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Current and recently commissioned research and evaluation studies:

If you would like to know more about any of these projects, explore how the methods and approaches used could be applied to your work, or discuss training opportunities, please contact me.

Current (2017 onwards):

Triggers and timings: the higher education decision making process amongst learners from educationally disadvantaged areas

This study uses a series of focus groups with a sample of students from school years 8 to 13 to better understand when NCOP learners decide to opt for HE - or not - and what the key influences determining their decisions are.  This approach will also enable focus group participants to look ahead and explore the kinds of support - including outreach interventions - that would facilitate successful transition to the next stage in their learner journeys

• Commissioned by the Higher Horizons+ Collaborative Outreach Network

Supporting outreach in DANCOP’s further education colleges: a project to provide training, offer guidance and share good practice

The project will deliver WP-based CPD workshops to staff at a second FEC either based in Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire. These workshops will be modelled on those delivered at Derby College.  Aimed at a mix of leaders, teachers and careers advisors, they will cover four inter-related themes: what is WP and why widen participation, who are WP learners and what are the challenges they face, and how can participation be widened and how do we determine the impact of WP practices. A further outcome of this project will be the preparation of a short guidance document. This will comprise a set of recommendations at both strategic and operational levels for colleagues of further education colleges across the DANCOP consortium and, potentially, beyond.

Understanding learner journeys: qualitative insights into the impact of outreach

Surveying a sample of NCOP learners from four schools and academies across Essex, this project will provide a detailed and robust insight into the impact of the Network’s outreach programme, including its medium and longer-term effects. In so doing, it will generate evidence that complements and enriches the monitoring and tracking data provided by HEAT (the HEFCE funded Higher Education Access Tracker).

• Commissioned by the Essex Collaborative Outreach Network

Perspectives and prospects: the educational ambitions and intentions of young white British males from five disadvantaged areas in North West England.

This qualitative study will explore the educational ambitions and motivations of young white British males from five areas of educational and economic disadvantage across North West England. The study will draw on the insights of learners at two distinct transition points in their educational journeys. The first of these will relate to school year 10, as pupils commence their GCSEs. The second will focus on year 12, as post-16 options are embarked upon and attention is turned to longer-term plans.  Amongst the study’s key areas of investigation will be the impact of local factors on the decision-making process and, ultimately, on the learning trajectories taken by those surveyed.

• Commissioned by Higher Horizons+, Shaping Futures, Greater Manchester Higher, Hello Future and Future You Collaborative Outreach Networks

Further education colleges and widening access: understanding and addressing the progression challenges of level 3 learners from WP backgrounds

Whilst further education colleges play ‘an integral role in making HE accessible to hundreds of thousands of learners’ (Martin, 2017; Education and Training Foundation, 2016), many from non-traditional backgrounds (Norris and Francis, 2014), the proportion of level-3 learners progressing to HE from college-based courses tends to be lower than from school sixth forms. This has led to calls for ‘a greater understanding [of] the particular barriers to progression’ faced by NCOP learners in colleges, and the identification of ‘ways’ in which these can be overcome (Tazzyman et al. 2018). This study seeks to do this by, first, gaining a detailed insight into the nature of the progression challenges faced by these learners, and then - informed by these findings - exploring strategies for addressing these challenges.

Views from the chalk-face: teachers' perceptions of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire

This study draws on the insights of teaching professionals from a range of secondary schools and FE colleges across the Higher Horizons+ region of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire, with the aim of exploring the impact of the network and the outreach initiatives it provides.

Understanding classroom practices that support HE progression

This study complements the work being conducted on the Triggers and Timings project. It does so by exploring the role of teachers and classroom practices in facilitating the next steps progression and, ultimately, in influencing the prospects of HE participation amongst those from the NCOP cohort.

Supporting the development of the BRIDGE project: identifying, engaging and facilitating the HE progression and sector entry of those from under-represented backgrounds

Commissioned by the Bridge Project Steering Group, this study draws on the views and insights of a sample of key stakeholders, including employers, current students, future leaders and industry professionals, in order to explore the challenges the construction sector faces in recruiting more young people from under-represented backgrounds, and what some of the strategies to counter these challenges could be.

Understanding learner journeys (second phase): new qualitative insights into the impact of outreach

This investigation widens the coverage of the first phase of Understanding Learner Journeys, and builds on its findings (Raven, 2019). It does so by gather the insights of a further four cohorts of NCOP learners. However, rather than consider schools with sixth form provision, as was the case with the original study, this new phase focuses on two 11-16 providers alongside one of the Network's FE colleges.

Recently commissioned outreach studies

An investigation into the factors determining low participation rates in three areas of Suffolk and Norfolk

This study examines the influences impacting upon the HE progression of widening participation learners from a sample of three areas across Suffolk and Norfolk. The aim of this research is to identify approaches and interventions likely to have greatest impact in raising local progression rates, including to the Network's partner institutions.  From these findings the project presents a series of recommendations to guide future provision.

Bucking the trend: raising HE progression rates amongst first generation, economically disadvantaged, white males

A significant widening access challenge facing the North, East and West Midlands, as well as the wider sector, concerns the progression to HE of young males from widening participation backgrounds - especially, although not exclusively, white British males.  Yet, whilst under-represented, some from this cohort do buck the trend and progress to HE. In doing so, these individuals represent a valuable although often untapped source of insights into the forces inhibiting as well as enabling HE participation. This study investigates these forces and provides a set of recommendations for strategies designed to address this challenge.

Drop out amongst AS and A-Level learners: interpretations and interventions

This study considers the issue of AS and A-level drop out, which represents an area of concern in the school and college sector. It has also been suggested that amongst those at greatest risk of non-completion are learners from widening participation backgrounds. The study draws on evidence from three case study institutions to discover more about this phenomenon. It does so by, first, identifying patterns in the timing and scale of drop out, before exploring explanations and profiling those most at risk of non-completion. Informed by these findings, the study identifies a set of recommendations for enhancing retention and reducing drop out, including for the new linear A-levels.

HE progression of males from under-represented backgrounds

One of the identified widening access challenges faced in Leicester and Leicestershire relates the HE progression of males from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This study considers the trends in progression amongst this group of learners, before exploring the underlying reasons for their comparatively low rates of participation. To achieve these aims, teaching professionals in three case study schools and colleges are surveyed, along with a sample of male students in school years 9 and 10, along with their older counterparts in years 12 and 13s. From the evidence gathered, the study identifies a range of strategies found to be effective at engaging young men and enhancing their progression prospects - both whilst in compulsory education and beyond it.

Professional development in widening participation for school and colleges

Recognising the importance of collaboration, a series of interactive professional development workshops on widening participation were developed and delivered to teaching professionals and other key school and college contacts across Lincolnshire.  A further component of this project is to facilitate and capture the insights and ideas discussed at these workshops and, from these and accompanying desk research, to produce a set of recommendations on effective WP practice that can be shared with schools and colleges, as well as university partners.

The progression of advanced apprentices: learning from the student experience

Comparatively few learners who take advanced apprenticeships (equivalent to A levels) go on to higher education. Yet, studies have revealed that a significant proportion of these learners are interested in progressing and are capable of succeeding in, and gaining from, a university education. The study draws upon the insights and experiences of local learners who have embarked upon advanced apprenticeships, along with those who, after completing their apprenticeships, have progressed onto HE. In doing so, the research sets out to better understand the learner journeys taken by these individuals. It also explores their motivations for embarking upon the 'occupational route', and the incentives and enablers that have facilitated their educational progression. The study then provides a set of recommendations for outreach practitioners and others involved in supporting and guiding those who intend to take the apprenticeship route.

The progression challenge: an investigation into factors influencing the low rates of young higher education participation found in a sample of census wards across Essex.

With much outreach work now focusing on the most educationally disadvantaged localities, this study investigates the underlying reasons why certain areas across Essex return rates of young higher education (HE) participation that are not only comparatively low but lower than expected once GCSE attainment and ethnic mix are taken into accounted.  It then seeks to identify school-based approaches as well as outreach interventions likely to have the greatest impact on raising progression rates amongst these neighbourhoods.

The HE progression of BTEC students

Whilst those who take level 3 BTECs are capable of succeeding in HE, comparatively few progress to university. This study draws on evidenced from outreach and recruitment practitioners, careers advisors, FE tutors and HE lecturers, as well as the learners themselves, to consider the trends in HE progression amongst BTEC students across Essex, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It then explores the underlying reasons for their comparatively low rates of progression before making a series of recommendations for consideration and implementation by school and college practitioners as well as HE providers.  

Tracking the learner journey: an approach to the interrogation of large datasets

As part of the drive to adopt a more evidence-based approach to widening access, requests have come from a number of quarters over recent years for more longitudinal studies to be conducted.  One way of doing this is through the 'tracking of participants to higher education'. However, in the absence of a unique learner identifier number tracking presents a considerable challenge. This work explores a different approach: using data sets familiar to many practitioners to track the journeys made by learners as they more from being outreach participants to university applicants and entrants.

Identifying comparator universities: preparatory work for a desk-based research study of widening participation

This project identified a group of comparator universities. In doing so, it provided the preparatory work required for a desk-based study that considered the retention, success and progression initiatives adopted by these institutions.

• Commissioned by the University of East Anglia, Widening Participation

Desk research to inform and support the University of East Anglia’s widening participation strategy and practice

This study commenced with a review of published reports and articles that address widening participation as it relates to undergraduate retention, success and progression, before analysing the WP initiatives adopted by a group of comparator institutions, with the aim of informing and guiding the University of East Anglia’s WP practices and strategy.

• Commissioned by the University of East Anglia, Widening Participation

University of East Anglia Outreach Activity Review

This ‘wholesale review’ of the University of East Anglia’s suite of outreach activity, comprised an audit of current outreach provision and an assessment of its effectiveness.  In conducting this review, evidence was gathered from a cross-section of key schools the University engages with and a purposive (information rich) sample of WP learners who had participated in a range of outreach activities delivered by UEA. The review provided a series of recommendations to ensure a ‘robust, strategic’, and evidence-based approach to the University’s outreach work.  In acknowledging that outreach is a dynamic area, the review also identified a set of principles to ensure the programme would retain its coherence, appeal and effectiveness.  

• Commissioned by the University of East Anglia, UK and EU Recruitment and Outreach

An Evaluation of the University of Essex’s Arts Education Project

A summative (end of cycle) evaluation of the Arts Education Project developed and managed by the University of Essex. This study draws on detailed feedback from a sample of first year undergraduates taking the University’s Essex Cultural Outreach module and on which they are assigned to support the classroom activities that from a central component of the Arts Education Project. Complementing the student-perspective, the views of the teachers whose primary schools and classes participated in the project are also sought.

CPD workshops in widening participation for leaders, careers advisors and teachers at Derby College

Informed by an initial scoping exercise, this project provides four tailored and interactive workshops aimed at the College’s leaders, teachers and careers advisors.  The first workshop addresses the concept of widening participation and why it matters, the second considers the WP cohort and the progression challenges they face, whilst the third and fourth workshops look at practices and interventions designed to address these challenges and the evidence for their effectiveness.  Each workshop begins with a consideration of sector-wide trends and developments, before exploring how these relate to the College and what can be done to further support the progression of WP learners both in the College and applying to it.

Commissioned by the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Collaborative Outreach Partnership

Other studies:

An exploration of the case for using life-story interviews in widening access

Considerable emphasis is now attached to determining the long-term impact of activities aimed at widening higher education participation.  This work explores one methodology that is relatively new to the field but which has been applied to good effect in other areas: the life story interview. Could this method afford new insights into the long-term impact of widening access interventions?

Making evidence work: a framework for monitoring and evaluating fair access activity across the student lifecycle

There is a growing need for evidence that can demonstrate the impact of fair access activity across the student lifecycle.  Yet, on the ground concerns remain over what data to collect, how best to monitor and evaluate, and how to manage the process of evidence gathering and reporting in an effective and efficient way.  This work seeks to develop a framework designed to guide practitioners in their thinking about how this could be achieved.

The role of schools and colleges in influencing the impact of widening access interventions

Whilst often mentioned in supporting the identification of suitable learners, and in encouraging their engagement on widening access interventions, the role of schools in contributing to the impact of such activity tends to be overlooked.  Yet, there are good reasons to believe that what happens back in school is likely to have a significant influence in determining the success or otherwise of such interventions.  This work examines the role that schools can play in embedding the learning gained by pupils who attend outreach events.  It also considers the indirect impact of outreach on learners who were not directly involved in such activities, and how these positive influences can be maximised.    

Maximising the benefits of widening participation activities

There is a general recognition that outreach interventions are enjoyable and worthwhile, and that they can facilitate understanding and offer new insights into higher education.  This projects aims to build upon and harness the initial interest and motivation derived from participating on WP interventions.  It does so by encourage learning from these events to be translated into positive behaviours and attitudes towards further study once outreach participants return to the classroom.  It is based upon the principles of action planning.  

The qualitative evaluation of outreach programmes

With much emphasis placed upon evidencing the medium and longer-term impact of widening participation interventions, this study explores the use of a qualitative longitudinal approach to the evaluation of outreach programmes.  This involves gathering high quality, in-depth data from a sample of WP learners at regular intervals over an extended period of time, with the aim of identifying and capturing changes as they occur and providing insights into decision-making process at it unfolds. 

Mapping the education trajectories of young people from areas of educational deprivation

With much outreach activity focusing on neighbourhoods where HE progression is especially low, the study explores the educational trajectories that young people from these localities take. These trajectories are contrasted with the routes likely to be favoured by those from high progression areas.  An appreciation of these variations has the potential to provide a better insight into why some areas have traditionally generated fewer HE applicants than others.  It should also help direct attention to the kinds of interventions that might be most effective at widening local access, including those that focus on progression from vocational and professional programmes.

The delivery of WP training courses to groups of practitioners and others interested in widening access

These can be run as one-day workshops, or as a series of shorter sessions.  In both cases, further guidance and coaching are available upon request.  Whilst tailored to meet specific requirements, subject areas covered include:



Current Work