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Research proves success of Sutton Trust summer schools

Press release issued: 18 January 2012

New research from the University of Bristol published today [18 January] shows that non-privileged young people have a higher chance of going to a leading university if they attend one of the week-long university summer schools sponsored by the Sutton Trust.

The report by Dr Tony Hoare and Rosanna Mann looked at 1,750 students who attended the summer schools at Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham, Oxford* and St Andrews universities in 2008 and 2009.  It compared their university application and acceptance rates with those of thousands of other students in a range of control groups.

The research finds that over three quarters [76 per cent] of the Sutton Trust summer school attendees went on to a leading university - either a member of the Russell Group or 1994 Group - compared to just over half [55 per cent] of students with similar academic and social profiles who did not apply to the scheme.

Nearly a quarter [23 per cent] of the Sutton Trust students progressed to one of the host universities, compared to 13 per cent of those who applied for a place on the summer school but were unsuccessful and seven per cent or less in the other control groups.  The summer schools were found to particularly benefit those from non-privileged backgrounds, reducing the gap in the likelihood of studying at a leading university for those with non-graduate parents, living in deprived neighbourhoods and from poorer homes.

The reports’ authors concluded: “Our study provides strong empirical evidence that summer schools do work from the perspective of the host universities, the Sutton Trust, the students and society as a whole, which benefits from identifying something that kick-starts social mobility. 

“Not only does the summer school experience encourage all attendees to target the more elite universities, but what is particularly encouraging is that they reduce, sometimes to vanishing point, the greater reluctance of the more under-privileged groups to do so.” 

The report found that 99 per cent of the students accepted on the 2008 and 2009 summer school courses had passed GCSEs with 5 A* or A grades or higher. And 91 per cent were the first in their families to go to university. Nearly half met these and the other two criteria of eligibility: coming from a low performing school and qualifying for the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, added: “Such has been the success of our summer school scheme over the last 15 years that this year we have expanded it to three more universities - Durham, Imperial College and UCL.  Across the programme we will now be offering over 1,000 places in over 50 subjects at seven universities.

“Applications for this year’s summer schools opened on 10 January and close on 9 March. We want to hear from academically able students who meet the eligibility criteria – as this research shows, it is often a life-changing experience.”

The Sutton Trust Summer School at Bristol is in its 12th year. During that time over 1,500 students have taken part and gone on to university.

Throughout their time on the summer school, participants experience a number of taster sessions in the subject area they have applied for to get an idea of the range of subjects that are on offer in any one area. In addition, students receive information and guidance in a number of other key areas such as student life, UCAS applications and student finance.

Doug Jennings, Schools and Colleges Liaison Officer at the University of Bristol, said: “The summer schools are very much about enthusing pupils and showing them what it’s really like to study a subject at university. Coming to university is a hugely important decision and these events play a role in supporting that decision-making process.

“We make the weeks as engaging and exciting as possible and the events always receive terrific feedback, so it’s heartening to hear that they’re having an impact and encouraging prospective students to apply to leading universities such as Bristol.”

Full and summary reports are available from

Further information

The summer schools were started at Oxford University in 1997 by Sir Peter Lampl to help children from non-privileged backgrounds access leading universities. Since then more than 10,000 young students have passed through the programme which the report describes as “the largest cross-university national outreach programme”.

During the week students attend lectures, tutorials and take part in social activities as if they were students. They are looked after by undergraduate mentors, many of whom attended summer schools themselves. The programme is oversubscribed by about 7:1.

Sutton Trust summer schools now run at seven leading universities: Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial, Nottingham, St Andrews and UCL.

*Oxford University was part of the programme up until 2010 and now runs its own summer school based on the Sutton model.

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