ASCENTS 121 support for science

The University of Lincoln’s ASCENTS 121 support for science programme trains STEM undergraduates across five universities to provide one to one science tutoring to Year 11 pupils. Tutees are all eligible for pupil premium and predicted to achieve a level 3-5 in GCSE science. Primarily, pupils receive 23 one hour tutoring sessions (one hour per week for 23 weeks throughout Year 11). Delivered by trained undergraduates, these take place at school, outside of the school timetable and the topic of each session is determined by the Year 11 pupil. These sessions are also supplemented by a six hour revision session held at a university just before their GCSE exam.

The University of Lincoln leads the programme and is supported by the University of Leeds, the University of Liverpool, UCL’s Institute of Education and the University of York. 

Why are we funding it?

The University of Lincoln have previously carried out a small randomised control trial to evaluate the ASCENTS programme in four schools with 86 Year 11 students. The study found that students who were tutored achieved better in their GCSE science examinations than those who were not, with an effect size of 0.3 standard deviations (which equates to an additional 4 months of progress). This trial will enable us to more rigorously evaluate the programme and ascertain whether it positively impacts pupils across a larger number of schools.

More broadly, there is good evidence that tutoring is an effective way to improve attainment. However, due to high cost, disadvantaged pupils may struggle to access one to one tuition, while schools may find it difficult to fund tutoring interventions. Programmes like ASCENTS, directly targeting pupil premium pupils and provided by universities, could expand access.

The project will also add to the evidence base on one to one tuition. There are currently few studies at secondary level or addressing subjects other than reading and maths. This is also testing an alternative and potentially scalable delivery model, which may usefully add to the tutoring landscape.

This project is jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of our Improving Science Education Round.

How are we evaluating it?

The programme will be evaluated by a team from NatCen using a randomised control trial. This will be an efficacy trial, meaning that the programme will be tested under ideal conditions. It will measure the impact of the ASCENTS programme on GCSE science attainment, and will recruit 770 pupils from 35 schools.

The evaluation will also include an implementation and process evaluation, which will analyse how the programme is implemented across different schools and universities and the barriers and facilitators to implementation.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in Spring 2021.