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

The project research protocol has been updated since the trial began to include new information. The latest version is included in the link below and contains a link to the previous version.

Key changes include:

  • An update on key personnel involved in the project – providers have appointed
    Research Assistants to support with the data collection.
  • Compliance definitions have been added – as the summer schools are online,
    these show the attendance threshold for each provider, i.e., the number of
    sessions a student must attend to be recorded as having ‘attended’ the
    summer school.
  • Intervention descriptions have been added – again, as the summer schools
    are online, providers have been developing new methods for delivery since
    the last protocol. A description of the activities and mode of delivery for each
    summer school have therefore now been added.
  • New appendix – due to low applicant numbers, some of the providers involved
    in the project have not been able to participate in the RCT element. An outline
    of the alternative evaluation for these providers has been added as the final
    appendix in the form of a mini-research protocol

Download the latest research protocol for TASO’s Summer schools project.