Summer schools are commonly used as an outreach activity to widen participation in higher education. The existing research on summer schools provides only anecdotal or correlational evidence and there is limited evidence focusing on higher education (HE) enrolment as an outcome. Given that they are time and resource-intensive, it is paramount that more evidence is produced on their efficacy.

What are we doing?

  • We are conducting a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to understand how effective summer schools are at improving access to higher education.
  • Eight higher education providers (HEPs) will be involved – four of which run a pre-16 summer school (Year 9 or 10), and four of which run a post-16 summer school (Year 12).
  • Although the summer schools will vary for each HEP, they will follow a similar format and include activities such as subject tasters, academic sessions, study skills sessions, information, advice and guidance (IAG), and social events.
  • Historically these summer schools are oversubscribed which will allow us to randomly allocate eligible applicants for each summer school into a treatment group, where they receive a place, or a control group, where they don’t receive a place.
  • Both groups of students will be asked to complete surveys before and after the summer schools to capture their attitudes and aspirations towards HE.
  • The primary outcome measure will be whether students’ progress to higher education in the future, which we can track using the Higher Education Access Tracker (HEAT). We will also capture which provider they go to and what course they study.
  • We will compare the outcomes for the treatment and control groups to see whether summer schools have a positive impact on participants.
  • In light of COVID-19, the summer schools will likely now be running online and as a result, will take different forms to that which would usually take place.  We will therefore focus the evaluation on the alternative activities that providers develop.

Research protocol