Top schools monopolise elite university places

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Sunday 18 September 2011 22:01

Pupils from Britain's top fee-paying schools are getting into the country's elite universities with lower A-level grades than pupils rejected from state schools, says a report out today.

Research by the Sutton Trust, the education charity dedicated to widening university participation among young people from deprived backgrounds, shows entry to Oxford and Cambridge, in particular, is dominated by an elite group of schools.

The study of university admission rates over five years at 3,700 state and private schools in the UK rejects the claims made by the independent sector that government moves to encourage wider participation have led to discrimination against their pupils. Instead, it suggests at least 3,000 pupils from state schools have been denied a place at the country's top 13 universities – despite having the same or better qualifications than independent school pupils who obtained a place.

The 30 schools with the most successful record of getting pupils in to Oxford and Cambridge are responsible for 25 per cent of the admissions to the two universities. Pupils from these schools are just as likely to get into a top university even if their A-level passes are two grades lower than pupils from state schools.

The report shows that there is even a bias at leading universities against applicants from the country's 164 selective state grammar schools, despite the fact that their A-level results are similar to the independent schools. Only two of the 30 most successful schools are grammar schools – the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe, Berkshire, and Colchester Royal Grammar school in Essex. There is only one comprehensive on the list – the London Oratory in Hammersmith and Fulham, the school to which Tony Blair sent his sons and which has been criticised by pro-comprehensive campaigners for selecting pupils through interviews.

The top spot is taken by Westminster School with 49.9 per cent of its pupils getting into Oxford or Cambridge over the five-year period – a total of 410 pupils.

Sir Peter Lampl, the millionaire philanthropist who chairs the Sutton Trust, said: "It is deeply worrying, not to mention a sad waste of talent, that the chances of reaching one of these highly selective universities are significantly greater for those who attend a small number of the country's elite fee-paying schools."

Sir Peter, who went to Oxford University after a grammar school education, blamed low aspirations and the quality of advice some state school pupils received from their teachers.

The report also acknowledges that the interview process – with differing aptitude tests – scares off bright pupils who had received no advice on how to cope with it.

The survey showed that independent schools had an average A-level point score per pupil of 1,112 – which should warrant them 33 per cent of the places at the country's top 13 universities. Instead, they achieved 49.3 per cent. The grammar schools' figure of 1.097 warranted 32.2 per cent of places, whereas they obtained 32.7 per cent. Comprehensives, with 933 points, should have got 23.2 per cent of the places but had only 12.3 per cent.

The report, which said the trust was setting aside £10m for widening access over the next five years, recommended encouraging youngsters to think in terms of a top university place at an earlier age.

The 13 universities included in the report's elite list are: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, the London School of Economics, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrews, University College London, Warwick and York. They are all members of the Russell Group, which represents the country's top 20 research-intensive institutions.

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