Summer schools designed to attract more disadvantaged students into university are not reaching the most in need, according to new TASO research out today.

The research – conducted with eight universities and the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – suggests that summer schools designed to reduce equality gaps in access to higher education are largely attended by students already destined for university.

The randomised controlled trial (RCT) – where summer school applicants were randomly allocated to receive a place or not – found that prior to attending the summer school 94 percent of students reported that they were either ‘likely’ or ‘highly likely’ to progress to higher education.

The findings also indicate that attending a summer school may have a small positive effect on disadvantaged or underrepresented students’ confidence in their ability to apply to, and succeed at, university, their perception of barriers to entry, and fitting in. This suggests that attendees are likely to start higher education in a better position than those who don’t attend.

The report shares interim findings of TASO’s evaluation of online summer schools taking place between June and August 2021. The findings are based on surveys administered before and after the summer schools took place, and the implementation and process evaluation (IPE), including from interviews and focus groups with students. The final report will be published in 2023/24, and will focus on behavioural findings, including attainment and enrolment in higher education.

In response to the findings, TASO recommends higher education providers: 

  • Collaborate with schools and colleges to better target and support disadvantaged and underrepresented young people to enrol in higher education.
  • Increase efforts to reach a wider range of young people through summer schools, or develop alternative programmes that effectively support those who are presently less likely to attend higher education.
  • Review attainment-raising activities for school age children, in line with recommendations in TASO’s recent ‘Rapid Evidence Review.
  • Continue to effectively evaluate programmes and generate more causal evidence to understand the impact of outreach activities by following TASO’s guidance.

TASO is running a second evaluation of face-to-face summer schools being delivered between June and August 2022 to compare the effects of online versus traditional delivery.

The full report can be found here. The separate analysis report, produced by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), can be found here.

If you have any questions around the report you can get in touch with us at