The ASCENTS 121 Support for Science Programme

The ASCENTS 121 support for science programme – led by the University of Lincoln and supported by the University of Leeds, the University of Liverpool, UCL’s Institute of Education, and the University of York – trained STEM undergraduates to provide 23 weekly one-to-one academic mentoring sessions to Year 11 science pupils with the aim of improving GCSE science attainment.

Mentees were all eligible for free school meals and predicted to achieve a level 3-5 in GCSE science. Sessions were delivered outside of school hours (before or after school) in classrooms or laboratories under the supervision of a teacher. The topic of each session was chosen by pupils.

This trial of ASCENTS 121 Support for Science was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Wellcome Trust as part of the joint Improving Science Education funding round.

The Evidence

Evidence suggests that one-to-one academic mentoring is an effective way to improve attainment and may also increase subject enjoyment and interest. The EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit estimates that one-to-one tuition can boost learning by +5 months’ additional progress for all pupils, and that it can be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged pupils and for those with low attainment.

While almost all the programme was delivered, the trial was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, it was not possible to complete the impact assessment as planned owing to the cancellation of GCSE exams in summer 2020. This meant the independent evaluation was unable to reliably estimate the impact of the programme. However, the implementation and process evaluation (IPE) was able to be completed. This reported several perceived benefits for mentees, mentors, and teachers. 

For mentees these included a perceived increase in understanding, enjoyment, interest, and confidence in science, in addition to perceived enhanced social skills and maturity in interacting with adults.

Mentors perceived the main benefits to themselves to be an improved CV and feeling good about helping others. There was some evidence of increased interest amongst mentors in a teaching career or supporting disadvantaged young people. Mentees were generally highly engaged in the programme, and their engagement was supported by the one-to-one format and the onus on them to lead the session content. A good relationship between mentors and mentees, and a positive experience of mentoring, were seen to be important to achieving the intended outcomes of the programme.

In addition, teachers reported feeling that mentoring sessions improved teacher-pupil relationships, and that pupils developed confidence in seeking extra support from teachers.

While the evaluation was unable to ascertain the impact of ASCENTS on GCSE outcomes, it does demonstrate that the intervention was well-received by teachers, mentors, and mentees, and was implemented as intended.

Find out more about the ASCENTS 121 support programme on the Education Endowment Foundation website.