EastEnders set to storm top universities as more than 100 Newham college students get places with Russell Group institutions

Top A* grades at inner city college rose to nine per cent - bucking the national trend

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The Independent Online

London’s EastEnders will be taking the UK’s most selective universities by storm this autumn - breaking down barriers which have seen generations of disadvantaged students unable to access places in them.

The largest sixth-form college covering some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas has seen the number of students offered places at universities in the Russell Group - which represents many of the most selective higher education institutions in the UK - soar this year.

More than 100 students at Newham Sixth-Form College (or NEWVIC - as it is called) were offered Russell Group places this year and - with its top A* grade passes showing a rise this summer from eight to nine per cent, bucking the national trend - it looks as though the vast majority will have their places confirmed.

Last year the number offered Russell Group passes was just 42,

Eddie Playfair, the college’s principal, said that around 700 of the college’s 1,000 students who took A-levels this summer were expected to get university places.

“We cover East London which has a historic record of not sending that many students to Oxbridge or Russell Group universities,” he said. “The results are very steady - we’re very pleased about the improvement in performance at the high end.”

He said the college had targeted around 150 high achieving students who could benefit from going to a top university. “We gave them extra support and extra tuition and help them to prepare to make applications to Russell Group universities,” he added.  “It wasn’t something we hadn’t done before but it was more targeted.

“It was a more focussed approach on the students who were likely to benefit.”

The college’s achievements were praised yesterday by Universities Secretary David Willetts who told The Independent: “I think congratulations are in order for the students who have clearly worked very hard.

“The college should be proud, too, for what is an exceptional achievement.”

He said its achievements were “what our reforms are all about” - opening up more places for disadvantaged students with top grade passes.  Figures showed the number of applications to university from disadvantaged groups had risen despite the rise in tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year.

Bethan O’Reilly, aged 18, who is going to Exeter University to study history and English, got A grades in history, religious studies and classical civilisation and a B in English literature - despite only need one A and two B’s to secure her place.

“I thought there was a chance that I would do better than the offer because my predicted grades were higher,” she said.  “I was really very pleased with what I got.”

Yusuf Naing, aged 19, who is going to Brunel University to study aerospace engineering, praised the college for its efforts in helping him to get through his course.

“I’m really pleased because I had a troubled last year - I had to move out of where I lived and had to live independently,” he said.  “The college gave me financial support.  I’m really excited because in my family my brother dropped out and I’m the first to go.”

“We have a lot of students who are in quite difficult circumstances - be it domestic or financial - and we try to help them out,” said Mr Playfair.

Around 85 per cent of the students at the college come from Newham - with the rest coming from surrounding boroughs like Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Barking and Dagenham.