The Office for Fair Access closed at the end of 31 March 2018 and responsibility for higher education access regulation transferred to the Office for Students

Choosing your access activities

When developing your access agreement, you should review whether the access activities that you choose to engage in demonstrate a sufficiently robust, strategic approach to improving access, and where you might strengthen and grow this work.

We strongly encourage institutions, particularly those with the furthest to go in terms of access, to develop strong links with schools, colleges and communities where rates of progression to higher education are low or where there are significant proportions of students from under-represented groups.

This is because some of the main causes of under-representation of disadvantaged groups in higher education include lower attainment at school; a lack of advice on the best choices of GCSE/A level subjects and degree courses; and a tendency for people in these groups not to think of higher education, or of some higher education institutions, as an option for them, even when they have the talent to be successful students. Therefore, raising attainment and aspirations among these potential students, and ensuring they have good information, advice and guidance, are key to increasing their representation in higher education.

All universities and colleges benefit from raising the aspirations and attainment of potential students, so all institutions should contribute to this work. Widening participation is a collective responsibility.


Outreach is activity that helps to raise awareness, aspirations and attainment among people from disadvantaged or under-represented groups. This can include:


It is widely recognised that a sustained, planned programme of outreach work is more likely to have a successful impact than one-off interventions. We strongly encourage sustained, co-ordinated activities that work with potential applicants including young and mature learners, their parents/carers, other advisers, and communities and employers, over a number of years from primary age upwards.

Collaboration is an effective way of delivering this type of work. More guidance on collaborative working

Your access agreement must include information on your long-term outreach, including how you are working with younger age groups such as Key Stages (KS) 2, 3 and 4 as appropriate.

Where you are delivering access work with younger age groups outside your access agreement – for example, long-running schemes that were in place before 2006 – you should still include a description of this activity in your access agreement.


To be included in your access agreement expenditure, access work must be targeted – for example, work with schools and colleges that have low higher education progression rates, or with communities that have low rates of participation in post-compulsory education, or with employers. As part of this, you will need to draw on your equality and diversity work (more guidance about equality and diversity in access agreements).

Your access activities should target the areas for improvement identified in your assessment of your performance. You should use evidence and information from the evaluation of past activities when planning your access activities to ensure the maximum benefit of your investment.

Where you have activities that are specifically targeted at people wishing to study on a part-time basis, or relating to initial teacher training (ITT), you may wish to describe these separately.

Evaluating your outreach work

We are currently supporting several projects to improve the evaluation of outreach for different groups. We have recently published proposed standards of evaluation practice for outreach activities for disadvantaged young people which you may find useful.

Strategic relationships with schools

Building strong, long-term relationships with schools and colleges has the potential to greatly contribute to work to raise aspirations and attainment, and to address challenges around prior educational attainment and subject/qualification choice.

Therefore you should look at how you can create strategic relationships, or scale up your existing work/relationships, with schools and colleges to enhance their teaching and learning outcomes with the aim of accelerating the sector’s progress in widening access and participation.

In forming and strengthening relationships with schools and colleges, there are a variety of approaches you might take. These include:

Where such links support your work in widening participation, you may include an appropriate proportion of the costs of forming and maintaining such links under your access expenditure in your access agreement.

Attainment raising activities in schools

We expect all institutions to set out in their access agreements how they will work with schools and colleges to raise attainment for those from disadvantaged and under-represented groups. You should outline how your activities will focus on supporting schools to raise attainment to support higher education access and participation, and explain how they are distinct from aspiration raising activities.

Examples of programmes to raise attainment may include those aimed at:

As with all aspects of your work carried out under access agreements, we expect you to develop robust evaluation plans to monitor and evidence the impact of your work in raising attainment in schools.

Where you have already been carrying out work in this area, we would expect you to provide evidence of impact. For example, you might include evidence of improved school or participant attainment in Level 2 or Level 3 qualifications, or improved progress between key stages.

If you do not yet have such evidence of longer-term impact, you should tell us how you plan to put in place processes to collect it in future.

Further information on sponsoring or establishing a school

An academy sponsor is an organisation or person who has been approved by the Department for Education (DfE) to support an underperforming academy or group of academies. Sponsors work with the academies they support through an academy trust. An academy trust is the charitable company that runs an academy or a group of academies. For more information about academy sponsorship, please see the DfE website.

A ‘free school’, which includes maths free schools, studio schools and University Technical Colleges, refers to any newly established school that is independent of local authority control. For more information on this please see the DfE website. You may also wish to refer to the New Schools Network, a charity which provides further guidance on setting up free schools.

What higher tariff institutions will need to consider

When considering this type of activity in access agreements, we have the greatest expectations of those institutions with the highest entrance requirements because they require the highest prior educational attainment of their applicants.

How to tell us about your work to raise attainment in schools and colleges in your access agreement

In your access agreement you should set out the following:

We recognise that different institutions have different contexts and opportunities for innovative practice. Where you have no immediate plans to sponsor a school but already have extensive school partnerships and work in place to support attainment in schools and colleges which might be affected by a shift in resource or focus to school sponsorship, please explain your current strategy in your access agreement.

Expenditure on schools sponsorship and free schools

Click here for further guidance on how to account for expenditure on schools sponsorship and free schools in your access agreement.

Related resources

Topic briefing: Raising attainment to widen participation

Access to professions

You may wish to target some access activities specifically at improving access to courses that lead to professional careers, if your applicants and entrants to these courses are less representative than your intake generally. For example, you might consider working with employers to provide mentoring and other activities to further access, student success and progression. Some of these courses may offer the greatest financial benefits to students and are an important aspect of promoting social mobility.

Access to medicine

The Medical Schools Council, working in partnership with OFFA, has published guidance on improving access to medicine courses and guidance on support for medical students. We urge all institutions with medical schools to consider this guidance when designing their access agreements.

Courses and different modes of study

You will want to consider whether different types of courses may be more attractive and accessible to your target groups and different types of learners, including mature students from under-represented groups – for example, through part-time courses, distance learning, two year degrees, accelerated degrees and foundation years.

Related guidance and resources

What should you invest in?

Setting your access agreement strategy

HESA Statistical Release 224

OFFA, Trends in young participation by student background and selectivity of institution, 2014

HEFCE outreach resource pool

Sutton Trust Research on ‘Missing Talent’

Universities UK, The Power of Part-Time, 2013 (covers part-time and mature learners)

HEFCE’s 2007 publication Higher education outreach: targeting disadvantaged learners gives guidance on effective ways to target outreach activities at people from communities under-represented in HE. It also includes a three-stage methodology to make targeting more effective.

Topic briefing: Raising attainment in schools and colleges for widening participation (December 2017)

The Education Endowment Foundation summarises academic research about student attainment and draws attention to high potential education interventions

Action on Access’s Higher Education Progression Framework Guide (2008) sets out a model approach to prepare disadvantaged learners for higher education, engaging directly with schools in a sustained way. It aims to help institutions move beyond one-off WP interventions to a sustained, planned programme integrated with the activities of schools and colleges.

The Action on Access publications Social mobility through higher education topic briefing: the role of targeting and Aimhigher and engagement with the primary sector may also be useful.

The International Centre for Guidance Studies, The Progression Trust, HEFCE and the Higher Education Academy have published a series of toolkits for WP practitioners offering practical advice, including a toolkit on targeting outreach schemes.

Medical Schools Council, A Journey to Medicine: Outreach Guidance, 2014

The national strategy for access and student success