Leading article: Benchmarks are working

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The Independent Online

A remarkable success story almost slipped by unnoticed at the weekend. A report by the Sutton Trust, the charity run by the millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, showed a big rise in the number of young people from deprived homes getting into leading universities.

A remarkable success story almost slipped by unnoticed at the weekend. A report by the Sutton Trust, the charity run by the millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, showed a big rise in the number of young people from deprived homes getting into leading universities. Their numbers at the 13 top-ranked universities in the UK have shot up by 49 per cent since 1997. Better still, their numbers have not been swelled by dumbing down (the average A-level point score of candidates accepted has gone up), or by discriminating against the independent sector (their numbers have risen, too, but at a much lower rate).

The conclusion must be that the benchmarks individual universities have been given for the number of students they should take from the state sector appears to be working. Before we get too carried away, however, we should emphasise that there is still a long way to go before there is a level playing-field. The report estimates that there are still 3,000 state school youngsters "missing" from these 13 universities. In other words, there are potential students from state schools who have as good grades as those who get in, but either do not apply or are turned away. But this should not stop us from giving the universities concerned a pat on the back for trying to ensure fairness in admissions.

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