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Whilst the awarding gaps were identified through analysis of the available relevant statistical data, it was unclear why these gaps occurred. As Cambridge's Business Information Team report summarised, we needed qualitative research to further investigate the educational issues or practices that might explain the awarding gaps for the two targeted groups of students: Black British students and disabled students with declared mental health conditions.


Focus on student experiences

The Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning (CCTL) was tasked with undertaking the qualitative research and analysis strand of the APP work, and initiated a collaborative student-staff partnership work in late 2019 to research and analyse the drivers and intersectionality behind the gaps, as well as the identification and systematic embedding of good practices in both University and College teaching and targeted academic and pastoral support.

This APP Participatory Action Research Project now involves annual cycles of qualitative research with students from the two targeted groups across the life-span of the APP 2020-2025. The project seeks to understand student perspectives on the barriers that arise in relation to teaching and learning at Cambridge and to develop knowledge and evidence that can inform and catalyse meaningful progress and practical steps forward. It pursues qualitative research methods to explore and develop evidence around which systems, practices and challenges need to be addressed and it aims to explore ways to develop teaching and learning practices that are accessible to, and supportive of all Cambridge students.


Focus on institutional and educational factors

The starting point of the project was an understanding that the attainment gap is an institutional educational issue, rather than a student deficit or a student capability issue. This is in line with findings from recent UK sector research into attainment gaps (UK Universities 2019), which identifies the ‘gap’ between a students predicted outcome and eventual attainment as something that develops during a student’s course of study.


Findings of the ongoing research

Findings from the APP Participatory Action Research Project include recommendations for action to address student-identified obstacles to their academic performance and attainment. These findings and recommendations are presented and discussed at a range of University events, including the annual Cambridge Teaching Forum, the Diversifying Assessment Forum and the Annual Meeting for Directors of Teaching and Senior Tutors.


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