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Executive summary

1. This report sets out the findings of the second and final year of monitoring of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme. The monitoring exercise sought to understand the progress that local networks, national and regional networks and NNCO projects made over the full period of the scheme, from January 2015 to December 2016. The report uses monitoring returns submitted by networks and projects, and therefore reflects the views of the people managing and supporting those activities.

2. This monitoring report is complemented by a report evaluating the NNCO scheme, led by the Institute of Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University and the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research at Sheffield Hallam University. The report can be found at

3. 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 and further education colleges 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 was managed by a single point of contact appointed by each network, who acted as the main liaison for schools and colleges in the network’s area. Each network was also expected to create and maintain a website with which to promote the outreach activity offered by network members.

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

5. The scheme funded 34 local and seven national or regional networks, which between them covered over 96 per cent of state-funded secondary academies, colleges, free schools and local authority maintained schools. About half of the networks were new, with the other half extending the activity of existing collaborative partnerships. A number of projects were also funded which sought to explore delivering outreach in particular geographies (for example rural and coastal areas) or in new contexts (for example encouraging progression to higher apprenticeships), as well as extending knowledge by considering attainment at GCSE level. Other projects were aimed at supporting particular groups, for example black and minority ethnic learners. We also funded projects to support regional skills development by encouraging collaborative work with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).

6. In the first period of activity up to September 2015, networks reported significant work to co-ordinate the outreach offer of network partners, to fill gaps and to de-duplicate activity as possible. Similar co-ordinating work was undertaken to establish which schools received outreach, sometimes from many partners, and which little or none. Most networks had at that point launched a website, and all had been actively promoting their offer to local schools and colleges.

7. The second period of activity, reported here, shows that networks have moved to embed collaboration and begin active work with schools and colleges. Overall, 98 per cent of academies and local authority maintained schools and colleges were covered by the scheme.

8. All networks ensured that their offer was suitable for all state-funded secondary schools and colleges, whatever their intake in terms of likelihood of progression. Most, though, decided to make differential offers to secondary schools and colleges depending on their levels of progression to higher education (HE). Those schools where a large proportion of learners progressed were offered basic coverage, often on-line information for teachers about, for example, student finances, or opportunities to attend larger events such as campus visits. Schools where, traditionally, low numbers of learners progressed were offered enhanced support. Often referred to as ‘cold spot’ schools, these were given access to intensive, often progressive activities which aimed to offer information, advice and guidance but also to build the confidence and subject skills of learners.

9. We were keen that the funding allocated through the NNCO scheme should enable new types of activity and ways of working to be trialled. We asked networks to report up to three areas of innovation in their activity, and the responses show that genuine innovation took place. Responses from networks demonstrate a range of innovation which falls into a number of categories:

  • continuing to work with teachers, parents, carers and students, but using novel means of delivery such as technology or different types of activity
  • working with new groups of learners, for example those with certain disabilities or young adult carers or offenders
  • new ways of working structurally or more collaboratively, particularly with other organisations.

10. Aspects of innovation are reported here, though it is difficult to do justice to the range of approaches described. Of note is the emphasis placed on continuing professional development resources for teachers and advisers. This was seen as a means of sustaining the efficacy of the scheme into the future, when teachers and advisers could continue to use and apply the knowledge that they gained through the scheme. Networks also noted the low levels of careers education, information, advice and guidance available in some schools and saw continuing professional development for teachers as a means of addressing some of this shortfall.

11. Also of note was the increased alignment of work undertaken by networks with the local skills agenda. Many liaised closely with their LEPs and built relations with the Careers and Enterprise Company’s recently appointed co-ordinators in LEPs.

12. A recurring theme in reports was the opportunity to build, or rebuild, collaboration under the NNCO scheme. This was noted by many networks in terms of collaborating with other HE providers. For many providers, the requirement to recruit students has overridden collaboration as an approach. Greater collaboration between HE providers was seen to deliver greater efficiencies for the institutions involved, and some networks reported a reduction in costs for partners while increasing the scope and scale of what they could deliver collectively.

13. Despite the many challenges faced by networks, overall most felt that the NNCO scheme put them in a good place from which to respond to the new National Collaborative Outreach Programme. The two-year scheme enabled them to build and strengthen collaboration between HE providers and, importantly, with other local agencies, particularly in relation to local and regional skills needs. They also developed strong and, in some cases, innovative responses to the specific needs of local learners. Crucially, they established a strong staff base with growing levels of expertise. Networks considered that, given these areas of development, the NNCO scheme offered a strong platform from which to begin to deliver the new programme.


Erratum: This report was amended on 8 August 2017 to correct an error in paragraph 16. ‘December 2019’ was amended to ‘December 2020’.

Date: 4 August 2017

Ref: 2017/14

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