University of Surrey: Partnership with Kings College Guildford

This is one of a series of case studies to accompany our Insight brief on schools, attainment and the role of higher education. It highlights an example of a successful partnership between schools, higher education providers and other organisations.

Classroom of secondary school pupils, three are raising their hands

The University of Surrey’s Widening Participation and Outreach (WPO) team is situated in the Student Experience Department within the Chief Student Officer Directorate. 

The WPO team works with underrepresented learners and their supporters to encourage educational engagement, support the development of aspirations, expectations and attainment, and empower individuals to access higher education, succeed and flourish in their future ambitions.  

It works closely with primary and secondary schools, colleges and community partners to provide a sustained programme of targeted on- and off-campus curriculum-enhancing activity for learners and their supporters (parents, carers, guardians and non-teaching professionals).  

During the pandemic, the WPO team worked closely with headteachers in target schools, those with high numbers of students eligible for free school meals and wide GCSE attainment gaps, to understand local attainment gaps and co-create a sustained attainment programme called Surrey Stars. The partnership with Kings College Guildford, and successful initiatives there, have enabled the team to pilot and further develop activities before rolling them out more broadly for other schools.

The challenge

The University of Surrey has a formal partnership with Kings College Guildford. Kings College is a state secondary school that is unique in both location and its approach to widening access:

  • The school is one mile from the University of Surrey, in Park Barn, Westborough; a ward where 40 per cent of children are affected by income deprivation in comparison with 10 per cent across Surrey (according to the Surrey Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2021).
  • The Participation of Local Areas (POLAR4) higher education participation rate is only 17.8 per cent, whereas the average in Guildford is 68.1 per cent.
  • Approximately 152 students belong to POLAR4 Quintiles 1 or 2 and 28 per cent of those are from areas of multiple deprivation.
  • There are 357 students in Years 7 to 11 and of those students, 29 per cent are eligible for pupil premium, 27 per cent are eligible for free school meals, 13 per cent are from black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups, 15 per cent are young carers and 35 per cent have special educational needs or disabilities.
  • The demographic is complex, and the school must work to support aspiration development and future progression. 

The approach

The vision for the Kings College partnership is to provide a ‘whole school approach to providing a coherent and individualised programme of academic and pastoral support that aims to assist students in raising their aspirations and attainment’.

The university employs a member of staff, the Kings College Aspirations Lead, who is embedded in the school. A sustained programme called Finding our Futures, coordinated and delivered by the aspirations lead with support from the WPO Team, the university and its students’ union, aims for each student to participate in a minimum of three activities a year and to close the gap between the average attainment 8 score of the school, compared with the average attainment 8 score for England.  

The Finding our Futures programme incorporates a variety of sustained aspirations and attainment activities, building on and enriching the school curriculum, enhancing extracurricular activity and supporting the school’s personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) and spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) curricula, which are now referenced through Ofsted school inspection handbook (2019) and Gatsby frameworks.

Alongside the in-school programme, Kings College has access to all of Surrey’s WPO activity and the embedded staff member is able to coordinate and take students out for external trips. Staffing for trips is a challenge many schools face. 


The University of Surrey uses a theory of change logic model, which is used across all of its access and participation activities, including its raising attainment work in Kings College.

Detailed outcomes for participants’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviour have been developed for each target group (target groups include students, parents and carers, teachers and university staff), equating to short-, medium- and long-term objectives.

Agreed programme outcomes are the basis for evaluating the impact of individual activities and overall programme. The results of the activity evaluations are fed into the following year’s planning cycle to ensure that the programme of activity is constantly being reviewed and improved.

The university has been able to demonstrate short-term outcomes related to attitudes and behaviours.  

The result

In 2017, when the Kings College Aspiration Lead was placed in the school, the Attainment 8 score was 33.1 compared with 46.3 across England, a gap of 13.2 percentage points. In 2019, Kings College’s Attainment 8 score had increased 6.1 percentage points to 39.2, compared with the England score of 46.7. This meant a decrease in the gap between the national and Kings College Attainment 8 score between 2017 to 2019 of 7.5 percentage points. 

In 2018-19 a total of 250 students had three or more interventions, a 92 per cent increase on the target of 130 students. This increased by 5 percentage points in 2019-20, with 257 students receiving at least three interventions, a 97 per cent increase on the target number during the year of the first lockdown due to coronavirus (COVID-19). 

As well as individual activity evaluation, activity attendance tracking and attainment data, a longitudinal survey is also run, to measure the long-term impact of the partnership and programme. Each year, students in all years complete an end of year survey about the impact of the programme.

Data from the longitudinal evaluation, now in its fourth year, shows that students reported an increase in their ‘motivation to work hard’ from 66 per cent in 2017-18 to 92 per cent in 2019-20, and also a greater sense of ‘belonging’ to the school, from 47 per cent in 2017-18 to 77 per cent in 2019-20.

In addition, evaluations saw an increase of 43 per cent since 2017 in motivation to work hard in order to gain a good education, and an increase of 22 per cent since 2017 in students thinking more about their future. 

This year the team will be establishing a Kings College alumnus to keep in touch with each student into post-16 study, and will be using the Higher Education Access Tracker to track their progress. 

The team has used its learning through working with Kings, interviews conducted with target school headteachers and research commissioned into the disadvantage gap in Surrey, to inform the development of Surrey Stars. This is a sustained attainment-raising programme co-created with senior leadership teams from schools with high levels of disadvantage, lower than average number of disadvantaged students attaining grades 5 to 9 at GCSE, or wider than average GCSE attainment gaps. 

Published 07 April 2022

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