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Chalk Talk: A state-school success story - but there's still a long way to go


To the top of London's Millbank Tower for the 15th anniversary of the education charity the Sutton Trust, set up by the millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl to get more disadvantaged pupils into top-performing schools and universities.

Sir Peter described his first meeting with ministers to discuss his plans when David Blunkett was Education Secretary. "I thought it might be just a cosy chat with me and the minister, but I was met by a football team [of civil servants]," he said.

"You won't be any more after he [Michael Gove] has done his work," quipped Blunkett, who was a guest at the lunch. Mr Gove is cutting 1000 civil service jobs as part of the Government's austerity measures.

Meanwhile, another guest at the luncheon was former National Union of Students president Wes Streeting, who now works with the gay rights group Stonewall. Streeting was a beneficiary of the Sutton Trust's university summer schools – designed to give disadvantaged young people a glimpse of Oxford and Cambridge in an attempt to persuade them to try their luck with applying to the two world-famous universities.

Streeting, who was born and brought up on a Tower Hamlets council estate and then went to a secondary school in Westminster that was declared failing while he was being taught there, was at pains to point out he had not been at Millbank the last time students visited it – during the student riots over tuition fees two years ago, His presence, though, was just one indication of how successful the summer school scheme was – the number of state school pupils going to Oxbridge has gone up by 10 percentage points since the Trust was launched.

There is still a lot to be done, though, Lampl admitted. He likened the battle to improve social mobility in the UK to the "war on cancer". "It can never be won but you can make progress," he said.

Of course, his ongoing campaign is to persuade the Government to back "open access" schools where students are admitted on ability rather than ability to pay – with cash aid to those parents who cannot afford the fees. Let's see how that's going in another 15 years.