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HEFCE commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to undertake an evaluation of the impact of Aimhigher: learner attainment and progression.

The aim of the research was to assess the contribution that Aimhigher is making to improvements in learner attainment and progression. Specifically, the research brief was to explore:

  • the effect of key activities on learner motivation and attainment
  • the extent to which Aimhigher activities have been incorporated into school, college and academy schedules
  • the effect of the programme as a whole on learner outcomes
  • the benefits of the partnership approach in securing the aims of the healthcare strand
  • the perceptions of Aimhigher staff and learners on the contribution that Aimhigher makes to positive learner outcomes.

Initially the evaluation was both quantitative and qualitative, but NFER's interim report (available on the NFER web-site) found that while the extent and quality of data collected by Aimhigher partnerships had greatly improved, data collection and collation was not sufficiently consistent to enable comparative data analysis of the Aimhigher programme at a national level at this stage. Therefore, the remainder of the analysis focused on qualitative evaluation with some local quantitative evidence.

The report has three key findings:

  • The quantitative evidence provided by partnerships suggested that some target groups of Aimhigher participants had improved outcomes in terms of raised aspirations, raised attainment and improved progression. However, due to the relatively small scale of local Aimhigher evaluations and the difficulty of establishing causal links between activities and learner outcomes, quantitative reports provided by partnerships showed an association between learner participation and improved outcomes rather than conclusive evidence of impact.
  • The supporting qualitative evidence showed high levels of learner enjoyment and reflected an increased learner interest in entering higher education. Studies that focused on the contribution of Learning Mentors concluded that they had a positive impact on mentees' attainment and progression.
  • The evidence provided by colleges, schools and academies showed that involvement with Aimhigher was associated with higher than predicted attainment at GCSE and greater confidence among learners that they were able to achieve. One-to-one relationships with Learning Mentors and Aimhigher Associates were seen to be critical in encouraging and supporting learners.

This study provides valuable qualitative evidence of the impact of the Aimhigher programme and forms part of the Council's wider evaluation of the Aimhigher programme, which includes:

  • evaluation of the impact of Aimhigher at a national level
  • evaluation of the Aimhigher Summer Schools Scheme
  • evaluation of the Aimhigher Associates Scheme
  • a review of Aimhigher partnership arrangements.