Starting Widening Participation Early – iAspire in Primary

In my last blog post, I outlined ‘top tips’ for widening participation programmes in schools. In the following posts, I look at each of these areas in more detail. Fittingly, we’ll begin with the concept of ‘starting early’. In this post, I look at our primary programme iAspire.

At Dyke House, we believe in starting early to build meaningful progression pathways for pupils. Underpinning this is our belief that widening participation must be ‘coherent, longitudinal and holistic’ in order to be successful.

What does the research say?

Research from Action on Access (2009), Goodman and Gregg (2010) and Heckman (2004) all supports this view. Heckman et al. advocate early intervention, far prior to the age of higher education, suggesting that ‘early environments play a large role in shaping later outcomes. Skill begets skill and learning begets more learning. Early advantages cumulate; so do early disadvantages. Later remediation of early deficits is costly, and often prohibitively so…’ (Heckman et al. 2004: 4). Concurring, Goodman et al (2010), agree that early intervention capitalises on the theory of the ‘skill multiplier’; that early intervention allows an individual to build upon the skills they already have in order to improve their outcomes. In 2009, Action on Access evaluated the impact of the now defunct Aimhigher programme on primary pupils, concluding that HE partnership work with primary pupils can be effective in raising both the aspirations and performance of pupils from disadvantaged areas and can help to overcome the ‘negative drift’ that occurs at age 11. Research using the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England by Croll and Attwood suggests that early intentions of HE participation are strongly correlated to the progression of an individual (2013). In 2016, Mary Curnock Cook, Chief Executive at UCAS reinforced the importance of early intervention in the UCAS stating that, ‘the age at which young people engage with the concept of HE is a key determinant in whether or not they will take that challenging step’ and those who indicate having university as a goal from the age of ten are significantly more likely to progress to Higher Education (UCAS, 2016: 4).

Lastly, The Sutton Trust stated in a report to the National Council for Educational Excellence that, ‘evidence from those running university outreach schemes highlights that young people’s attitudes to higher education are often more likely to change around key transition points – from primary into secondary school and from an 11-16 school in to a school sixth form or college’ (2008). Compelling evidence to start young, make transition an opportunity rather than the ‘lost years’ sometimes used to describe KS3 and harness the power of collaborative work.

Using the research – iAspire:iAspire Background Removed Logo

At Dyke House, we work with seven primary partners as part of our iAspire programme. The programme was designed in consultation with primary colleagues. Feedback from primary staff as to what they felt was important included:

  • One off sessions don’t work – just as we did not think one off session worked for our 7-13 pupils, primary staff wanted to see a coherent, embedded programme for younger pupils.
  • Regular communication with the classroom teacher / lead teacher for the year group in order to ensure logistics were smooth and feedback was direct.
  • Resources needed to be provided as part of the package in order to maximise the impact of the sessions as they had been designed and reduce disparity in delivery.
  • The option for DHC staff to deliver the sessions – as some primary colleagues were concerned about how to deliver the messaging about progression.

Taking their feedback onboard we designed iAspire:

  • Taking place in Year 4, 5 and 6.
  • A half term unit of work in primary school, bookended by visits to DHC and a university visit in Year 6.
  • coherent, longitudinal and holistic’ embedded not only throughout KS2 but as part of the overall Aspirations Programme at Dyke House.
  • Looks at the concept of aspiration (Year 4), an introduction to careers (Year 5) and progression in the context of HE (Year 6).
  • Provides an impact report to each primary school at the end of each programme for each year group.
  • Is fully resourced by Dyke House, including staffing for delivery.
  • Engages parents as part of an end of programme ‘graduation’ event, to which parents and careers are invited.

    iAspire Year 4 Overview

    Year 4 iAspire Programme Overview


What is the impact?

iAspire is in its second full year. This means our first pupils who took part in Year 6 have transitioned into secondary school; many of them have started at Dyke House. Our current data suggests the impact of iAspire has been good thus far. Of the 571 pupils who took part last year, 68% of were POLAR3 Quintile 1 and 86% met Newcastle University’s widening participation threshold. Successes include an 11% increase in the number of Year 6 pupils who stated they would ‘like to go to university’ after completing the programme and significant increases in the number of pupils who reported that they were discussing their futures with parents and carers at home. Pupils had a greater understanding of careers and were more likely to be able to access information about their futures. The challenge now is to continue to measure pupil attainment and aspirations in order to monitor this throughout their secondary and Post 16 progression.

However, the real impact of iAspire can be seen in less measurable ways; when Year 6 arrived for their transition, we had already worked extensively with many of them in their primary schools. Pupils had visited on multiple occasions and knew staff members, including their Head of Year and pastoral team as they had been involved in delivery. Primary colleagues had been able to discuss transition informally with DHC staff and communication was much eased. The well documented challenge during transition to keep disadvantaged pupils on track and avoid the ‘negative drift’ was tackled.

Moreover, iAspire pupils arrived at Dyke House with an understanding of their progression pathways and options. They could imagine university, having visited Sunderland or Newcastle University as part of their Year 6 programme. Embedding iAspire into the wider Aspirations Programme meant they had heard of many of our 7-11 programmes and were excited to join them. This knowledge has been invaluable to ensuring a coherent approach to their progression pathway between Year 6 and Year 7 and the maximising of opportunities secondary can offer.

It will take another 7 years before the pupils with whom we worked with in Year 4 are applying to university. It will be 6 years before they gain GCSE results and make decisions around Post 16 progression. Early intervention is a brave step in an era where policy churn makes planning even just months ahead a challenge. However, at Dyke House we believe our pupils can only attain at GCSE, progress to facilitating subjects at A Level and secure places at highly selective universities if we embed this culture early, holistically and with a truly long term plan for the future.

When the research tells us this is the right thing to do, when we work with external partners to provide opportunities for our pupils, create sustainable systems and evaluate our programmes to measure impact, we are confident that our pupils will benefit.

Want to see what we do day to day? Follow the programme on @DHC_Aspirations and Sally on @SallyAnnHolt . Tweet us questions or things you want to hear more about!


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