Report Overview

This report by the Sutton Trust reviews national and international research on widening participation and access programmes to find out which methods are most likely to help disadvantaged pupils get into higher education.

Analysis of existing research in the US and UK suggests that summer schools, tutoring and mentoring are among five methods with the most evidence of success. The research brief also identifies certain features that are common to successful programmes.  The overall conclusion of the review is that, while outreach initiatives are having a positive impact, there is a severe lack of evidence identifying which initiatives work.

The Trust hopes to address this by partnering with OFFA and universities from across the sector to undertake a series of research trials measuring the effectiveness of their outreach programmes.


Key Findings

Evidence from the review indicates that the following strategies may work best:

  • Mentoring
  • Multi-year combined interventions
  • Personalised application information and assistance
  • Residential programmes
  • Tutoring

The review highlights some common features of the most successful outreach programmes. These are:

  • Combining several strategies into one longitudinal programme
  • Improving academic attainment
  • Intervening early
  • Involving teachers
  • Working closely with parents
  1. Universities should increase their spending on evaluation with the ultimate goal of undertaking robust research trials. Universities should spend at least 10% of their outreach budget on evaluation of this kind.
  1. Universities should utilise the research expertise within their own institutions to undertake evaluations using comparison and control groups.
  1. Universities should publish the outcomes of their evaluations fully and independently, in order to contribute to the wider evidence base.
  1. Universities should make use of joined-up data collection methods like the Common Evaluation Framework (CEM) and the Higher Education Access Tracker (HEAT).
  1. Universities should collaborate with each other to build research designs that can be replicated across the sector.
  1. Widening participation teams should further educate themselves about the existing evidence base and how they could contribute to it.

We would also encourage universities to register an interest in joining the Sutton Trust/OFFA Research project,aimed at building a common research methodology and undertaking robust evaluations, which is set to begin in Spring 2016.