Today we celebrate the launch of Sutton Trust Online, the Trust’s digital platform delivered in partnership with Bloomberg LP.

Over the course of the summer, 6000 Year 12 students will be invited to the platform to take part in their university-hosted summer school and to access continued support throughout Year 13. This will include a personalised bank of resources, support with writing a personal statement and access to a community of Sutton Trust Alumni, student ambassadors and volunteers, who are on hand to answer questions and queries.

At first, we saw the acceleration of developing Sutton Trust Online as an opportunity to alleviate the immediate problem of missed outreach this summer. As the pandemic has progressed, alongside our understanding of its potential future impact, it is becoming clearer that this solution is not only essential to this summer’s delivery but into the next academic year and beyond.

Our recent polling of university partners highlighted that none were confident that face-to-face outreach would return before the end of this calendar year. Looking ahead beyond that, there is a mixed view with still only 74% confident that programmes will return by summer 2021, a key time in the outreach delivery calendar.

There is no doubt that universities are facing complex barriers to reinstating face-to-face outreach programming. In addition to government guidance, our partners have highlighted that their first priority as an institution will be to host undergraduate students in a safe way. This includes reducing class sizes, spreading teaching across campus, limiting external visitors and non-essential staff on campus. These measures are absolutely right to enable teaching to resume in a safe way, with limited disruption to undergraduates, it does however present barriers and questions on the viability of bringing prospective students onto campus for outreach programmes.

Add into the equation the following – schools focusing on missed education rather than university visits, students traveling on public transport from across the country to access programmes and the potential of a second wave of the virus – the risks may be so high that there could be another cohort of young people who will miss out on university outreach programmes as we know them. We need a backup plan and the positive news is that universities are responding to this: our survey showed 100% of universities were likely to have a digital alternative in place if face-to-face programming cannot resume. All of our university partners will be hosting some form of programming on Sutton Trust Online this summer.

As well as university outreach, the Sutton Trust is also concerned with what work experience opportunities will look like for our students in the coming year. The employers we polled seemed more optimistic, with 40% of those who offer work experience to 16-18 year olds confident that face to face programmes will take place next term, though this confidence differed between smaller and larger organisations.

The more concerning findings from this group were that 60% highlighted that they were unlikely to have a digital alternative in place, meaning students will likely miss out completely on employer engagement if traditional work experience is not available. Furthermore, 13% are not confident that their programming will resume even by 2022.

The long term impact of coronavirus, combined with external factors such as the traineeship announcement, pledging 30,000 opportunities with a compulsory work experience element and the introduction of T -levels with industry placements of over 300 hours will mean that organisations could be pulled in many different directions in terms of offering work experience and we are concerned that students like ours could miss out.

So back to Sutton Trust Online and the role that it can play. As we celebrate the launch of the platform today, we are looking at what this means for next year and beyond.

Given current government guidance and the feedback we have received from our partners, the Sutton Trust have decided to run digital outreach until December 2020 and to set review points throughout the year to see if face-to-face delivery becomes feasible.

We are putting in place a plan to deliver all of our programmes digitally next year in case we are unable to revert back to face-to-face and are particularly prioritising work experience and residential programmes as we know these are the areas that have the biggest impact on our students and the programmes most likely to be affected by ongoing restrictions.

We are delighted that the development of our platform, designed initially to increase our reach, has enabled us to be well poised to deal with the current challenges and to offer our support to our partner universities, perhaps as a longer-term solution than we first imagined.

 

The Trust would like to thank the platform partners Komensky, Filtered, Causeway Education and The Access Platform.

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