Campus crusader: Birmingham University branches out into state schooling


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The Independent Online

The dipping of Birmingham University’s toe into the world of secondary education is potentially of huge importance when it comes to improving the pool of talent in the state sector.

It is notable that Birmingham should be the first university openly to express an interest in running a secondary school, although the Department for Education (DfE) says there are others waiting in the wings. Between 2002 and 2011, the proportion of state-educated students at the city’s university fell from 79 per cent to 76 per cent. Efforts to reverse the tide have already proved effective, with the state intake now at 81 per cent. The development of a direct link between the university and a free comprehensive school will further confirm the institution’s commitment to those in the city who are not privately educated.

The new school aims to offer its pupils a fuller programme of educational development by giving each child five hours of “enrichment” every week, over and above their academic studies. This ties in with the DfE’s recent recognition that a longer school day, in which children can gain additional, personalised support, can be beneficial – especially to disadvantaged youngsters. Incentivising teachers by paying them an additional £1,700 per year shows that there is an obvious way to overcome the potential hurdle of longer working hours for those in charge of the classroom.

If there is one potential pitfall in this development, it is the possibility that we may eventually come to have strikingly different grades of state school: those with access to high-end facilities, better-paid teachers and “enriched” pupils; and a rump which remains in the doldrums. But to a certain extent, there has always been – and may always be – a ladder of achievement across the state sector. If new university schools can show the way for others to climb its rungs, their development will have huge wider benefits.