By Stephanie Mckendry, University of Strathclyde and the Scottish Government
Scotland’s Commission on Widening Access, in its final report published in March 2016, noted the the lack of robust evidence on the impact of access activities. It was not possible to determine which interventions were effective and why. Whilst acknowledging the enormous commitment and good work that is undertaken in Scotland to improve access to higher education for disadvantaged groups, the Commission pointed to a cluttered landscape that could be confusing for schools and young people in particular. This lack of evidence was also a barrier to the effective scaling up of activity.
As well as calling for the appointment of a Commissioner for Fair Access in Scotland to lead a system wide effort to improve access, Recommendation Two directly addressed the issue of evidence and evaluation: By 2018, the Commissioner for Fair Access, working with experts, should publish a Scottish Framework for Fair Access. This authoritative, evidence based framework should identify the most impactful forms of access activity at each stage of the learner journey, from early learning through to higher education and provide best practice guidelines on its delivery and evaluation.
I have been fortunate enough to have been seconded from my role as Widening Access Manager at the University of Strathclyde, to the Scottish Government to support the Commissioner for Fair Access, Professor Peter Scott, and lead work on the Framework. A Framework Development Group has met regularly since May 2017, chaired by Conor Ryan of the Sutton Trust, to develop detailed proposals. We have consulted colleagues across the sector, from national access programmes, to institutional teams, to third sector organisations and the Scottish Funding Council on what would best support access and evaluation. Our plan is for the creation of both an online toolkit and new community of practice or professional development network for access practitioners in Scotland.
The Fair Access Toolkit will consist of two distinct elements:
- The evidence toolkit: this will summarise evidence on the impact of different interventions and activities across the learner journey and with a full range of target participants.
- Evaluation and implementation guidance: accessible and brief guidance on evaluation methods, building evaluation into current programmes and planning new initiatives, for example. This section of the toolkit will provide practitioners with practical information for use in their interventions and to build consistent approaches to data collection, tracking and evaluation across the sector.
Written in accessible, plain English, the intended audience is access practitioners in universities, colleges, national programmes, schools and those in the third sector. The invitation to tender for development of the toolkit is currently being advertised on the Public Contracts Scotland website with a closing date of 22nd December 2017. Please find details here.
We will shortly be consulting access practitioners, researchers and those in the school and college sector on what they would like to see from a community of practice or network via an online questionnaire. For more information, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org