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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

National Networks for Collaborative Outreach scheme: Publication of monitoring and evaluation reports

1. We are publishing two reports relating to the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme. The NNCO was funded for two years from 2014-15 to 2015-16, with a total of £22 million. The primary aim of the scheme was to ensure that all state-funded secondary schools and colleges in England knew how to access higher education outreach activity, and to simplify the way in which they could do so.

2. The goals of the NNCO scheme were:

  1. The creation of networks of universities, colleges and other partners working together to deliver a co-ordinated and joined-up approach to outreach in their sphere of operation.
  2. National coverage of networks for collaborative outreach.
  3. Establishment of a single point of contact for each network so that all state-funded secondary schools and colleges in England knew who to contact to access information about the outreach activities available to them.

3. The external evaluation shows that all three aims of the scheme were achieved.

4. 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. A number of specific projects were also funded, through which networks could trial innovative approaches to outreach challenges, for example effective engagement with students in rural and coastal areas. A full list of projects supported through the NNCO scheme can be found on the NNCO page of the HEFCE website.

5. The scheme operated between January 2015 and December 2016. It was subject to annual monitoring and a national evaluation, the outputs of which are published today.

NNCO monitoring 2015-16 report

6. The ‘NNCO monitoring report 2015-16’ (HEFCE 2017/14) summarises the information submitted by NNCO networks and projects in their final year monitoring returns. HEFCE required networks and projects to submit monitoring returns annually, and the previous report, ‘NNCO monitoring 2014-15 report’ (HEFCE 2016/02) is also available. The aims of the monitoring returns were:

  • to understand how far the networks achieved their key aims
  • to provide assurances to HEFCE about the funding allocated for each network and project
  • to understand the key outputs for the NNCO networks and projects during the period of the scheme
  • to understand the work, value and challenges of the networks
  • to receive updated information on partners and school coverage, as well as understanding which schools were targeted during the scheme.

7. The monitoring therefore focused on financial assurance, coverage of schools and colleges, self-evaluation by networks and plans for sustainability.

Evaluation of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach report

8. The ‘Evaluation of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach’ was carried out on HEFCE’s behalf by the Institute of Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University and the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

9. The evaluation began at the start of the NNCO scheme and had a remit:

  • to assess the value and impact of the networks
  • to develop robust approaches to qualitative evaluation of outreach activity.

10. The evaluation captured quantitative and qualitative information enabling HEFCE to assess how far the aims and objectives of the scheme had been met.

11. The evaluation assessed the range and coverage of the networks that were established, their characteristics, the extent to which they had ‘added value’ beyond existing activity, the extent to which they had engaged in innovative practice with regard to activity and partnership working, and their overall efficacy in achieving the intended aims of the scheme.

12. The evaluation team also engaged and liaised with the networks to help embed and share good practice relating to effective evaluation methodologies.

13. The publication of both reports provides a full reflection of the NNCO scheme, including the benefits and challenges of collaborative working, but also the impact of the networks and projects in delivering outreach nationally.

14. Both reports reference HEFCE’s National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), and note that many of the NCOP consortia have been able to build on the collaborative structures and activities developed through the NNCO scheme.

Yours sincerely

Professor Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive

Date: 4 August 2017

Ref: Circular letter 29/2017

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

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Widening participation and student outreach

Enquiries should be directed to:

Gemma Cadogan, tel 0117 931 7410, email