Major commission launched to look at class inequalities in education

National Union of Students president Shakira Martin today announced the commissioners who will sit on the board of the NUS’s ambitious new poverty commission, including Dr. Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust. Wanda will be joined by Sophia Cannon, the well-known barrister and social justice commentator, alongside the likes of Debbie Weekes from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

People from disadvantaged backgrounds are still two and a half times less likely to enter higher education and 9% of them will not make it past their first year: a number which is rising year on year and is significantly higher than the figures for more privileged students. The Poverty Commission will deliver a program of work which will produce a report and recommendations addressing deprivation relating to education, skills and training in post-16 education. The poverty commission will examine the barriers that working class people face with regards to accessing and succeeding in education and produce a series of recommendations to put pressure on the government to tackle these inequalities. The recommendations will be released in February 2018.

NUS has also today opened submissions for evidence to the poverty commission. Organisations can submit evidence here. Anyone can get involved in the poverty commission by sharing their experiences of class inequality in education on Twitter using the hashtag #ClassDismissed

Dr. Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust said:

“I am delighted to have been appointed as a Commissioner to the NUS’ Poverty Commission. It is vital that we discuss the inequality of opportunities that poorer and working class young people of all backgrounds face and the impact it has on their lives. I am confident that this important Commission will not only shine a light on the issues and choices that poverty forces on young people, but also on what society, the education sector and government need to do to ensure that all our young people get a good education and fulfil their potential.”

Shakira Martin said:

“I am delighted to have such a range of expertise on the poverty commission board. Together we will bring the issues faced by working class people in education into the spotlight. Class inequalities are a huge problem in our society today: the UK has one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor of any country in the developed world. Our education system is a big part of that problem. What we can see is that disadvantaged people do not just struggle to get into education, they struggle to get on in education as well. Even after graduating, they are less likely to go into well paid jobs. A broken education funding system, rising living costs and inaccessible cultures in education are all barriers that play a part in this. Over the next four months we will be going out and speaking to the people affected, gathering evidence and learning from them what needs to change. The government should prepare themselves to act on the recommendations we produce: while the education system is so deeply unequal we can never achieve a fair society.”

Carmen Smith NUS Wales Deputy President said: 

“I am very excited to get started on the Poverty Commission this week at such a pivotal time in UK society. As NUS Wales Deputy President I am of course concerned with the shockingly high levels of poverty in Wales that has remained unchanged in over a decade. Almost one in four people in Wales live in poverty. Poverty in Wales isn’t about drought, war or starvation – as it can be in developing countries – but it’s every bit as real. Poverty can mean having no money in your pocket, going through your day without food or being unable to afford heating and electricity in your home! Shakira’s work in this area is much needed and will shed much needed attention on the critical issue of poverty!”

Andy Forbes, Principle, Haringey, Enfield and NE London College said:

“Despite all our efforts, people from hard-pressed working families are still facing enormous barriers to getting into education and training. There are clear signs this is reaching crisis point – the level of student drop-out from university is at a record high and the number of adults on further education courses is at a record low, with low-income students by far the worst affected. We urgently need to look again at new policies and strategies to help people trapped in a low-skill, low-wage quagmire.”

Samantha Budd, Chief Executive at Bristol Students’ Union said:

“I’m really pleased to be involved in this project as I passionately believe that education and in this case specifically fair access to further and higher education is an essential stepping stone out of poverty. This is not just a moral issue but it is crucial that everyone in our society has the opportunity to release their potential so that they can make their contribution to and benefit from a prosperous society”

Andrew Sumner, CEO at Monster said:

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to fulfil their potential and a good education, whilst not a passport to that fulfilment, will certainly help.  Unfortunately, that opportunity is not universally available due to the lottery of life.  As a well-developed, and progressive society it is my opinion, that we should be doing our very best to ensure that whatever the numbers on that lottery ticket of life, you have the same chances as anyone else of your numbers coming up.  Anything else is surely both unfair and just plain wrong.  Add to that the doubtless benefit a universally highly educated population can have on our economy, our prosperity and our society as a whole, then I can think of fewer more important areas to focus our efforts than this.”

Iain Murray Senior Policy Officer at the Trades Union Congress said:

“The TUC and its affiliated unions are very concerned about what’s happening to post-16 education and skills, and how it is damaging prospects for people from low income families.  The explosion of student debt, abolition of the maintenance grant and EMA, and poverty wages for many apprentices are just some of the causes of the barriers facing disadvantaged groups. I welcome the opportunity to represent the TUC on the NUS Poverty Commission and to make a contribution to the campaign for policy reforms that will tackle the barriers faced by working class people.”

The full commissioning board includes:

Sophia Cannon: Barrister & Social Justice Commentator

Courtney Boateng: Student at Cambridge University

Iain Murray: Senior Policy officer at the Trades Union Congress

Sam Budd: CEO at Bristol SU

Debbie Weekes-Bernard: Policy and Research Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Wanda Wyporska: Executive Director at The Equality Trust

Carmen Smith: NUS Wales Deputy President

Jeremiah Emmanuel: Youth campaigner

Andy Forbes: Principle, Haringey, Enfield and NE London College

Andrew Sumner: CEO at Monster 


For further comment please contact NUS Press office 07866 695 010 

Data Sources

All data comes from OFFA’s Outcomes of Access Agreement Monitoring report 2015-16


The National Union of Students is a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students’ unions.

We are a confederation of 600 students’ unions, amounting to more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK. Through our member students’ unions, we represent the interests of more than seven million students. We promote, defend and extend the rights of students and develop and champion strong students’ unions.