Advanced contextualised grade tool launched at new Manchester office to extend opportunities to more disadvantaged students

Social mobility charity upReach today announces the launch of a new Advanced Contextual A-Level Grade tool, that gives employers a fairer measure of applicants’ academic achievement and potential than grades or contextual flags alone. Following a successful trial with a number of upReach’s partner employers, REAL is being made available for free in order to encourage widespread adoption of contextualisation.

REAL (Relative Education Attainment Level) is a research and evidence-based contextual recruitment tool that provides employers with a better indication of academic potential than A-level grades alone. It gives an indication of the unrealised potential of students had they not suffered from educational or economic disadvantage.

John Craven, Chief Executive of upReach, said of the REAL launch: “Too many employers tell me they want to contextualise, but are put off by cost. They want more sophisticated contextualisation than flags, that allows them to still select on the basis of academic excellence but taking into account the context in which grades are achieved.”

“The power of upReach’s tool is that contextualised grades combine their actual grades with research-based adjustments based on each of fourteen indicators of disadvantage such as school performance decile, free school meal eligibility and postcode data.”

“As a charity, we are trying to maximise impact on social mobility, not profits. We want to create a level playing field in the graduate labour market by making contextualised grades available to all employers, not just firms with big budgets.”

The launch is being announced at upReach’s opening today of a new regional office in Manchester, part of the charity’s ongoing commitment to tackle the UK’s social mobility issue on a national level. The Social Mobility Commission have identified a high number of “social mobility coldspots” in the North West. By contrast, none were identified in London, partly due to (overall) higher performing schools and proximity to employers willing to support & finance employability skills initiatives.

Craven added “Opening an office in Manchester allows us to work with more students from areas where social mobility is an even greater issue than in the capital. Increasingly, our partners are recognising and embracing the challenge of tackling the lack of opportunity across the country, rather than focusing exclusively on a specific London borough.”


While contextual admissions have been increasingly used by universities to improve access for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in recent years, many graduate employers have been slower to account for applicant backgrounds, reinforcing the “progression gap” whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to secure a good graduate job than those from more privileged backgrounds on the same course at the same university. Our launch follows a growing trend among employers in the graduate recruitment market, having recently been called to implement such measures by Justine Greening MP.

The tool has been designed to give a more comprehensive understanding of socio-economic background, which has historically been harder to measure than other aspects of diversity. By looking at a number of indicators of disadvantage, REAL helps to ensure that students from less-advantaged backgrounds are given the same opportunities as their more privileged peers.

This is set to positively impact students who have benefited from contextual admissions when going to university, but have faced barriers when entering the professions, such as upReach Associate Brian McAuslan, who said of the launch: “I achieved ABC, some of the best grades seen in the context of my school and sixth form, and ultimately received an offer to read Politics at King’s College London. My contextualised A-Level grades are AAB, but unless employers use them, I know many firms will be off-limits to me, even though others on my course could get a job there. The use of contextual data, and REALrating in particular, is a critical development which ensures I will be afforded the same opportunity to fulfil my career potential following my graduation.”

Huda and Brian are blocked by some employers because of their A-Level grades despite their universities recognising their potential with a contextualised offer

Huda Abdalla, a 3rd year at Manchester University and an upReach Associate, added: “I am a first generation immigrant of asylum seeker status, one of 11 children, and first female in my entire family (extended family included) to go to university.  I received an offer lower than their standard offer to read English Literature and Linguistics because my circumstances had had a huge effect on my A-Level journey. I learned about a company that sparked my interest and applied earlier this year. I was rejected as I did not have the required A level grades which knocked my confidence so much. Companies need to acknowledge that grades alone do not measure one’s skill, intelligence and overall abilities.”

Another upReach Associate wishing to remain anonymous, M.N. from Exeter University, got turned down from an investment bank due to his A-Level grades, despite being in the top 10% of students at Exeter University where he got a contextualised offer of ABB rather than AAA. “I was part of the ‘Realising Opportunities’ programme. I’m a first generation immigrant – having been born in Afghanistan and part of the first generation within my family to attend university. Having got the grades I needed, I haven’t looked back, achieving 82% and 76% in my two years so far at Exeter, with back to back commendations placing me in the top 5% and top 10% of my cohort respectively.”

He added, “When I started at university, I joined upReach and have been to lots of their events to learn about different career sectors and build my skills. I had a mentor from one of upReach’s partner employers who helped me learn about the industry. However, when I applied for an internship with a large investment bank last year, I got turned down because I didn’t meet their A-level grade requirements – they would have accepted others on my course even if they’d got worse results than me in their first year. I did manage to secure an internship at Close Brothers, who offer exclusive internships for upReach Associates based on potential, rather than A-Level grades from over two years ago. Now I’ve done an internship, I feel confident I can get a graduate role in the industry, even if it feels unfair that some employers remain out of reach.”

The tool has received praise from consultancy firms North Highland, 2020 Delivery and JMAN Group, who have been instrumental in the launch and using the platform in their graduate recruitment processes.

Anush Newman, Managing Partner, JMAN Group

Anush Newman, Managing Partner of a leading Management Consultancy firm, said “JMAN Group use upReach’s REAL tool to provide contextualised A-Level grades for our graduate applicants, giving us a fairer indication of their academic potential than using actual A-Level grades. It allows us to identify students who have achieved against the odds, and gives us an important advantage against other Management Consultancies who miss hidden talent because they don’t contextualise academic performance. We use upReach’s tool to identify unrealised potential by looking at contextualised grades, which combine applicant’s actual grades with research-based adjustments. We do not use it to single out candidates from particular backgrounds, but to ensure that we take a range of disadvantage indicators into account when considering candidate applications, including their school performance decile, free school meal eligibility and postcode data.

We want to create a level playing field at JMAN, to ensure that we attract and celebrate talent, regardless of social background. Using REAL also aligns with our purpose of helping businesses to drive better decision-making by combining the power of data with the best of human judgement. upReach’s REAL tool allows us to continue to be academically selective, while at the same time giving all students a fair chance.”

The launch is being announced at upReach’s opening of a
new regional office in Manchester, part of the charity’s ongoing commitment to tackle the UK’s social mobility issue on a national level by providing extensive localised support for students in the north of England.

The move to open a regional office comes as a response to the growing concern around the disparity in progress in tackling social mobility between London and other areas of the UK, as highlighted in the Social Mobility Commission’s ‘State of the Nation 2017’ report which concluded that “the chances of someone from a disadvantaged background getting on in life is closely linked to where they grow up and choose to make a life for themselves.” upReach hopes to strengthen existing partnerships, and establish new partnerships, with universities and employers in the north of England to provide a wider range of local opportunities for students based in the region.

The Social Mobility Index shows mobility is far worse in the North West than London

The 2017 State of the Nation report, published by the Social Mobility Commission, shows how young people living in London and the South East have greater opportunities than their less-advantaged counterparts in other regions of the UK.

Being a leading global city, London is the UK or European headquarters for hundreds of prestigious firms that offer highly skilled graduate employment opportunities. Many of these firms provide financial and employability support to deprived communities in their local areas. While this often improves opportunities locally, deprived areas in other parts of the UK miss out. Furthermore, those students living in London can more easily afford to take part in unpaid or lower paid work experience opportunities and to attend events such as Insight Days to broaden their career horizons and build networks.  

Young people living in social mobility cold spots face even higher barriers to overcoming disadvantage, with lower university entrance rates and reduced rates of local pay. Even when a young person from a social mobility cold spot manages to secure a place at university, their chances of securing a top graduate job are limited. Lower university retention rates and fewer opportunities to access top jobs means less-advantaged students from places such as Blackpool or Oldham face additional challenges to securing professional employment.


John Craven | Chief Executive, upReach
Tel No. 020 3096 7893 (Mobile: 07971 274469)

Anush Newman | Chief Executive, JMAN Group

Huda Abdalla and Brian McAuslan | please contact upReach

Notes to editors:

upReach is a charitable organisation supporting less-advantaged undergraduates to achieve their career potential, and plans to support 1200 students in the 18/19 academic year. upReach partners with universities and top graduate employers to provide a comprehensive package of support, working to address the attainment gap for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds after university. Learn more at  

REALrating is a contextualised A-Level Grade tool created by upReach for students and employers. Learn more at

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