Background and context

To further the widening participation agenda, the HEFCE has established a National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme which explicitly aims to encourage more young people into Higher Education. This scheme aims to deliver a nationally coordinated approach to work with schools, colleges and HEIs in setting up Single Points of Contact (SPoC) for teachers and others to find out about outreach activity in their area, as well as providing general advice about progression into HE. The scheme involves around 4,300 secondary schools and 200 universities and colleges in England.

The University of East London and University College London, are conducting a two year research project to help support the work of this, and other NNCOs and SPoCs who have an interest, and/or member institutions working in the East of London - Reaching East. Alongside this, Greenwich University are funding a London wide mapping project - Reaching London.

These research projects builds on much of the widening participation research work Continuum has undertaken in the past, in particular projects with an east of London focus. In 2008/9 the HEFCE commissioned Continuum to conduct a project examining low youth participation rates in Barking and Dagenham, which provided a rich and complex picture of the social, economic and cultural processes that underpinned this. This round of research is a further stage of geographically focused work with a direct emphasis on the facilitation of longer term HE engagement in low participation neighbourhoods and the development of transferable models of practice regarding outreach delivery and uptake.

East of London focus

The area of East London and eastward of London contains some of the lowest youth participation rates in the country, according to POLAR data. The map below shows most of the East of London falling in the lowest quintiles for youth participation in HE. As such, we feel that it is imperative to understand the patterns of outreach activity and provide a greater understanding of how this may (or may not) affect patterns of participation.

London: Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Greenwich, Lewisham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest.

Essex: Thurrock, Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point, Southend on Sea.

The rationale for these particular Boroughs and Districts becomes clear when examining the HEFCE youth participation map. These are the areas with the lowest participation, shown in red, orange and yellow as the arc of non-participation beginning in the East of London stretching eastward along the Thames.

Map of East London

Reaching London focus

This project is designed to run in parallel with the Reaching East project, for which this particular methodology was developed. Continuum welcomes the opportunity to consider all of London's boroughs in this proposed research - Reaching London to enhance the understanding and analysis of outreach activity across the capital. When examining the youth participation in HE rates for all of London, it is clear from the map below that alongside the arc of low participation to the east, there are large pockets of low participation throughout the capital, particularly to the north east, south of the Thames, and in the outer western suburbs. 

Research aims

The research aims and research questions have been developed with the intention of contributing to the important work of the NNCOs and SPoCs. These are to develop a collaborative approach to outreach delivery in London; to assist with a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of outreach activity; facilitate the provision of accurate information to the sector about outreach activity and its potential impacts.

As such the research aims for the project are as follows:

  • To map the type and frequency of outreach activity in the East of London arc of low participation, and for all of London, in particular areas of low participation to the far west.
  • To establish a database of this activity with useful contact details to be shared with our and other NNCOs.
  • To examine the role of colleges in particular, and to look at FECs as a particular case study as they are (potentially) both providers of outreach, as well as receivers of outreach activity.
  • To examine this activity for patterns which may contribute to rates of participation in a local (borough or ward level) area, including the use of datasets such as HESA and POLAR data.
  • To establish potential connections between rates of participation, outreach, and destination of young learners.
  • To conduct a gap analysis to identify "cold spots" where outreach activities are not provided.
  • To conduct a needs analysis to identify where outreach work could potentially be of benefit.
  • To conduct a capacity analysis to help colleges, schools and other providers deliver more tailored, effective, or simply more outreach activity to benefit learners in East London.
  • To develop a series of recommendations to help schools, colleges and other providers and stakeholders get the most out of the provision of outreach activity.
  • To develop a toolkit to facilitate the engagement of colleges and schools with appropriate outreach activity and help schools to develop a way to map their own engagement with outreach work.
  • To deliver four seminar workshops to provide a space where stakeholders can come together to collaborate and act as a "matchmaking service" to further facilitate the provision of outreach activity. These seminar workshops will also be of use for teachers, headteachers and other stakeholder staff members' CPD.
Colour coded map of London


The programme of research necessitates a mixed methods approach, which will include both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. The specific methodologies for the various tasks are as follows:  


This will begin with desktop research to establish a database of schools, colleges and third sector organisations who are engaging with HE providers (both HEIs and FECs) that provide outreach activities designed to promote HE engagement in the geographical area. This will be supplemented by activities identified by the Linking London NNOC (and will also feedback any activity to the Linking London - and other - NNOCs) whose members may be operating in the area. Access agreements will also be trawled for activity, and third sector organisations will also be identified if they are engaged with outreach work of this kind. While the scope of the NNCOs and SPoCs are limited to state secondary schools and colleges, this research will cast a wider net to include private providers, free schools, and third sector organisations, giving a more complete picture of activity.

Then, this part of the research will engage with colleges, schools and other providers, and will use an online survey, to map the patterns of activity in the geographical area with which we are concerned.

The mapping exercise seeks to establish the type and frequency of activity, as well as who is delivering the outreach work, but does not aim to address issues of quality, or effectiveness.

In addition to the above our mapping methodology will take into consideration the methodology used for the Higher Education Access Tracker (HEAT). This is a HEFCE funded collaborative project that assists HEIs to track students who have taken part in outreach activity. We will harmonise methodologies so that we can contribute to the HEAT data in terms of monitoring and targeting learners in the geographical area with which we are interested.

Data interrogation

This part of the research project seeks to establish potential connections between patterns of outreach delivery and participation. Here we will examine data from HESA, HEFCE and other data sets for each of the boroughs and districts in the geographic area under investigation. It is intended that this part of the research project will be iterative, so that we will develop specific research questions for the data interrogation which will come from some early findings from the mapping exercise.

Key areas of interest

We will highlight particular areas of interest through the data interrogation phase, which are of special relevance to the sector at this time. Specifically, this will include 6th form participation in outreach, and FEC based outreach (both as deliverer and client) as this is of particular interest to the NNCO of which we are a member institution. In addition to this we will examine the delivery of STEM based outreach (particularly for female learners), Looked after Children and their access to outreach activities, and we will of course examine the more usual areas of gender, ethnicity, social class, geographical access, disability and other demographic concerns.

Gaps, Needs and Capacity Analysis – Reaching East

Phase two of the project will consist primarily of the gaps, needs and capacity analysis. Once we have concluded the mapping exercise, and data interrogation in phase one, we will conduct these analyses via interviews and surveying staff at schools and other organisations engaging with outreach work. This will establish where there are gaps in provision, where there is need for more/different provision, and where capacity can be built at a local level.

Following on from this the final reporting will develop a number of recommendations for colleges, schools and HEIs/FECs providing outreach. These recommendations and insight from the mapping exercise will be synthesised into a toolkit for schools, outreach providers and other stakeholders which will help them to get the most out of their outreach engagement. The toolkit will also provide tools for colleges and schools to help them map their own engagement with outreach, thus providing them with a more coherent approach to their own patterns of engagement which they may well use for PR and other purposes. This will also challenge them to consider what outreach they engage with, the results of this outreach, and ultimately will benefit learners in the region by helping to provide a more coherent and appropriate set of activities.

The seminar series is intended to launch the toolkit and final report and to provide a space for both providers, colleges, schools and others to think about how they can improve the delivery and reception of outreach activities for learners in the East of London. The seminars will also help to embed the work of the NNCOs and SPoCs, and contribute to the sustainability of the overall HEFCE funded project.

Data sources for Map