Evaluation of University Widening Participation (WP) Activities

Why Evaluate?

"We want you to build in evaluation of your access measures right from the start so you can maximise the effectiveness of your efforts. We appreciate that evaluating the outcomes of access activities is not always easy but it is vital if we are to improve understanding of what works best, share best practice across the sector and demonstrate to Government the value of investment in this area."

Les Ebdon, Foreword to How to produce an access agreement for 2014/15, OFFA

It is becoming increasingly important for the University of Sheffield to evaluate the impact of its range of WP activities. This is to ensure that:

  • good practice can be identified and shared across the institution
  • resources (including the time of participants and practitioners) can be effectively used for maximum benefit
  • we can report to key stakeholders on the impact of our WP work

WPREU is encouraging a mixed method approach of evaluating the full range of WP focused activities taking place across the whole student journey, from outreach with primary school pupils, through to student HE success and progression beyond.

WPREU pursue a collaborative approach with practitioners across the institution by providing a self-service toolkit to support a consistent approach across the wide range of activities taking place across the institution. some of this work (for example, the processing of the 'standard' evaluation questionnaire) is undertaken centrally by WPREU staff. In other cases, this work is undertaken by WP practitioners with outcomes disseminated via WPREU.

Evaluating WP Outreach Activities

Currently, the key tool being used to evaluate WP outreach is a set of 'standard' questionnaires. These come as editable pdf files.These questionnaires consist of a set of 'core' questions, designed to collect from participants their understanding of the impact of their participation, and space for practitioners to ask a number of specific questions about their activity.

Questionnaires are available from here. There are two versions, one for students in Years 9-13 (and beyond, for example, Mature Students) and one for students in Years 7 & 8. There is also a questionnaire for teachers accompanying participants, which explores their perception of the impact of the activity.

We also use qualitative methods of research including interviews and focus groups, to explore how participants, parents, and teachers understand the impact of our activities.

In addition to this 'broad strokes' approach, we also deliver targeted evaluations of specific WP outreach activities or programmes.

To view the outcomes of our evaluation work, please go to our outcome resources page.

Evaluating Student Success/Retention and Progression Activities

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is encouraging Higher Education institutions to take a holistic approach to its widening participation activities, by supporting students from under-represented groups throughout their whole student journey from raising awareness and aspiration and skills development through outreach work through to student support whilst they study and then progress beyond HE.

Given the diverse range of student support that the University of Sheffield offers, WPREU are adopting a collage approach by carrying out specific evaluations of different types of activity to build a full picture of the impact of support.

We are also carrying out, via the Sheffield Student 2013 project and other projects, research into student experience of HE and the various transitions they undergo as part of this process. To view the outcomes of this evaluation work, please go to our evaluation outcome page and the Sheffield Student 2013 project page.

If you would like to talk about the evaluation of your WP focused activites, whether these are outreach or student support and progresion, please contact Julian Crockford, WPREU Manager (julian.crockford@sheffield.ac.uk) ext. 22475).