I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently…maybe three months…looking at the experiences of students from different postcodes. POLAR 2 is the categorisation used to assign postcodes by one of two measures- of young people going into higher education, and one of adults holding higher education qualifications.
It’s been very useful and has, as with most social science, helped me to point out the bloody obvious in order to make recommendations as to how to improve people’s lives- the mission of any policy-comms person.
POLAR 3 came out right in the middle of the analysis work we were doing (typical timing aka Sod’s Law) and I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of what the new updated categorisation means in a coffee-ridden meeting at BIS. You’ll have seen it by now: a 2% increase in participation across all five participation quintiles – great news for widening participation policies over the last ten years. What’s even better is that the impact of a 2% increase on lower participation categories is proportionately more impressive than 2% on quintile 5. By this point you may well be asking what gibberish I am on about. Trust me, if I could whack a graph into this it’d do wonders, but I won’t. Basically it shows that the gap in participation between higher participation neighbourhoods and lower participation neighbourhoods has closed somewhat (it’s still not level) but generally, it’s a bit fairer.
Whether it remains this way with the recent omnishambles in all education policy (not just higher ed.) we have yet to see.
Anyhow. The point: Detractors came out in the (HE) press over the use of POLAR categories- over the use of postcodes. Their belief is that measuring participation in a postcode, particularly in areas like central London, paints a misguiding picture as the categories are (generally rightly) seen as a proxy for socio-economic class. To some extent there may be a point, particularly in high-rise accommodation….OH HANG ON…
No. I reckon this:
1) I’ve seen a few high-rise blocks in my time. I’ve lived in them, they can be great- they tend to not be great in many ways too. I’ve also been in the refurbed posh ones. They’re over-priced. What I haven’t been in yet is one that genuinely does mix our glorious class and income-riven society. I’m sure this does happen- I’ve only given anecdotal accounts here…multiple anecdotes do not make data. Nevertheless, stop clutching at straws. Any category error here will be marginal.
2) it’s what we’ve got. It’s based on census data. It is updated. It is taken in conjunction with OTHER EVIDENCE. Oh and those that work with it, admissions and widening participation professionals, know how to do their jobs.
Anyway I reckon that people will cast aspersions on any method you use for this stuff…sometimes for marginally valid reasons, sometimes because it’s about what your trying to achieve- they don’t believe in the WP agenda- sometimes because it sounds convincing. Don’t get carried away with this, POLAR categories help us to paint a picture of who goes to uni and how they get by- important stuff. For every postcode that is flawed, 99 are spot on, for those 99 we will do great things, for the one that’s wrong – its our job to work it out, get in there and make sure that the door of opportunity is open still.
Anyway, back to these bleeding graphs!