This blog has been written by Alex Muhumuza, Uni Connect Programmes and Partnerships Officer at London Higher.
Helping to raise pre-16 attainment in schools is a current priority for the higher education (HE) sector – even if it isn’t new terrain for providers. With the Office for Students identifying attainment in school as a key ‘risk to equality of opportunity in English HE’, the topic of how the sector can best address this is a live one.
London Higher’s AccessHE division, through our role co-delivering the Office for Students’ (OfS) Uni Connect programme in London, launched a new collaborative attainment raising programme in 2023-24 and with the pilot having recently drawn to a close, now felt an opportune moment to reflect on learnings for future attainment raising work in London.
In 2022, Uni Connect partnerships across England were set a new goal by the OfS, to develop evidence-based collaborative approaches to support raising attainment at Key Stage 3 and into and through Key Stage 4. One of the reasons for this is that academic attainment is a key predictor of participation and success in higher education.
Uni Connect partnerships were tasked with scoping and developing their approaches during 2022-23 ready for delivery during 2023-24. Partnerships could deliver attainment raising work with students in Year 7 to Year 11 in state secondary schools.
In response to this, AccessHE’s Uni Connect team created the Level Up Programme, to support students in Year 9 or Year 10 who are currently not on track to achieve at Key Stage 4 / GCSE. The programme was developed through months of consultation with schools and meetings with partner universities and other delivery organisations. To ensure the programme was being targeted towards the settings in which it could have the most impact, we offered it to schools with higher percentages of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) than the London average and a Progress 8 score (a measure of school performance showing how well pupils of all abilities have progressed, compared to pupils with similar academic starting points in other schools) lower than the average score in that particular local authority. This is because there is a stubborn attainment gap at GCSE level between FSM-eligible pupils and their peers from more socio-economically advantaged groups, which has only widened since the pandemic.
The Level Up Programme aims to support pre-16 attainment by providing students with a suite of workshops that focus on developing study strategies and social and emotional learning. A pilot programme took place at Brittons Academy in Havering, running weekly from September to November 2023. A total of 30 students in Year 10 took part.
The core workshops were delivered by Enlighten Education, an organisation that focuses on improving critical thinking in education, to show that it is far more effective for students to focus on how they work rather than what they know. Over these five workshops, students took part in various activities such as developing creative mind maps to realise the power of colour and images in the learning journey, understanding the impact of senses on learning and remembering (for instance, while learning to count to ten in Japanense), using different memory techniques to suit different types of information and practising in their new workbooks to study more effectively at home. All of this enabled the students to build a good foundation for developing accelerated learning.
During week seven of the programme students were invited to take part in a Cultural Capital day trip which included a campus visit at London South Bank University, the London Eye experience, and a guided tour of the London Stadium. Photos from the day, on AccessHE’s X (formerly Twitter) account, attest to the packed itinerary but also to the value of the day for participating students.
We don’t yet have full evaluation data in the form of student post-intervention surveys and school attainment records – that will come in the new year – so we can only make a judgement on the impact of the programme from observation at this stage. However, we have seen encouraging early signs – and learned a lot about how to set up attainment raising partnerships involving London HEIs.
Following the pilot, we feel more confident about targeting these programmes explicitly towards pupils who are not ‘on track’ academically. We were concerned that it could be demotivating for students to be invited onto a programme they perceive as remedial, but although we received some questions from students in the first session, by the end of the programme they were clearly engaging with the programme content, turning up early for sessions and expressing excitement about the Cultural Capital trip. As one student said after the last session:
“It was very engaging and fun, and I learned a lot in a short period of time.”
Another student reflected that:
“The Level Up Programme was a great idea, it helps people with no strategies on how to revise correctly.”
This suggests that the students felt the programme provided them with a roadmap for future learning and we will be interested to explore the impact of this further in our evaluation.
Following this pilot, we are planning to run the Level Up Programme again for another cohort of students. If you would like to partner with us, hear more about the structure, content or the impact of the programme, then please get in touch.
In the meantime, consider joining us on 30 November for our AccessHE conference entitled Collaboration Matters: How can we collectively improve educational outcomes and increase social mobility in London? More details on Eventbrite.