In 2014 the First Minister of Scotland set out the ambition that ‘a child born today in one of our most deprived communities will, by the time he or she leaves school, have the same chance of going to university as a child born in one of our least deprived communities’.

The Commission on Widening Access (CoWA), set up to advise on how this ambition could be achieved, made clear that the approach to widening access to higher education should be evidence based. However, the Commission also recognised that there was little robust evidence of effectiveness of interventions. The Fair Access Framework, launched on 7 May 2019, is a first step towards addressing this.

It is designed to produce a step-change in the knowledge about which interventions designed to promote fair access to higher education work best. The Framework has two pillars:
1. A toolkit to assess the effectiveness of existing interventions to promote fair access
2. The establishment of Scotland’s Community of Access and Participation Practitioners (SCAPP).

At the launch event, Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, welcomed the toolkit and spoke about the ‘fragility of the pathways’ for many students who face a lack of role models, mentors and appropriate support in moving from school or college to university. He replied to the criticism of universities having lower access thresholds for certain students and said it was ‘not about lowering standards but levelling the playing field’.

Karen Watt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, saw the toolkit as helping to build a coalition of good practice. The toolkit has two goals, to identify gaps in the knowledge of what works; and also to identify, based on evaluation of existing interventions, the best available evidence about which are likely to be effective.

Each intervention in the Toolkit has a rating in terms of strength of evidence, cost and direction of impact, as well as case study examples.

The establishment of SCAPP recognised that access and participation practitioners already work together closely across schools, colleges and universities but the Framework will help to strengthen and systematise these existing networks.

SCAPP has five objectives:
1. Networking – to provide opportunities to collaborate, discuss and share practice, resources and skills. Identify and work with, existing communities of practice across Scotland to ensure a positive impact on the learner journey.
2. Training and Development – to develop and enhance practice by creating, identifying and promoting training opportunities. Develop working groups, activities and training linked directly to elements of the Fair Access Toolkit and other relevant resources.
3. Evaluation and Research – to work with research to ensure practitioners have access to up-to-date evidence to inform their work. Share practice in the effective use of evidence to improve implementation and evaluation strategies. Support the collation of national and regional data to better track and target relevant groups.
4. Quality Standards – to ensure quality of practice by supporting and promoting the alignment of practice with evidence. Explore the development of a formal accreditation process to endorse and value the work of practitioners and to assist in raising the status of Widening Access and Widening Participation.
5. The Toolkit – the practitioners’ network will have a key role in informing the content and contributing to the Toolkit, as well as championing its use.

The network is open to all and will have an emphasis on supporting those directly engaged in delivery of widening access and participation to higher education. In particular they are looking for college representation at Vice Principal, Curriculum Head or Head of Department level.

SCAPP has a Development Co-ordinator, Dr Katrina Monk,who can be contacted at

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