless about graduate recruitment processes –

I lacked the knowledge, work experience and soft skills of my peers. Although I had achieved the same grades, I had done so in a context that hadn’t afforded me the same experiences as them.

The Rare Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) allows recruiters to understand the context in which a candidate has achieved. It does this by considering their academic, socioeconomic and personal circumstances. Since its launch in 2015, the system has processed over 100,000 applications to top employers, with firms using the system seeing a 50% increase in the number of people they hire from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Our most recent research report, ‘Level Playing Field?: Super Schools, Social Mobility and Star Outperformers’, analysed data from these applications to identify trends that would help employers better identify potential in candidates from lower socioeconomic status groups.  

#1 trend: importance of switching schools

The CRS provides context on a student’s academic environment by providing a percentile ranking of the schools he or she attended. The data revealed that disadvantaged candidates are disproportionately likely to change schools between their GCSEs and their A Levels. For example, students on free school meals and refugees were at least three times as likely as the overall sample to switch from a bottom 40% school to a better performing school. This suggests that if employers want to truly understand the context of a student’s academic achievements, they need to consider the quality of the education received at both Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5. This is because looking solely at A Level schools might obscure the fact that they achieved highly at an underperforming school for their GCSEs.

Conversations with Rare candidates over the years have revealed that switching schools can often be a demonstration of resilience and ambition. We have spoken with candidates who have travelled over two hours in order to secure a better education. Others have spoken about the challenge of adjusting to a highly academic environment having studied in an underperforming school for their GCSEs. In many cases these students have managed these difficulties and gone on to secure top marks, suggesting they have the resilience required to see them through university as well as the challenges they might face at work.

#2 trend: refugee students are significant outperformers

The CRS provides employers with information on how well a student has achieved at A Level relative to their peers. For example, a student who achieves A*AA at a school where the average performance was CCC will have outperformed their peers by a significant proportion. Our analysis revealed that refugee students had the greatest outperformance rate of any group, at 20%, compared to 14% for all students within the sample. This, combined with the fact that refugee students were also three times as likely to move from a bottom 40% school to a higher performing school, suggests that refugee students are among some of the most ambitious and resilient students applying to top firms.

#3 trend: continued need for outreach in disadvantaged areas and schools

We identified ten ‘super schools’ that produced a disproportionate number of applications to top firms, with a student from one of these schools being 100 times more likely to apply to a top firm than a student from a school in the bottom 10%. In addition, applications to top firms continued to originate from the south east and major cities, with rural and coastal locations producing the fewest applications. Working with Rare candidates on our social mobility programmes has demonstrated how important the chance to visit firms can be for students based outside of major cities. In addition, financial support to cover the cost of travel and accommodation for such visits is essential if students from lower income backgrounds are to be able to engage with top firms.

The beginning of September marks the beginning of a new round of applications passing through the Rare Contextual Recruitment System. We expect to have an even larger data set to analyse at the end of the cycle, and look forward to re-examining the trends we identified, as well as providing new insights into how to identify potential in students from disadvantaged groups.  

For more insights and expert opinion visit ISE Knowledge

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