Central tenets of the Aimhigher Associates Scheme
The Scheme targeted specific school and college students:
- those from lower socio-economic backgrounds
- those who lived in areas of deprivation where participation in higher education was low
- those whose parents had no previous experience of higher education
- those who were in care or just out of care
- those with disabilities and specific learning difficulties
The Aimhigher Associates who worked with these students were, wherever possible, ‘Aimhigher Alumni’ themselves or came from a similar background to the Aimhigher target group and therefore had a greater understanding of the experiences and needs of the students. These Associates under-went initial training which was normally supplemented by additional training sessions once they had started to work with students. All Aimhigher Associates were CRB checked.
The role of the Associates was to facilitate the transition from school or college to higher education. They did this in a safe and informal environment which allowed the learner to develop or augment their skills, raise their aspirations and reflect on the knowledge and experiences they had gained at the various key points in their progression towards the goal of higher education.
The Aimhigher Associates met or engaged in electronic exchanges with their learners in some 15–20 individual sessions over the course of an academic year. The sessions covered aspects such as learning skills, subject choice, considering options for higher education, making applications to higher education, and student finance. The sessions were also aimed at helping learners to:
- improve their motivation and raise their standards of performance and examination results
- improve their self-esteem and confidence
- recognise, through the example set by the Associates, that higher education is within their reach, affordable and enjoyable
Associates were encouraged to work with their learners to get them to log their targets and achievements so that over a period of time there would be evidence of learner outcomes and of movement towards the goal of progression to higher education.
At school and college level, members of staff were appointed as coordinators and were trained/briefed by their local Aimhigher Area Partnerships for their role in coordinating the scheme within their respective institutions. In some cases the coordinators joined in elements of the training provided for the Associates, which helped to facilitate a mutual understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities.
Role of the Aimhigher University Coordinator
At HEI level members of staff were responsible for a range of programmes (summer schools, student ambassadors, master classes, campus visits), and in most cases the coordinator for the pathfinder phase of the Aimhigher Associates Scheme may well already have had a range of other responsibilities. The University Coordinator would liaise with the overall Aimhigher Associates Scheme Coordinator in the Area Partnership Team, as well as with other HEIs in the area.
The Scheme included the option to develop electronic exchanges between Associate and learner, and most partnerships were making such provision. Electronic exchanges could be a significant feature of the Scheme but were intended to augment, not replace, face-to-face exchanges. There was an expectation that at least 50 per cent of associate–learner exchanges would still be face to face, but this varied depending on local conditions and the distances Associates had to travel to see their learners.
Higher Education Progression Framework
All Aimhigher partnerships were intended to incorporate into their schemes the Higher Education Progression Framework,which sought to set out the understanding and knowledge about the progression from key stage 3 to higher education which needed to be conveyed to learners. The aim of the Progression Framework was to raise the learners’ aspirations so that they understood the possibilities and advantages of continuing their education through to higher education.
The progression model encouraged a focus on the key transition points in the learners’ journey through education and on the learning outcomes of each stage, as well as on the needs of the individual learners.
The use of the Higher Education Progression Framework also intended to assist in securing coherence between the activities of the various Aimhigher partnerships as they worked with the targeted learners.
Coordination of the Scheme across Aimhigher Area Partnerships
HEFCE awarded a contract to the Cardiff School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University to provide a coordination service for the Scheme. During 2008–09 the coordination team worked with the Pathfinder Area Partnerships to identify the best practice being developed during this first year of the Scheme. In the light of that experience, the coordination team produced a national training standard and national training programme for the Aimhigher Associates, as well as a handbook of guidance for use by all the Aimhigher Area Partnerships, schools and colleges involved in the scheme from 2009–11.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The progress of the Aimhigher Associates Scheme in each of the initial 17 Aimhigher Pathfinder Area Partnerships and then the 42 Aimhigher Area Partnerships was monitored and evaluated against agreed development, activity and expenditure targets. Evaluation plans were developed by partnerships which focused on the core elements in their programmes. An independent external agency, appointed by HEFCE, evaluated the overall effectiveness of the Scheme in the Pathfinder year and further to this, in-house HEFCE evaluations were carried out in subsequent years.