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Education access in the UK: is it really as accessible as we think?

Alycia McNamara analyses the education system in the UK and considers whether it is really as accessible as we think...

The UK has one of the best education systems in the world. People from other countries are jealous of our comparatively low fees, high quality institutions and many will do anything to come to the UK to study if they can. But within our society, there are many divisions which often go unnoticed within our education system.

Social Class

The class divide in the UK is huge. It is estimated by the Big Issue that 14.5 million people in the UK are living in poverty, this drastically affects these individuals' access to education and abilities to achieve academic success. Problematically, as of 2022, the UK also has a record number of billionaires with this figure sitting at 177 billionaires in the UK as estimated by the Sunday Times Rich List.

The established Russell Group or Redbrick Institutions of the UK can be hard to get into for students from less privileged backgrounds. Privately educated applicants have a higher chance of being accepted to these ‘elite’ universities and research has estimated that fewer than 3% of poor students are accepted into universities such as Oxford and Cambridge as reported by The Independent.

While Oxford and Cambridge have been ‘called out’ on their elitism and have since made efforts to publish statistics on acceptance rates of disadvantaged students, there appears to be significantly less research from other well respected Redbrick institutions across the UK.

Special Educational Needs

Another area where the UK education system lacks is in access to education for students with Special Educational Needs.

Many students whether this be in primary school or secondary school lack the resources to get the extra help they need to succeed. These students often end up lost in the system and it can take years for professionals to transfer them to a school which has the staff and facilities in order to allow them to prosper.

The latest Government statistics revealed that as of June 2022, there were 1.49 million students in the UK with special educational needs representing 16.5% of all students ( This has increased consistently for the last 5 years.

Many students are identified as having SEN students by their teachers, but as primary and secondary schools contain such large numbers of students, it can be difficult to make quick progress in getting these students what they need.


Research from the Higher Education Policy Institute shows that young women are more likely to go to university (56.6%) than young men (44.1%). Education access between the genders in the UK shows that the most pronounced inequality is in the subjects students are geared towards.

Even in the present day, young women are more likely to choose humanities subjects while young men are more likely to choose sciences or maths. While these figures are seeing change from previous years, this early choice can affect career opportunities later down the line. For example industries such as engineering within recent years have been encouraged to set up schemes in order to attract female applicants and employees.

Being aware

If you are a student in the UK or elsewhere in the world, you may notice these differences from time to time, or you may not.

At Matriarch, our mission is to be aware and consider these inequalities in everyday life. As you were reading this article, did anyone you know come to mind? Did you think of any friends or people you have met throughout your education who may be privileged or less so? I’m sure you did.

It is important to consider our own privilege or challenge our inequality if we notice ourselves falling into one of these areas.

We should aim to inspire others, to help them and to make connections while studying. To bring these areas into focus for others who may not have considered these inequalities throughout their education.

Even if you have the chance to discuss education with people outside of your country, this can be an enlightening conversation.

Don’t miss the opportunity to help make change.

Join the Matriarch community.

Matriarch was founded on the idea of human connection. Have a story? Something you want to talk about? Write for Matriarch community.
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