The Class Politics of Foundation Years

  • Sarah Hale University of Sheffield
Keywords: foundation years, social class, widening participation, disadvantage, practitioner perspectives


Social class remains a hidden (dis)advantage in access to, experiences of, and outcomes from higher education. Being working class is neither a legally protected characteristic nor an explicit widening participation criterion. However, as numerous studies and memoirs show, the impact of class identity is experienced viscerally by students, and is significant for their educational outcomes. Foundation years are a significant and growing route into HE for students from working class backgrounds. How these students and the institutions they are entering are perceived, understood, and represented by the practitioners who design and deliver foundation year provision is therefore significant, but published research largely focuses on the experiences of students. This article explores foundation year practitioners’ perceptions of barriers to working class inclusion and success, and the ways in which they see foundation years mitigating or ameliorating these. It identifies three broad ‘discourses’ or models of working class inclusion promoted by foundation years, and goes on to suggest some potential perverse (in terms of equality and social mobility) outcomes arising from the role of foundation years as a mechanism for working class inclusion in higher education.


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Author Biography

Sarah Hale, University of Sheffield

Sarah Hale has been Programme Director for integrated foundation years at the University of Sheffield since 2014 and has worked with mature and ‘non-traditional’ students in HE since 2006. Her subject background – readers will not be surprised to learn – is in Politics.