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May 2007/12
Good practice
Guidance for Aimhigher partnerships and higher education providers

This report is for information, guidance and action

Higher education outreach: targeting disadvantaged learners

This document provides guidance on effective ways to target outreach activities at people from communities under-represented in higher education. It refines the definition of the target group for Aimhigher and outreach activity; provides a methodology to make targeting more effective; and sets out a process for measuring the effectiveness of the targeting process.

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Heads of HEFCE directly and indirectly funded further education colleges
Chairs and managers of Area and Regional Aimhigher Partnerships
Of interest to those responsible for: Widening access and participation in higher education, including staff in higher and further education institutions, schools and local authorities
Reference: 2007/12
Publication date: May 2007
Enquiries to: e-mail:

Contents and executive summary (read online)


Report and annexes

[ MS Word 570K | Zipped Word 102K | Adobe PDF 225K | Zipped PDF 195K ]


  • Foreword by Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education
  • Executive summary
  • Background
  • Key principles for targeting widening participation activity
  • The targeting process
  • Criteria for success
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Next steps
  • Annex A National Statistics Socio-economic Classification and social class
  • Annex B Occupational classifications of NS-SEC groups
  • Annex C Members of the Task Group
  • Notes and sources
  • List of abbreviations

Executive summary


1.   This document provides guidance on targeting outreach activities at young people from communities under-represented in higher education (HE). It will be useful to all those with an interest in widening participation in HE through raising the aspirations and achievements of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The purpose of the guidance is to:

  • refine the definition of the target group for Aimhigher and outreach activity by HE providers
  • provide a methodology to make the targeting more effective
  • set out a process for measuring the effectiveness of targeting.

Key points

2.   Resources for widening participation are limited, so we wish to ensure that they are used effectively. As a principle, resources should be targeted at learners from communities that are under-represented in higher education. Overwhelmingly these are people from lower socio-economic groups and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Aimhigher partnerships and HE providers should aim to ensure that around two-thirds of participants in widening participation activities are from the target group.

3.   Those whose parents/carers have experience of HE are more likely themselves to enter HE. For this reason we expect that, within the target group, widening participation activities will particularly target those whose parents/carers have not had previous experience of HE.

4.   We refer at a number of points in this guidance to 'young people'. Those aged 13-19, and more broadly 13-30, remain the key target groups but we would expect Aimhigher partnerships and HE providers to continue to work with younger learners in primary schools, and with adults. However, the position of adults is different from that of young dependants; in working with adults we would expect Aimhigher partnerships and HE providers to apply these principles in broad terms.

5.   Aimhigher partnerships will continue to work with the programmes for 'gifted and talented' young people in ways that are informed by this guidance. In the case of disabled learners, 'disability' rather than social position is the key issue.

6.   We would expect the principles in this guidance to be applied in a pragmatic and flexible fashion in the best interest of learners in the target group.

7.   Two factors are critical to the success of targeting. The first is the quality of the relationships between all those involved, including widening participation practitioners, teachers in schools and colleges, and Aimhigher and 14-19 co-ordinators in local authorities. This guidance provides the basis for shared objectives across the wider learning community.

8.   The second factor is the quality of the data that Aimhigher partnerships and HE providers collect about learners in a range of widening participation activities such as mentoring programmes, day schools, and summer schools. These data indicate whether targeting is working or not, and provide the basis for improvements.

9.   We hope this guidance will be useful to:

  • senior managers in schools, further education colleges and providers of HE in higher and further education institutions
  • senior staff in local authorities
  • widening participation practitioners
  • Aimhigher area steering groups and regional forums
  • Aimhigher area managers and co-ordinators in local authorities, schools or colleges
  • teachers, college lecturers and other stakeholders with an interest in helping learners to achieve their full potential.

Action in response to this guidance

10.   Aimhigher partnerships. The document provides guidance for implementation from August 2007. Aimhigher partnerships should review their plans and move towards the approach described. There is no requirement for partnerships to submit revised Aimhigher plans for 2007-08. However, we will seek feedback on the impact of these guidelines from Aimhigher partnerships in their 2008 monitoring returns. The guidelines will also form the basis for any future request for Aimhigher plans, if the programme continues beyond July 2008.

11.   HE providers. This document provides guidance on how to ensure the greatest impact in widening participation work, building on the HEFCE review of widening participation published in November 2006. HE providers are encouraged to incorporate this guidance into their outreach activity.

12.   Schools and colleges. This document provides guidance on the way in which HE outreach resources will be targeted. Schools and colleges are encouraged to:

  • draw on the support of and work with their local Aimhigher partnerships and HE providers to raise aspirations and attainment among disadvantaged learners using these guidelines
  • incorporate Aimhigher and HE outreach activity into school improvement plans.