Summer schools 'improve access - keep them'

December 23, 2010

Funding for the Aimhigher scheme may be ending in 2011, but the lessons of its success in widening access to university through summer schools "need to be taken forward into the new policy environment", a new report has argued.

Aimhigher Summer Schools: Participation and Progression to Higher Education, published last week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, draws on the National Pupil Database and Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures for evidence of summer school participants' attainment and patterns of progression.

The research confirms that targeting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds for summer schools has been highly effective, "whether disadvantage is defined by the nature of where (they) live, the schools they attend, or whether they are eligible for certain means-tested benefits".

It acknowledges that young people are much more likely to participate in a summer school if they are already high achievers, but even when prior attainment is taken into account, "they remain more likely to achieve better GCSE grades and to progress to post-16 study and higher education" than those who have not attended such schools.

They are not, however, any more likely to progress to the third of universities with the highest entry requirements, the study notes.

Despite this last finding and the difficulties in establishing causality, the headline figures for widening access are encouraging.

"Disadvantaged summer school participants are, on average, over twice as likely to be accepted to higher education as similarly disadvantaged people who did not participate," it says.

Whatever the government puts in its place to promote similar goals, it would be well advised to keep in mind the lessons of what has gone before, the report concludes.

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