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Summer schools are an important part of the Aimhigher offer and are often perceived to be one of the most significant outreach activities undertaken. We have heard from Aimhigher practitioners, teachers and young people themselves that summer schools have had an impact on learner progression and attainment. The analysis in this report helps build evidence for this impact. By innovatively linking the data collected with both the National Pupil Database and UCAS applications data, we can, for the first time, see summer school participants' attainment outcomes and patterns of progression into higher education.

Our original analysis of the summer school data, published last year ('Aimhigher summer schools: Analysis of provision and participation 2004 to 2008', HEFCE 2009/11) demonstrated that Aimhigher partnerships had become increasingly successful at targeting their summer school activity at young learners from groups under-represented in higher education. This report extends that earlier analysis by introducing previously unconsidered measures of disadvantage, and confirms that the targeting has been effective. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly those with the potential to benefit from higher education, are substantially more likely to participate in a summer school than those from more advantaged backgrounds.

It is, of course, vital to get the targeting of summer school activity right. But it is also essential to demonstrate that such activity delivers its aims. Aimhigher summer schools have sought to increase aspiration and encourage progression into higher education – and indeed this report confirms that summer school participants from the target group are over twice as likely to apply and to be accepted into higher education as those with similar backgrounds who do not participate in summer schools. Furthermore, they are just as likely to be accepted into high-tariff institutions. These findings persist even when comparisons are made between those with similar levels of prior attainment, and are encouraging because they suggest that summer schools show young people that higher education is an attainable option for them.

However, there is still much to do. Summer school participants with attainment strong enough to allow acceptance to high-tariff universities appear more likely than similarly qualified non-participants to be accepted into low- and medium-tariff universities. The reasons for this are not clear, but understanding them will become ever more important as policy towards widening participation, fair access and social mobility develop.

We are grateful to Aimhigher partnerships and individual higher education providers for their continued support and commitment to the provision of high-quality summer school outreach activity. I would also like to thank all the practitioners in the Aimhigher partnerships for their commitment to supplying the high-quality, comprehensive data that made possible the analysis in this report. We also appreciate the assistance provided by UCAS in this work. The insights provided by this report help to more fully demonstrate the impact and success of the Aimhigher programme and the lessons that need to be taken forward into the new policy environment.

Heather Fry
Director (Education and Participation), HEFCE

Executive summary


1. The purpose of this analysis is to develop a broader understanding of those who participate in Aimhigher-funded summer schools.

2. The report is specifically concerned with:

  • the characteristics of summer school participants, which is key to establishing how well the summer school programme has been targeted at those for whom it is intended
  • how summer school participants fare, compared to those who do not participate in summer schools, across a range of outcomes. Comparing outcomes, specifically progression into higher education (HE), indicates whether summer schools achieved their aim of widening participation in HE among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and groups that are under-represented in HE.

Key points

3. The report uses individual-level administrative data on summer school participants, returned to HEFCE by the Aimhigher partnerships responsible for summer school provision. These data have been linked to the National Pupil Database and UCAS HE applications data, to allow tracking of young people through school and any summer schools in which they have participated, and into HE.

4. The analysis confirms that the targeting of summer school activity by background has been effective. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely, often substantially so, to participate in a summer school, than are young people from advantaged backgrounds. This is the case whether disadvantage is defined by the nature of where young people live, the schools they attend, or whether they are eligible for certain means-tested benefits. Typically the most disadvantaged 20 per cent of young people are two to four times more likely to attend a summer school than the most advantaged 20 per cent of young people.

5. The targeting of the programme is also reported in terms of the attainment of participants. Young people are much more likely to participate in a summer school if they have higher attainment, and this is the case whether attainment is measured at Key Stages 2 and 3 (prior to participation in summer schools) or Key Stage 4 (GCSE level, often after summer school participation). The strong attainment of summer school participants is indicated by the finding that the young people most likely to attend summer schools are those whose capped GCSE performance is equivalent to eight grade As.

6. The analysis also calculates summer school participation rates after taking into account both background and attainment simultaneously. Disadvantaged young people are much more likely to attend summer schools, especially so among those with high attainment.

7. On average, young people who have participated in summer schools achieve better grades in their GCSEs, and are more likely to progress to post-16 study, than those who did not participate in summer schools. In terms of progression to HE, disadvantaged summer school participants are, on average, over twice as likely to be accepted to HE as similarly disadvantaged people who did not participate. Summer school participants are also, on average, just as likely to be accepted into a high-tariff higher education institution (HEI) as non-participants. The improved outcomes found for summer school participants, compared to their peers, would of course be expected given their strong prior attainment, but they persist even when compared to people with similar prior attainment.

8. The elevated post-16 and HE progression rates for summer school participants are consistent with the objective of summer schools to increase aspirations and entry rates for higher education. However we cannot know at this stage whether there is a causal link between summer school participation and these improved outcomes. This is because it is possible that there are unmeasured traits that are associated with going on a summer school that are also associated with higher HE progression rates – in other words that the kind of young people who go to a summer school may have had higher HE progression rates anyway, for other reasons, than those who do not go to a summer school.

Action required

9. No action is required.


  1. UCAS is the organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK, see

Date: 1 December 2010

Ref: 2010/32

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Chairs and managers of area Aimhigher partnerships

Enquiries should be directed to:

Seth Fleet, tel 0117 931 7014, e-mail