Blog entry by Outreach Evaluation Hub

Anyone in the world

As a consortia Aspire to HE strive to evidence what works but we don’t shy away from shining a light on what didn’t so that we can learn and grow. We believe this can be achieved most effectively through an external lens. We wanted to work with a partner that would be a critical friend and would support us to measure impact and improve our practice for our young people.

Having an external evaluator has allowed Aspire to HE to bring a wealth of knowledge and experience on board in a cost effective manner. Working with an evaluation company gives us access to expertise: a team of qualified professionals with many different ideas and techniques.

Choosing a partner with the right ethos was very important to us. Aspire to HE wanted to work with someone who had the same passion for our goals, understanding barriers, as well as experience conducting research with young people and working within education. It was really exciting when we managed to find a partner that encompassed all these things!

The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) is a ‘think and action-tank’ who believe society should ensure all children and young people receive the support they need to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood. This ethos aligns with that of the Uni Connect Programme and we felt they would provide an excellent partner for our consortia.

CfEY have lots of experience of working with young people and conducting research in and around educational establishments; the majority of their team are former teachers and youth workers. This has been of great benefit to us as they have been able to understand the difficulties of getting in to school and colleges to talk to young people and the complex nature of our delivery.

They have also authored a number of reports and research papers on widening participation and young people’s life outcomes, such as; ‘Careers Education: What should young people learn and when?’ (in partnership with Founders4schools), ‘Boys on track’ improving support for white FSM- eligible and black Caribbean boys in London (in partnership with Greater London Authority) and Partners in Progression: Engaging parents in university access (in partnership with King’s College London), to name a few. If you are interested in reading any of these or seeing then many others then please follow the link:

We first worked with CfEY in 2018 – bringing them on board to look at our evaluation framework and methodologies. They undertook an in depth review of what we had done so far, what had worked well, what hadn’t worked so well and spoke to our partners and stakeholders to get an understanding of what they were looking for from the evaluation process. CfEY also undertook lots of consultation with our staff to consider how evaluation would work for them on the ground. This was a really important part of bringing staf on board with evaluation from the start. Building a strong relationship with our evaluation partners was a crucial step to getting it right. Staff felt consulted and considered in the creation of the evaluation framework and tools that were going to be used.

Diagram showing process undertaken

This first iteration of our new evaluation framework provided us a clear structure to work with for our evaluation and a consistent methodology. CfEY provided tools that the team could use to evaluate the work they were doing using pre and post evaluation surveys as well as activity level surveys for each event we delivered.

It was important for Aspire to HE that we not only had quality data to look at our impact and improve best practice but that we could also tell the story of our young people. So we incorporated qualitative data in the form of interviews and deep dives with our students to look at their journey through a year of Aspire to HE delivery. Working with CfEY gave us a team of people with lots of experience in conducting this type of research and who could provide us with a report of this work.

The report CfEY pulled together detailed the results of our evaluation and recommendations on how to hone our practice to best support the young people and achieve our desired outcomes. This has been presented to staff and our governance meeting to showcase the work we have been doing and informed part of our review process for our delivery model and approach to outreach work.

Having achieved such a successful partnership for 2018/19 we went out to tender to use an external evaluator again in 2019/20. CfEY were successful in gaining the tender for this academic year and we are pleased to be building on this relationship again this year.

2019/20 evaluation is going really well! It was important for us that this year’s evaluation included up skilling our staff and building a team that could continue to use our evaluation tools and technique to good effect. A review of the processes and tools we have used has been undertaken and improvements made.

Additionally, CfEY has supported Aspire to HE to undertake the development of a Knowledge Curriculum to use alongside our progression framework. Aspire to HE consulted groups of their key stakeholders to identify the key elements of knowledge which young people need in order to progress to HE.

These stakeholders included:

  • The central Aspire to HE programme team 
  • Programme Leads and Delivery Practitioners from the 7 Aspire college partners
  • Key Stage 3 and 4 Uni Connect pupils from a local target school
  • Current undergraduates at the University of Wolverhampton 

The consultation workshops with these groups were designed to identify the body of knowledge a young person needs to make informed decisions about HE, and group this into themes. Themes were then refined by combining or revising as necessary. In a follow up consultation, key stakeholders considered each theme and its sub themes in detail and identified how knowledge within each theme builds from Key Stage 3, to Key Stage 4 and into Year 12 and Year 13.

This has underpinned a key part of our pre and post evaluation as students now complete a knowledge ‘test’ to more objectively measure change in what they know about HE. This adds another element to the evaluation survey, alongside the self-reporting answers which gives us another set of data to examine and report on.

Staff have embraced the new approach this year and have gathered lots of excellent evaluation so far I am really excited to see what our evaluation partnership produces this year!

The Centre for Education and Youth will be blogging to tell us about their experience of this partnership and how they approach evaluation to ensure the greatest impact on young people.

Hannah from Aspire to HEHannah Guy, Data, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Aspire to HE

[ Modified: Wednesday, 1 April 2020, 12:05 PM ]