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2023 in education: the year that was

This blog has been kindly written by Reena Littlehales, the HELOA UK Chair.

Another eventful year in the education world comes to an end. 2022 was certainly a rollercoaster, and we were afforded some more stability this year with one education secretary in Westminster as opposed to the last year, but there was still plenty of movement within the sector affecting how we all help the students with whom we work.

Working with schools and colleges remains at the core of what many of us do, and 2023 has been a year where we’ve seen our colleagues on the teaching and careers side of the desk reaching out to university partners like never before. The good news is, HELOA members are clearly valued in schools and colleges and your inputs are really well appreciated. But we do also have to look at the volume of support requested and ask ourselves why. The pandemic impact will live with us for some time and students will need a wealth of support for years to come.

Looking back at how students went to university this September, we’re all across the UCAS Journey to a Million, expecting a wave of interest in higher education with a growing 18-year-old population. It’s still early days on that journey, but initial signs have been a bit mixed. There does seem to be a dip in demand for higher education amongst our youngest potential applicants, and I’m sure many of you are seeing a growth in interest in apprenticeships and alternative routes into the job market when you’re out and about in schools and colleges. UCAS has also launched its apprenticeship service and we can only expect to see that grow over the coming cycles. With grades in England returning back to pre-pandemic standards and varying models across the nations of the UK, we certainly saw plenty of shifts come results day, with a record number of students securing their place through clearing.

UCAS has also this year launched its new reference format, and again many of you will have been advising teachers and advisers on the best way to navigate the changes. Initial signs are positive, with students having positive application experiences on the whole. As with any change, there will always be some nerves, and again the HELOA network is at its best when confronting these challenges in a supportive way. I’m sure many of you will also have seen the consultation on deadline changes within the UCAS process as well, so change and consultation certainly won’t be going anywhere in 2024.

From an access perspective, many of you will have been working hard to revise your Access and Participation Plans, especially those wave one institutions, and many more of you will be looking at new plans currently for submission in 2024. As part of John Blake’s review of the APP process and structure, big changes in the process shifting from gaps to risks to equality of opportunity are now at the heart of the system, looking to address systematic barriers to access amongst our learners most underrepresented in higher education. Once again, seeing colleagues come together and support each other with this process is the embodiment of the collaboration the Office for Students would also like to see, as well as a fundamental value of HELOA.

We’ve had a busy year at HELOA as well. With my first year as UK Chair, we’ve seen changes across the UK and Group committees, as we wish volunteers leaving us all the best for their futures and a wealth of gratitude, as well as a big welcome to our newest volunteers. We’re working on a new strategy, preparing for our biggest National Conference, and seeing lots of engagements across our 9 HELOA groups. Giving up time to support other members is at the heart of what we do as an Association, and whilst these faces change, your involvement, engagement and passion for the sector never does.

As we look forward to 2024, there’s plenty of change to come and there will be a raft of policy to read and react on, with a likely general election to come as well. Some things though are constant. There will be sandwiches in sports halls, there will be students to support navigating some of the biggest decisions of their lives, and you’ll all be there at the heart of it.

Have a fantastic break, you’ve deserved it, and see you all in 2024.

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