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Taster Summer Schools

A very low to low cost intervention, with limited evidence, which suggests it has a positive impact.

Short, intensive intervention, taking place on a university campus, in order for potential students to experience a ‘taster’ of student life. Activities in the summer school may include academic enhancement, subject tasters, information, advice and guidance on all aspects of higher education, and social events. Summer schools of this type usually take place over a number of consecutive days. Many, but not all, involve a residential element where pupils stay in university accommodation.

The purpose of taster summer schools is generally to provide a flavour of student life. The aim is to help raise aspirations, and inform decision-making about whether higher education is the right option. For those already considering higher education, summer schools help to consolidate pupils’ views and assist them in their decisions about what and where to study.

They may also focus on encouraging take-up of a specific subject or entry to a particular profession (such as medicine) or about access to higher education more broadly.

Taster summer schools do not include the type of academic-focused summer school programme, completion of which would form part of a conditional offer to being accepted on a university course. See Contextual Admissions for further information.


LIFT OFF 2 Success – Schools for Higher Education Programme (SHEP), Fife & Tayside

LIFT OFF 2 Success (LO2S) is a free, residential summer school offered to pupils taking part on the LIFT OFF programme who are progressing into S5. The summer school gives pupils the opportunity to explore higher education through workshops delivered by academics from college and university partners. Workshops are a mixture of lectures, tutorials and labs on a variety of academic subjects not normally taught at school. Pupils stay in a hall of residence at the University of St Andrews. Outside academic workshops, pupils can take part in beach games, a disco, quiz night and movie night, providing pupils with a rounded view of higher education. A graduation is organised at the end of the week where pupils are presented a completion certificate. The graduation is open to parents, carers and colleagues from partner institutions.

To generate interest in LO2S, the LIFT OFF team hold in-school promotional visits to partner schools. Members of the LIFT OFF team give S4 pupils an overview of the summer school as well as timetables from previous summer schools and positive feedback from participants.

Evaluation of the summer schools show improvements in pupils’ knowledge of and preparedness for higher education. Most agreed that they knew more about course content and felt more informed after the summer school. Pupils also felt more confident in their own abilities and recognised that they have valuable transferable skills.

LIFT OFF is part of the Scottish Funding Council’s national Schools for Higher Education Programme (SHEP) and works in 12 schools across Fife and Tayside. It is a partnership of local colleges and universities, along with the Open University, Skills Development Scotland and the three local authorities covered (Fife, Dundee and Angus). The higher education partners are: Abertay University, University of Dundee, University of St Andrews, Dundee and Angus College, Fife College and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). During LO2S LIFT OFF also engages with the following: University of Edinburgh, Napier University, Herriot Watt University, Queen Margaret University and University of Stirling.

For more information, please see their website and Kennedy, N (2018). LIFT OFF 2 SUCCESS Residential Summer School: 2018 Report.

Target Audiences

Evaluation evidence has tested the effectiveness of the intervention on the following target audiences:

– Pupils for lower socio-economic groups;

– Pupils from families with no higher education experience;

– Ethnic groups under-represented in higher education;

– Care experienced young people;

– Mature.


– Increase in aspirations to apply to higher education;

– Increase in applications to and enrolment in higher education;


Evaluation of summer schools also reported on:

– Impact on perceptions of higher education;

– Knowledge of topics such as admissions processes;

– Knowledge of subjects.

What are the costs?

Two of the studies reviewed provided information on the cost of delivering summer schools. These indicate that this is a moderate cost intervention with per pupil cost estimates of £417 – £670. Cost will vary depending on the length of the summer school, whether there is a residential element, and the number of participants.

How relevant is the evidence?

Most of the studies reviewed were of UK-based summer schools, including both of the level 2 studies. Two of the studies were of programmes, wholly or partly based, at Scottish institutions. The evidence is therefore highly relevant to the Scottish higher education context.

Things to consider

Where summer schools reflect life in higher education they can help pupils to see themselves as potential students. Summer schools may help to overcome pre-conceived ideas about what higher education is like and enable pupils to make more informed decisions about whether higher education is right for them. Incorporating a mix of different types of activities, both academic and social, is thus more likely to provide a rounded experience of higher education. Residential elements may also be useful in helping students to feel more comfortable about moving away from home.

One of the studies reviewed, an action learning study of a summer school to encourage young people to study medicine, identified the following critical success factors:

·         Fostering respect (being treated like an adult)

·         The input of current students (role models)

·         The value of working in small groups

·         The vision and leadership of senior staff.

Providing practical guidance (such as on student finance and interview techniques) was also said to be important. A USA study of a summer school for care leavers found that activities with practical outputs, such as a completed first draft college admission essay, were particularly valued by participants.

The family-centred summer school described by one study would appear to be a more innovative approach. Traditional summer schools activities were delivered to adult learners alongside fun widening access activities for their children aged 8 to 16 and a crèche for those aged 0 to 8. This has the potential to raise awareness of, and aspirations to HE, across the family group.

Further Research Recommended

Summer schools are widely used across the UK as a key mechanism for widening access to higher education. The evidence base would be strengthened by level 3 evaluations that are more likely to provide evidence for the causal effect of summer schools.

An RCT of a collaborative summer school is currently underway as part of the national evaluation of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) in England. The results will be published in Summer 2019.

Further Information

See the Sutton Trust’s (2012) Summary of Findings for a quasi-experimental evaluation of a UK-based summer school programme (which includes Scottish universities).

See Greenhalgh et al. (2006) for details of an action-learning process evaluation, which identifies key design features and critical success factors for a summer school to encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds to apply to medical school.


Level 2

Hatt, S., Baxter, A. and Tate, J. (2009). ‘‘‘It was definitely a turning point!” A review of Aimhigher summer schools in the south west of England’. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 33(4): pp.333-346.

Hoare, T. and Mann, R. (2011). The Impact of the Sutton Trust’s Summer School on Subsequent Higher Education Participation. University of Bristol.

Level 1

Ghazzawi, I. and Jagannathan, C. (2011). ‘Bridging the gap: the role of outreach programs in granting college access to first generation students’. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 15(1): pp.117-137.

Gorard, S., Smith, E., May, H., Thomas, L., Adnett, N. and Slack, K. (2006). Review of Widening Participation Research: Addressing the barriers to participation in higher education HEFCE: Bristol.

Greenhalgh, T., Russell, J., Boynton, P., Dunkley, L. and Lefford, F. (2006). ‘‘‘We were treated like adults”- development of a pre-medicine summer school for 16 year olds from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds: action research study’. British Medical Journal, 332(7544): pp.762-766.

HEFCE (2009). Aimhigher Summer Schools: Analysis of Provision and Participation 2004 to 2008. March 2009/11, Issues paper, HEFCE: Bristol.

Hooper, D., McIntosh, S. and Croll, N. (2017). Summer School 2017 Annual Report. University of Glasgow – internal report.

Kennedy, N. (2018). LIFT OFF 2 SUCCESS Residential Summer School 2018 Report. Schools for Higher Education Programme – internal report.

Kirk, R. and Day, A. (2010). ‘Increasing college access for youth aging out of foster care: evaluation of a summer camp program for foster youth transitioning from high school to college’. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(2011): pp.1173-1180.

Richardson, M. and Hunt, J. (2013). ‘Widening access to HE: Family centred summer schools’. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 3(2): pp.118-129.