There are three strands to this project:

  1. an analysis of policy documents, widening participation promotional material, and ministerial speeches examining how young people’s aspirations are discussed in relation to place, and how spatial metaphors are employed;
  2. interviews with widening participation practitioners to examine how policy is put into practice, to understand how these educational professionals conceive of the work they do, and their beliefs about young people’s aspirations;
  3. a small number of focus group workshops with young people from ‘widening participation’ backgrounds (both current school students and undergraduates who have participated in widening participation activities) to consider what it feels like to participate in these events, and the effect they have had in shaping young people’s ambitions for adult life.

Over the summer, I gathered a huge number of policy documents, promotional material and the texts of ministerial speeches, amongst other related documentation.  I presented some very preliminary thoughts on this analysis as a paper at the recent RGS-IBG conference, which seemed to go down well.  When I submitted my abstract for the paper way backat the start of the year (well before the grant was actually confirmed) I clearly thought I would have been able to progress the analysis further over the summer.  As it was, the tight deadline forced me to crack on with the project and to begin a process of interative analysis from the beginning.   I’ll post some of those preliminary thoughts on what I’ve read in these documents in the near future, but the main analysis still remains to be done during the autumn. 

In recent weeks I’ve interviewed nearly a dozen widening participation practitioners who either work in inner London or the East Midlands (and, in one case, a person who currently runs a project that operates nationally).  Earlier today I carried out what will probably be the penultimate interview, with a senior widening participation manager based in the East Midlands.  There is one more interview in the East Midlands already in the diary, and I am still trying to arrange an interview in London with someone I collaborated with on a number of events and activities when I used to run the Access to Medicine Project.  But, as time goes on, I am beginning to realise that there is a limit to how long I can delay sending the interview soundtracks off for transciption while I wait for that interview to be scheduled.  Again, I’ll post some initial reflections and observations on the interviews before too long.

Which really just leaves the focus groups with young people to organise.  I think I have now settled on a couple of schools in inner London and Leicester to approach for their involvement in this phase of the work.  I just need to make contact to see if it will be viable.  Luckily, arranging focus groups with current undergraduates should be less of a challenge.  I had, originally, hoped to organise focus groups with young people from the NEET (not in education, employment or training) cohort in both cities, but as I received a smaller grant that I applied for, and those focus groups could prove very time consuming to arrange, they will have to wait for a future project.


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