Understanding the evaluation of outreach interventions for under 16 year olds

Understanding the evaluation of outreach interventions to widen access to higher education for under 16 year olds in England from disadvantaged backgrounds


There is clear evidence that young people’s attainment at age 16 (i.e. GCSEs or equivalent) is a critical predictor of progression to higher education, regardless of other indicators of disadvantage or under-representation such as socio-economic status, ethnicity or gender.

Despite the vital importance of attainment at this level, recent analysis has shown that the majority of outreach work delivered by universities and colleges still focuses on post-16 students (i.e. A level or equivalent). There is also some evidence that universities and colleges may be reluctant to invest in outreach work with under 16 year olds due to the challenges of measuring the impact of this work on individual student outcomes and demonstrating the relationship with widening participation at specific institutions.

This project aims to:

What is happening now?

In October 2017 OFFA commissioned a team led by Dr Neil Harrison at the University of the West of England (UWE) to investigate the outreach schemes universities and colleges run for under 16 year olds in England from disadvantaged backgrounds. The team will use existing national level data (from access agreements) and collect new data (through surveys, interviews, case studies and participatory research) to understand:

At the end of this phase of research, the team will publish a report detailing their findings with practical resources for use by widening participation staff in universities and colleges.

Project team

Principal Investigator

Dr Neil Harrison, Associate Professor in Education and Childhood, University of the West of England


Dr Katy Vigurs, Associate Professor of Careers and Higher Education, University of Derby

Dr Julian Crockford, Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit Manager, University of Sheffield

Dr Colin McCaig, Reader in Higher Education Policy, Sheffield Hallam University


Dr Anna Mountford-Zimdars, Director of the Centre for Excellence in Widening Participation Research and Practice, University of Exeter

What will happen next?

The findings of this work are planned to form the basis for a second research phase to consider the supporting evidence for different intended outcomes of outreach schemes directed at under 16 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds and how these contribute to the ultimate goal of widening access to higher education.

Want more information?

Contact Richard Shiner, Head of Evidence and Effective Practice (0117 931 7171, richard.shiner@offa.org.uk) or Dr Beth Isaac, Evidence and Effective Practice Manager (0117 931 7171, beth.isaac@offa.org.uk)