Policy, practice and the ‘new widening participation’: perspectives and implications
The policy context is a critical frame of reference for researching widening participation. As we have noted throughout this book, the concept of widening participation has been an important element of national education rhetoric and policy for much of the last three decades in the UK, and this mirrors what has been going on in the European Union and other national contexts over the same period. This means that the operational decisions of schools, colleges and other parts of the formal education and training system during this time have been made in a policy environment where widening participation has a high profile. At the same time, the decisions of individuals about their education and training futures have been made at a time when participation in further or higher education has been a policy priority. As the intended widening participation outcomes have not been fully achieved, important questions remain about the nature of policy, the policy process and the relationship between policy as text, policy in action and the ‘real world’ of individuals’ decision-making. This chapter explores the recent policy context and its relationship with the decision-making of people who are qualified to enter higher education (HE) but have chosen not to do so.