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Consultation response | Schools that Work for Everyone

universities and schools


Schools that work for everyone

Department of Education

A response from the University of Southampton | December 2016


Download the responseRead the call for evidence

Submission from the University of Southampton

14. How can the academic expertise of universities be brought to bear on our schools system, to improve school-level attainment and in doing so widen access?

1. In order to decide how to bring academic expertise to bear on school-level attainment, we believe that the Government needs to consider the wide range of partnerships which Universities already have with schools, assess the effectiveness of these and consider how this new initiative of universities sponsoring a school fits into that landscape. There is a significant risk that other activities in which universities work with pupils, teachers and education leaders – some of which have a greater impact on improving pupil attainment than school-level interventions – may be adversely affected by the introduction of this scheme unless care is taken.

2. We have also included in answer to this question evidence of outcomes of interventions.

3. Our key conclusion is that whilst universities already engage with schools to improve attainment, they could be asked to do more, across a spectrum of activity ranging from school-level to classroom-level and teacher-level interventions. However, requiring all universities to follow one of these routes (sponsoring a school) might jeopardise existing and more effective interventions, which should instead be expanded.

Types of intervention

4. The work which universities do in schools as part of widening access has a number of forms. One area of activity is primarily focussed on raising aspirations and awareness about university and the career opportunities it brings. Such interventions can be focussed on all pupils, or on a subset (e.g. encouraging girls to consider STEM subjects).

5. These interventions are vitally important and need to continue, but they are not, in themselves, focussed around increasing attainment. There is another set of activities where universities work with schools to improve attainment. These fall into two types - a) at a whole school level, and b) at the level of classrooms or individual teachers. There are examples of both of these across the sector, with some universities already sponsoring individual schools, and many universities working with teachers and at classroom level across several schools.

What does the evidence say?

6. The consultation document correctly notes (page 18, paragraph 7) that the evidence shows that “prior attainment is the overriding factor in predicting access to university.” The consultation goes on to say “A key factor holding back prospective students is the quality of education they receive at school. We believe that there is a compelling argument that universities should focus on raising attainment at school.”

7. We agree with the DfE on this point. The question which is not explored in the consultation is how universities should focus on raising attainment at school. The following paragraphs look at the evidence for both whole school and classroom/teacher-led interventions.

8. The 2016 HEFCE report Schools sponsored by higher education providers provides case studies of universities sponsoring schools. The report suggests that university sponsorship is demanding but can be successful. It notes data on pupil outcomes showing no difference between university-sponsored academies and other sponsored academies on the measure of “GCSE and equivalent attainment 2006-2014”. This data is corroborated with Ofsted outcomes for university-sponsored schools. We identified 95 such schools in DfE datasets, of which 59% were rated good or outstanding, the same level as for all sponsored academies, nationally.

9. UTCs fare particularly badly in comparison to other types of schools and around 65% are below floor standards on the new Progress 8 measure for school accountability . However, it should be noted that a UTC has no control over KS3 progress before entry to the UTC at 14 so the relevance of this is just that a school below floor standards is not likely to be judged Good or Outstanding, even if it is doing great work, unless Ofsted take this into account. This could be a very big problem for universities sponsoring UTCs.

10. The evidence from forty years of school effectiveness research suggests that the size of the school-effect is generally agreed to range between 5% and18% globally, but its size is much greater in developing countries, reflecting the greater variability in the availability of trained teachers, textbooks and materials, and is likely to be at the mid-to-lower end of this range for schools in England.

11. By contrast, the evidence shows that classroom-level and teacher-level partnerships and interventions are very significantly larger than those at the school level . For example, as Sammons (2007) points out, in Australia the percentage of variance, having controlled for prior attainment and background characteristics, puts the classroom effect at 45-50%. Further evidence for the ‘superiority’ of the classroom/teacher-level effect over the school-level effect can be found throughout the literature.

12. Of course, the size of these school and classroom effects varies (i) from country to country, (ii) between school phases, (iii) across subjects and (iv) by socio-economic status (SES) of school intake, but a good overview is available .

13. As well as these overall sector effects, we have evidence of the effectiveness of activities carried out by the University of Southampton, for example in the area of teacher CPD through the Mathematics and Science Learning Centre , Southampton Education School. In the report, “Maintaining Curiosity - A survey into science education in schools” , it was found that of the 64 schools where teachers had access to science-specific training, 17 schools were outstanding. This contrasted with the 25 schools where no recent science training had taken place; only one of these was outstanding. This is important evidence that correlates the quality of science provision with the existence of science-specific training for teachers. It suggests that schools which invest in professional development at a subject level have a culture that successfully seeks continuous improvement. The same report found that in the best secondary schools visited, the monitoring and evaluation of students’ outcomes in science were closely connected to teachers’ professional development through each school’s performance management system.

14. Similarly, we have seen significant results from the Stimulating Physics Network programme, run by the Institute of Physics and coordinated in the South of England by the Mathematics and Science Learning Centre:

15. A third example is the Triple Science Support Programme, delivered by the Mathematics and Science Learning Centre in local schools as part of the national Science Learning Network. In the April 2016 evaluation it was found that the TSSP had helped schools make significant improvements in their provision of triple science, which in turn led to measurable increases in attainment.

16. It is also worth considering evidence from the United States. The US move to involve universities in ‘Laboratory Schools’ is running out of steam at the current time; contracting rather than expanding. Some of the much-vaunted university-run schools in California seem to have hit a wall in terms of impact. What did happen successfully in the US is university-based, large-scale programmes that took research into local schools. Virtually all good US university education departments did, and still do, this kind of ‘outreach’ - bringing their research into classrooms and practice - as a local or State-level commitment, or as a nationwide research programme (e.g. Johns Hopkins and Harvard universities), but these very successful programmes tend to be teacher / classroom-based.

Current Need

17. It is clear from the evidence set out in the Green Paper that there are too many schools with lower attainment of pupils. There is also a need for additional school places going forward, and it is vital that these new school places are associated with higher attainment levels.


18. Universities already contribute to attainment in schools. They could be asked – and financially supported – to do more. The question is, what is the most effective use of limited DfE resource to achieve the aims set out in the consultation?

19. In some cases, the best contribution which a university can make will be to open a new school or sponsor an existing one, as set out in the consultation. In other cases, a more effective contribution would be to increase significantly teacher and classroom-level interventions, working in partnership with a range of schools and colleges. In others, it may be a mixture of both. There is no “one size fits all” answer, and will depend upon a number of factors, including the circumstances of local schools, the strengths of individual universities and the current programme of activities being carried out.

20. If the Government, instead of adopting the flexible approach set out above, were to introduce a requirement for every university to sponsor an individual school, the DfE needs to have a clear plan as to how this can be done without losing the teacher-led interventions which already exist and which evidence suggests have a significantly greater impact. In particular, the obligation to have the university-sponsored school achieve good or outstanding status within a funding cycle could be to the detriment of other schools in the 'local competition zone' as universities pull the best and most effective teachers from other local schools as the pressure mounts to achieve the required Ofsted benchmark grade before the next HE funding cycle begins.

21. The consultation also envisages that universities sponsor not just one school, but every few years take on another school, and then another. There are significant capacity issues with this ever-increasing commitment, which are not explored in the consultation, but it is not clear how Universities could keep absorbing the additional requirements of more and more schools.

22. The most likely implication of the proposal that all universities must sponsor a school, at least in coastal urban areas such as Southampton, is that local schools will see themselves (correctly) as being in competition with universities – competition for the most aspirational pupils and the best staff. Over time, existing university-school partnerships are likely to diminish, partly because schools withdraw from them, and partly because universities will need to focus all their efforts on the achievement of the pupils in the schools they are sponsoring.

23. Another issue not covered in the consultation is that of pension liabilities associated with any schools which universities are asked to sponsor or take over. We would have serious concerns if there was any suggestions that universities would be responsible for such liabilities.

15. Are there other ways in which universities could be asked to contribute to raising school-level attainment?

Yes (please provide further comments below)

No (please provide further comments below)

1. As discussed in answer to question 14, the evidence suggests that classroom/teacher level interventions are significantly more effective. Many universities, including the University of Southampton, already contribute directly in this area. The question is – how to expand this activity. What more could be done, and what financial and other incentives are needed to encourage this?

2. Areas where universities such as the University of Southampton already make a significant contribution to schools and where more could be done include:

3. This is in addition to sponsoring University Technical Colleges (the University of Southampton sponsors one existing UTC and is supporting a further application), and of course all of the work on Initial Teacher Training.

16. Is the DfA guidance the most effective way of delivering these new requirements?

Yes (please provide further comments below)

No (please provide further comments below)

1. We agree with the Government that the best way to introduce new requirements for universities to work with schools is through the Director of Fair Access. As stated in the consultation document, the DFA already has the ability to require universities to produce an Access Agreement for approval before they may charge the higher level of fees. Any new requirements should become part of Access Agreements. This has two advantages:

17. What is the best way to ensure that all universities sponsor schools as a condition of higher fees?

1. As discussed in previous answers, we believe that what is needed is an increase in universities working with schools but not a fixed requirement for every university to sponsor a school.

2. The best way to do this is to modify requirements of the Access Agreements, coupled with financial incentives for both schools and universities.

18. Should we encourage universities to take specific factors into account when deciding how and where to support school attainment?

Yes (please provide further comments below)

No (please provide further comments below)

1. There is a danger that if universities are required to take on this new role without the right levels of support and with significant penalties for failure, they will be incentivised to open new free schools set up in a way to ensure a high KS2 APS intake, or sponsor converter academies, in order to make the essential Good or Outstanding inspection outcome more likely. This is the opposite of the government’s intentions on social mobility.

2. If the DfE want to encourage universities down the route of making the biggest difference by tackling the hardest areas, it may need to a system based more around partnership and reward.



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