PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions)

A group of students

PASS has been in existence at Birmingham for 10 years, growing from an EEF funded project supporting seven pilot disciplines to one that is now core funded and embedded in sixteen disciplines across all colleges.

The aims for piloting PASS were:

  • To demonstrate through policy, practice and funding an institutional philosophy that recognises the benefit of collaborative learning and opportunities for students to meet in small groups to aid social and academic integration.
  • To demonstrate mentoring and peer-support schemes that integrate into the curriculum, promulgate the expectation that engagement with these schemes is universal.
  • To explore the implementation of innovative forms of explicit peer support, in particular the use of different forms of student learning communities to ease transition to HE.
  • For academic staff and student support professionals to work together to inculcate elements of peer support and transitional practice into the classroom.


Start/end date: Sept 2009-current
Beneficiaries: Programmes, modules, students, Academic staff
Theme/focus: Peer learning


What do students really want from their first year in education?

Research shows that peer assisted learning support embedded in a discipline context has (i) a positive impact on students’ perceptions of learning and their acquisition of independent learning skills  (ii) value in enhancing the academic and social transition of students.  

Peer assisted learning support initiatives reflect QAA advice2 on the First Year Experience, which is that HE institutions take a longitudinal and multi-layered approach to enhancing the academic and social engagement of students through facilitating these key features:

  • early understanding of HE-level learning;
  • social networking and peer support.

What we did

The initial EEF funding enabled investment in external ‘PASS Supervisor’ training for staff, with a learning enhancement focus, to implement, sustain and embed PASS at Birmingham as part of their core role.

PASS forms part of a National and International peer-learning network that facilitates regional meetings, national staff and student conferences, the sharing of best practice, and ongoing guidance in tackling issues.

PASS at Birmingham has grown organically, from the success of the early EEF funded pilots, through the endorsement of academic colleagues, and, increasingly, through the positive reputation amongst the student community. Students regularly contact the PASS team asking to get involved, either as a PASS ‘participant’ or as a PASS ‘Leader’. Students from disciplines without PASS desire the same learning support networks and employability opportunities afforded their friends from disciplines/modules with PASS. The student voice is a powerful mechanism through which to engage Academic colleagues and expand PASS from the bottom up.

PASS is now available to all schools and departments as part of Library Services’ Learning Enhancement service.

The team provide:

  • training and ongoing support for PASS Leaders and PASS Coordinators
  • promotion of PASS within the University
  • monitoring, quality assurance and evaluation
  • administrative support with recruitment, timetabling and rooming PASS
  • continued support and feedback for academic staff
  • print credits, stationery, biscuits, certificates and reward incentives for PASS Leaders.

What we achieved

Over 6000 students have benefitted from PASS since the initial EEF project funding.

PASS Leader Employability

“We have embraced research findings on the benefits of peer support and seen evidence in practice. Our highly successful Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) Scheme operates in all five Colleges. PASS is a discipline-owned and student-led scheme which aims to enhance the first year student experience through collaborative, exploratory discussion. Sessions are facilitated by students from later years of study which, simultaneously, supports them to enhance their own learning outcomes. Our PASS Leaders from 2014/15 achieved 91.6% graduate employability in the latest DLHE stats, compared to the University average of 85.3%.”

Section 3.14 from the UoB TEF 2017
The PASS Leader role is a recognised activity on the University’s Personal Skills Award (PSA). PASS also appears on the Leader’s University Transcript.

PASS Participant evaluation

  • 93% of PASS participants agreed or strongly agreed that attending PASS had improved their understanding of subject content.
  • 89% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the sessions were an enjoyable learning experience
  • 100% of participants would recommend PASS to other students.

What we learnt

The annual evaluation of PASS schemes evidences that, for PASS to succeed:

  • PASS depends on buy-in and commitment from academics to encourage students to be involved and be active in the promotion and support
  • There needs to be a desire from students to both participate and take ownership of the scheme as PASS Leaders
  • PASS should take place in traditionally challenging modules where students need extra support, and in disciplines where students have volunteered themselves as Leaders, showing enthusiasm to engage further with the subject
  • Schemes that are timetabled and ‘opt-out’ are seen as a fundamental part of the Academic experience and typically receive higher attendance that schemes which are purely ‘opt-in’

Looking ahead 

It would be useful to chart the academic performance of regular PASS participants (those who attended four or more times) against non-participants in each of the subject areas. At present, tracking individual participant attendance on PASS involves and lengthy manual process with an uncertain level of accuracy. The PASS team are hopeful that PASS will fully integrate with a University wide Learner Analytics system in the future.

Learn more


[1] Longfellow et al. (2008); Rollinston (2005); Tzuriel, and Shamir (2007); Menonca and Johnson, (2008)

2 Quality Enhancement Themes: (2008)The First Year Experience – transition to and during the first yearQAA


For more information, contact the projects office on, quoting reference CLP002.