A Personal Perspective on Widening Participation

28th June 2019

Tony Moody is heading up Hepp for the rest of 2019 while Gemma is away on maternity leave. Having previously held a number of roles in the civil service, he is currently the Chair of Governors at a Sheffield secondary school. He is a passionate believer in the value of education to enrich our lives, and the necessity for everyone to have awareness and opportunity of the choices available to them.

We are frequently judged as individuals on the basis of our education. Assumptions are made that extrapolate, much further than is justified, to the core of who we are and what we value. Unusually, I get judged the opposite way from most people.

I was genuinely the first person in my family sphere to ever go to university. That’s not just mum and dad or grandparents, but wider family too – aunts, uncles, my six slightly older cousins – and even family friends. Growing up, we knew of literally no one who had been to university; it just wasn’t in our consciousness.

That’s not what people expect if they know that I went onto study first at Cambridge, and then Oxford University for my doctorate. And there’s good reason for that preconception – neither are exactly bastions of social diversity. Although they’re two of the best universities in the world, both are in the bottom five in Britain for entries from state schools.

As with those from similar circumstances, the opportunities and possibilities that university gave me – not just the degree qualifications, but the whole experience – was utterly life changing, opening up so many choices about what I could do or where I could go. My potted life-summary is that it let me escape the London commuter belt to Sheffield and to pursue a civic-spirited career in public service combined with my passion for the outdoors and climbing.

Going to university had a transformative effect on my family too, breaking the glass ceiling. I’ve four younger sisters and they all went to university too, and I could see that the barriers to progressing into higher education were so quickly eroded for my wider family’s mindset. It went from being a big deal to just normal – not something that was expected or required, but rather something that was available and in reach if wanted or needed. And I’ve seen how that carries forward into the next generation, as our respective children are now reaching the age where pathway choices beyond school are being made.

While I’ve attained very well in education, and I’ve used it as a springboard to access further opportunities, in truth, I do realise that luck and good fortune have played a massive role. I’ve had brilliant teachers and institutions that have nurtured whatever talents I had, and all I needed to do was work hard and not mess up. I am much more in awe of the people close to me who have come through despite adversity or challenge in their lives; succeeding in life sometimes without a degree, or sometimes coming to university later on.

I hope this gives an insight into why I think the work of Hepp is so important. I know there would have been kids growing up near me when I was young that were just as bright and capable, but who didn’t get the same lucky breaks with support and encouragement. In the Sheffield City Region, despite housing two excellent universities, we have fewer graduates in the general population than more prosperous parts of the nation. It is self-evident that more of our children will live in ‘not-spots’, unlikely to encounter someone outside of school who went to university, which further reinforces cycles of educational disadvantage.

What motivates me is working to reduce some of these barriers to opportunity. Our goal in Hepp is to support every school in the region to provide meaningful encounters with higher education (part of Gatsby Benchmark 7). With continued engagement with our wonderful schools, it is a realistic attainable goal for the next academic year to ensure every student in our region is on track for getting that understanding of what higher education offers.

Categories: Hepp Leadership Team.

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