This evaluation explored the nature, scope and cost effectiveness of three school–university link programmes, comparing different types of link relationship with the University of York. The findings were drawn together to identify the elements of successful school–HE partnerships which could then be applied to existing programmes and evaluated using empirical methods in the future. For the sector as a whole, this research can shed light on some of the current issues in widening participation: how links can be most effective, how parents can be reached, whether targeting or whole year group experiences should be preferred, how effective IAG can be supported.
The three programmes included in the evaluation are interestingly different: one is established, local to York and collaborative, aimed principally at younger learners; one is brokered by Durham Aimhigher and includes provision for mature students and staff as well as pupil contact; and the newest one is national in its scope, a novel blend of policy forum and provision for pupils and staff. All of them are designed to broaden participation and create improved understanding between schools and the University’s departments and senior management.
The effectiveness of the three link programmes was evaluated, identifying – from the experience of school and college partners as well as University organisers – the advantages and disadvantages of each sort of link, and the factors that contribute to or inhibit success. The programmes considered differ in their scope, focus and goals in ways that permit insightful comparison:
The aim of the research was to understand and interpret stakeholders' perceptions of the three models of school–university links through focus groups and interviews with key personnel. There was an emphasis on IAG issues (qualitative component); to measure outcomes, for example, levels of engagement with the programmes (quantified outcomes component); and to disseminate the key findings and lessons from the research to inform the development of the programmes in the future.
The evaluation uses a mixed methods approach.
• describe schools’ perceptions, attitudes, and desired outcomes
• explore what schools/universities want from having partnerships
• identify how to encourage participation and engagement with schools
• explore key factors in success and interpret the lessons for a wider audience
Focus groups were undertaken with head teachers/nominated contact teachers at the schools and with guidance staff involved in the three programmes, providing three case studies for analysis which will identify critical features that make each programme work.
In-depth interviews with university-based programme co-ordinators and, where possible, representatives from Aimhigher and the DCSF, investigated the roles of different partners, placing these programmes within a policy context. The aim being to understand the significance of factors such as shared governance, strategic planning arrangements, and co-operation on curriculum development, and to identify opportunities and barriers to developing programmes from the perspectives of non-school partners.
Quantitative component: The quantified component measured the levels of engagement with all elements of each of the programmes in terms of numbers of schools/individual pupils/teachers/headteachers or guidance staff involved. We also quantified the level of involvement of the University of York and other HE partners in each of the programmes.
Cost-effectiveness analysis: The costs of the links in terms of their total budget was combined with an assessment of how successful schools regard them to be and how successful they are in terms of quantified outcomes, to explore the extent to which these programmes are considered to be a good use of resources.
The results show the programmes were highly valued by those involved, and that good programmes benefit all stakeholders. The right model will be individualised and adaptable, and based on good communication. However, individualised approaches are resource-intensive so adequate funding is crucial. Trust between stakeholders is the foundation for superior programmes, helping to build a reputation for providing a high-quality experience. The evaluation found little evidence of shared governance, strategic planning or joint curriculum development, which tended to occur as a consequence of an identified need within a link programme, rather than as a wider strategy – despite being highlighted in policy reports as important outputs of links between schools and universities. Evaluations must ensure robust designs, appropriate data collection and empirical quantitative analyses, using methods to minimise biases which undermine conclusions.
The IEE research team comprised: Dr Carole Torgerson (Principal Investigator, Reader); Dr Vivien Hendry (Project Co-ordinator and Co-applicant, Research Fellow); Hannah Ainsworth (Co-applicant, Research Fellow); Jonathan Haslam (Manager of Dissemination); and Dr Jonathan Sharples (Manager of Partnerships). The independent team was advised and supported at all stages of the research by a Steering Group comprising experts in the substantive field of widening participation programmes. The protocol was peer reviewed and submitted to the University of York Humanities and Social Sciences Ethics Committee for ethical approval in May 2009. The development of the three programmes was led by Connie Cullen (Director, Admissions and UK/EU Student Recruitment, University of York)
The evaluation commenced in April 2009 and was completed in August 2009. This project was was one of 10 funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England ( HEFCE) to investigate school-university link programmes.
Hendry VL, Ainsworth HR, and Torgerson CJ, Evaluating Three Models of School–University Partnership at the University of York: Learning Lessons and Planning for the Future, HEFCE, March 2010
All 10 reports funded under the same scheme are available through the HEFCE website.