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Executive summary

1. This report sets out the findings of the first year of monitoring of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme. The monitoring exercise sought to understand the progress that local networks, national networks and network projects had made over the first funded period of the scheme, which covered January 2015 to September 2015.

2. The NNCO scheme was established with £22 million of funding made available by the Government in 2014-15 to create networks which would bring together higher education institutions (HEIs) and further education colleges (FECs), to enable their individual outreach activities to be co-ordinated for the benefit of all state-funded secondary schools and colleges in England. Co-ordination is managed by a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) appointed by each network, who acts as the main liaison point for schools and colleges in the network’s area. Each network is also expected to create and maintain a website which promotes the outreach activity offered by network members.

3. The scheme was funded at £11 million each year between January 2015 and December 2016.

4. The scheme has funded 34 local and four national or wider regional networks, which between them cover over 97 per cent of state-funded secondary academies, colleges, free schools and local authority maintained schools. About half of the networks are new, with the other half extending the activity of existing collaborative partnerships. A number of projects have also been funded which seek to explore delivering outreach in particular geographies (for example rural and coastal areas), in new contexts (for example encouraging progression to higher apprenticeships) or through new means.

5. Networks report significant work to co-ordinate the outreach offer of network partners. Activity ‘audits’ have been carried out enabling SPOCs to understand the types of activity offered by partners, where this is duplicated and where there are gaps. Similar work has been undertaken to establish which schools received outreach, sometimes from many partners, and which had little or none. National and wider regional networks have done work to understand and promote the opportunities to broaden their reach through local networks, thus ensuring that their specific expertise can be shared widely across the country.

6. Virtually all networks report that they have launched a website, and all have been actively promoting their offer to local schools and colleges. Schools have welcomed the proactive and co-ordinated approach offered by networks.

7. There have been challenges in establishing the networks. The timescale in which networks were expected to become established and active was considered very short, given issues relating to appointing SPOCs, building new or extended networks or adapting existing partnerships to accommodate the NNCO model. The funding timeframe of two years was also considered challenging, with concerns expressed over sustainability, and some issues relating to network partner, and indeed school and college, buy-in to a scheme which could be short-lived. The model used to allocate funding presented difficulties to some networks, although others’ members have accepted pooling and other mechanisms to extend the use of their allocation across the network.

8. An unlooked-for gain from the NNCO scheme has been the opportunity for networks to work with other local partners, for example local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and third-sector bodies with an interest in progression to higher education and careers education. Existing partnerships often had these relationships in place, but the extension of collaboration and co-ordination offered through the NNCO scheme has broadened this ability to connect, particularly in new networks.

9. We expected national networks to work with and through local networks to broaden the scope of their work, and this is happening. However, a further gain from the scheme has been the capacity and willingness of local networks to work together across regions. This has brought opportunities to share effective practice in widening participation, as well as tangible benefits such as joint development of resources and wider co-ordination of outreach to schools and colleges. 

Date: 22 February 2016

Ref: HEFCE 2016/02

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Widening participation

Enquiries should be directed to:

Gemma Cadogan and Alex Lewis, tel 0117 931 7410, email