Evaluation of Children’s University

Privacy notice for Schools and local Children’s Universities
Privacy notice for Parents

What is Children's University?

  • Children’s University is a programme that aims to improve the aspirations and attainment of pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, by encouraging, tracking and celebrating participation in learning activities beyond the normal school day.
  • Local Children’s University partners support schools to provide a range of learning opportunities, such as after-school clubs, projects and enrichment activities, and work with local destinations and learning providers such as libraries, sports clubs, historic centres, museums, or anywhere that offers structured learning activities for children.
  • Pupils use a ‘Passport to Learning’ and an online platform (CU Online) to record participation in these activities and these are rewarded by the collection of credits, certificates and graduations.

Background to this study

  • In 2017, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published an efficacy study of Children’s University, which showed a direct link between participation in Children’s University and increased achievement in reading and maths. Pupils in Children’s University schools made two additional months’ progress in reading and maths compared to children in the other schools (control group).
  • Having gone on to name Children’s University a ‘Promising Project’ in 2018, the EEF are now committed to running a larger scale effectiveness trial of Children’s University to see if such positive results are evident at scale.
  • Children’s University in conjunction with the EEF are now looking to recruit 150 new primary schools to this study. The trial will be independently evaluated by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

How will the study work?

  • This new effectiveness study of Children’s University is set to run from November 2020 to July 2023, with report publication in 2024.
  • It will be a randomised controlled trial (RCT) involving 150 Primary schools; 75 schools will be randomly allocated to the control group (i.e. normal teaching and learning practice, not receiving the intervention) and the other 75 will be the intervention group, receiving Children’s University.
  • Intervention schools will run Children’s University for two years. The study will focus on one cohort of pupils from each school. Pupils will have the opportunity to volunteer to Children’s University in the autumn term 2021 in Year 5 and, if their school is allocated to the intervention group, their participation in Children’s University will be monitored during their time in Years 5 and 6. Intervention schools will have to make a £300 contribution towards the cost of the programme, by autumn term 2021.
  • Control schools will not receive Children’s University, and will continue with their normal teaching and learning practice. They will not be able to sign-up to Children’s University outside the study until after July 2023. A financial contribution of £500 will be made to schools in the control group, on completion of evaluation activities.
  • Schools signing up to this trial must be willing to be allocated to either group. Once schools are signed up, they will be randomly allocated in October 2021.

Is my school eligible?

  • Local Children’s Universities are looking for Primary schools that are in areas covered by participating local Children’s Universities – these are:
    • Bexley Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Bexley and some schools in Bromley
    • Devon and Cornwall Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Devon and Cornwall
    • East London Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and Newham
    • Elevate EBP
      • Covering schools in Sefton, Liverpool, Warrington and Lancashire
    • Enrich Education
      • Covering schools in Cheshire East, Cheshire West, Wirral, Trafford and Thameside
    • Essex
      • Covering schools in Suffolk, Essex, Southend and Thurrock
    • Peterborough Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire
    • Rotherham Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Rotherham only
    • Wakefield Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Wakefield only
    • Westminster Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Westminster, Kensington and Camden
    • University of Wolverhampton Children’s University
      • Covering schools in Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Telford
  • have not run Children’s University in their schools in the past three years
  • are keen to be part of an EEF study
  • understand that they may be allocated to either the intervention group (to receive Children’s University) or the control group (and not receive Children’s University)

What will be measured?

  • The study’s primary outcomes will be attainment in maths and reading, as measured by Key Stage (KS) 2 results.
  • There will also be secondary outcomes measured by a pupil questionnaire. This questionnaire will be created by experienced NFER researchers. Pupils will fill in this questionnaire twice – autumn term 2021 (beginning of Year 5) and summer term 2023 (end of Year 6). This will be looking at pupils’ increased motivation to learn in and beyond the classroom, their development of a broad range of essential skills and their growth in confidence and self-belief

What is expected of schools?

  • All schools taking part will be expected to:
    • sign up to the trial between November 2020 and May 2021
    • allocate a member of staff who will act as a Trial Coordinator and will be the first point of contact for the trial for NFER and Children’s University Trust
    • share a letter with parents/carers (provided by NFER) providing them full information about the evaluation and their right to withdraw their child from the data sharing
    • provide pupil data for all children in Year 4 for the 2020/2021 academic year (pupil’s first name, surname, date of birth and Unique Pupil Number (UPN))
    • encourage children eligible to receive free school meals (FSM) and their families to volunteer to take part in Children’s University (should their school get randomly allocated to receive the intervention)
    • share and collect parents’ Expressions of Interest forms, in autumn term 2021
    • administer the baseline Pupil questionnaire to all Year 5 pupils in autumn term 2021, before randomisation – the administrations of the questionnaires will be a condition for the schools to be randomised and take part in the trial
    • complete a school baseline pro-forma – a short online survey about usual practice in relation to extra-curricular activities
    • accommodate NFER test administrators to come into school and administer the endpoint pupil questionnaire to all Year 6 pupils in summer term 2023.
  • In addition to the expectations listed above, schools that are randomly allocated to the intervention group (i.e. receiving Children’s University) will then be expected to:
    • providing information about CU validated activities to participating pupils and their parents
    • encouraging variety and quantity of participation, including in-school time e.g. lunchtime, and supporting pupils to attend validated external activities
    • ensuring pupils are able to access in-school activities and/or activities that do not require personal transport costs
    • encouraging pupils to log activities on Children’s University Online and in their passports
    • supporting participating pupils to attend the Children’s University graduation event at the end of each year
    • make a £300 contribution to the cost of the programme
    • manage Children’s University for two years
    • participate in initial staff training with local Children’s Universities in November-December 2021 (key members of staff invited to attend, school Trial Coordinator should be present)
    • participate in in-school staff training from their local Children’s University Manager each year
    • allow the Children’s University Manager to promote Children’s University to pupils via an information session in November-December 2021
    • ensure Children’s University online platform is kept up to date (responsibility of the school Trial Coordinator). Initially, Children’s University will upload the data for volunteer pupils to the Children’s University online platform.
    • ensure all participating volunteers are able to access CU activities, by:
    • validate all relevant school activities
    • complete a staff survey in summer term 2023 (responsibility of the school Trial Coordinator)
    • a sample of schools will be asked to complete a series of questions related to monetary costs incurred in delivering CU activities; collected three times over the two academic years
    • a small number of schools will be invited to take part in case studies, involving interviews with staff and discussion groups with pupils, and/or telephone interviews with staff – all interviews and activities will be carried out by NFER DBS-checked researchers
  • In addition to the expectations for all schools listed above, schools that are randomly allocated to the control group (i.e. not receiving Children’s University) will:
    • not be able to sign up to Children’s University outside of the study until after July 2023
    • need to complete a school pro-forma in summer term 2023 about their extra-curricular activities during the trial period
    • receive £500 as a gesture of appreciation payable at the end of the study, on completion of all evaluation activities.

Expectations on NFER and Children's University Trust

  • NFER and Children’s University Trust will ensure the following:
    • that a key project contact is available to support schools with the project
    • that each school has access to its own secure school portal to allow for the transfer of any data
    • that a template is provided to schools for all requested data
    • that NFER researchers undertaking interviews/visits are DBS checked
    • that graduation ceremonies are organised at the end of each year for qualifying children
    • that control schools receive a payment of £500, upon completion of trial requirements, by autumn 2023
    • that all data is analysed using secure systems
    • that schools are provided with a link to a summary report in spring 2024.

What will happen to my school's information?

All data gathered during the trial will be held in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2016/679, and will be treated in the strictest confidence by NFER and Children’s University Trust. NFER and Children’s University Trust are the joint data controllers. The local Children’s University centres will be the data processors. The legal basis identified by NFER and Children’s University Trust for processing personal data is covered by GDPR Article 6 (1) (f):

Legitimate interests: the processing is necessary for your (or a third party’s) legitimate interests unless there is a good reason to protect the individual’s personal data which overrides those legitimate interests.

The evaluation fulfils one of NFER’s core business purposes (undertaking research, evaluation and information activities) and it has broader societal benefits. It is therefore in our legitimate interest to process and analyse personal data for the administration of this trial.

All personal data will be shared via an online secure data portal or via secure courier. Personal data gathered during the trial will only be used for the purposes of this research. The evaluation report will be published on the EEF website and the findings may also be disseminated at educational research conferences and in academic or professional journals. No individual school, teacher or pupil will be named in any report arising from this work.

For the purpose of research, pupils’ names, dates of birth and UPNs will be shared with the Department for Education (DfE) using a secure email system, and the data will then be encrypted and saved to secure servers. DfE will match this data with information about the pupils from the National Pupil Database (NPD), and transfer the matched de-identified dataset to the Secure Research Service (SRS) for analysis. After three months from the completion of the study, all of the de-identified matched data will be added to the EEF archive. The EEF archive is hosted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and managed by the EEF archive manager. This data is archived to allow for further research. Other research teams may use the de-identified data as part of subsequent research through the ONS Approved Researcher Scheme.

For further information see our privacy notices here:

Timeline for evaluation

Date Activity

November 2020 - March 2021

Schools register interest, receive detailed information from local Children’s University partners and, if they choose to go ahead, sign a Memorandum of Understanding to commit to the trial.

May - June 2021

  • Parent letters are distributed by schools, with pupil data withdrawal slips
  • Schools supply Year 4 pupil administrative data to the NFER.

September - October 2021

  • NFER collects Expressions of Interest from parents
  • All Year 5 pupils (except for data withdrawals) complete a baseline questionnaire, through which they express their interest in taking part in the programme.

November – December 2021

NFER informs schools of their group allocation

Intervention schools:

  • Initial staff training with local Children’s Universities
  • Children’s University manager holds an information session
  • Volunteer pupils are registered on to CU online platform.

Control group schools continue with their usual practices.

January 2022 - June 2023

  • Pupils in intervention schools start participating in Children’s University activities
  • Pupils (and parents) in intervention schools record activities on CU Online on an ongoing basis
  • A sample of intervention schools complete two cost proformas.

October 2022 - February 2023

  • Case-study visits and telephone interviews with teachers and pupils in selected intervention schools by NFER.

June -  July 2023

  • All Year 6 pupils complete an endpoint questionnaire
  • Control schools complete an endpoint pro-forma
  • Intervention school trial coordinators complete a staff survey
  • A sample of intervention schools complete third cost proforma.

October 2023

  • On completion of all data requirements, control schools receive a £500 gesture of appreciation.

March 2024

  • NFER shares a link to the final report with all schools.


I want to hear more

To speak to Children’s University about participating or find out more about what could be involved, email [email protected].

For questions about the research and providing data, email NFER at [email protected].