PublicationsSystematic reviewsPost-16 participation of minorith ethnic groups
What are the factors that promote high post-16 participation of many minority ethnic groups? A focused review of the UK-based aspirations literature

What do we want to know?

The question for this current focused review is as follows:

What are the factors that drive high post-16 participation of many ethnic minority groups? 

The desire to widen participation in formal post-compulsory education and training is a policy agenda common to most developed countries, and political attention in the UK has largely focused on young (potential) students aged 16-21. Given that some minority ethnic groups have higher rates of participation in the UK at both age 16 and 18 than both the majority white cohort and some other minorities, identifying potential determinants could lead to a method of increasing participation for all. The overall aim of this review, therefore, was to determine the factors that drive high post-16 participation of many minority ethnic groups. 

What results were found?

There were 23 studies included for in-depth analysis. These examined relationships and/or statistical analyses with regard to the factors that could be instrumental in determining young people’s views about post-16 participation by considering a variety of variables. The minority ethnic focus was variable in the 23 studies, and included both traditionally high-achieving, high participating groups and low- achieving, low-participating ones. The Review Group summarised all the promoters and non-promoters of post-16 participation derived from the 23 studies in a hierarchy of level of influence, starting with government policy and working through institutional practices and other external influences down to individual aspirations. A total of 21 promoters of participation and 21 non-promoters were identified in the eight levels of influence. Other factors not in these levels of influence were also identified (2 promoters and 8 non-promoters). The Group analysed the promoters and non-promoters within each level of influence, focusing on those which emerged from large numbers of studies or from one or more studies of a high weight of evidence.


In the synthesis, of all eight levels of influence determining post-16 participation, two factors – the influence of family and individual aspirations – stand out as being the major determinants.  Sixteen medium to high WoE studies found that a high parental value of education, strong parental support for post-16 participation, positive family influence, and being in a higher social class were determining factors in participation in schools post-16 and in further and higher education. On the other hand, eight studies found that a low parental value of education, parental influence against post-16 participation, negative family influence, and being in a lower social class could be factors acting as barriers to post-16 and further and higher education. 

Fifteen studies found that individual aspirations and motivations for participation in post-16 education were major drivers for participation – not only in terms of aspiration for education as an end in itself and for economic gain and better job opportunities, but also in simply placing a high personal value on education and a belief that this would lead to personal satisfaction. 

What are the implications?

Differences between ethnic groups are largely explained by differences in cultural attitudes towards education in general and higher education in particular. Minority ethnic groups with high participation tend to have a high cultural awareness of the value of extending young people’s education. 

In terms of interventions, financial assistance was seen as being important in one study. Financial assistance may be more important among those groups with low expectations and low emphasis on the value of post-16 and higher education. Careers advice appears helpful for some ethnic groups, and work experience is generally useful either in providing a reason for subsequent training or in acting as a negative experience of the workplace in comparison with college. If one really wants to increase participation, then one cannot assume that current opportunities are ideal and that all one has to do is to encourage the reluctant to take part.

This review has identified a number of areas where more rigorous research is required. In the systematic map of research, the Review Group did not identify any UK-based evaluations of interventions aimed at changing behaviour or attitudes using a strong design to enable causal inference (e.g. randomised trials or regression discontinuity evaluations). The data in this review is observational and consequently the results need to be treated with some caution.

How were the results obtained?

UK-based cross-sectional / views studies and secondary data analyses were included to address the review question. These studies either elicited students’ views and/or aspirations about education or investigated the clear relationship between aspirations and educational variables. A conceptual framework informed the synthesis through a particular focus on themes relating to post-16 factors (‘promoters’ and ‘non-promoters’) grounded in the data, in the following categories: government policy; institutional practices - universities; institutional practices -  schools; external agencies; work; religion; family; individual aspirations; and other factors.  

The EPPI Centre’s reference numbers for these reports of this review are 1608R (Report) and 1608T (Technical Report). The full citations are:

This report should be cited as: Torgerson CJ, Gorard S, Low G, Ainsworth H, See BH, Wright K (2008) What are the factors that promote high post-16 participation of many minority ethnic groups? A focused review of the UK-based aspirations literature. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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