Last week, The Sutton Trust released details of their research into the university destinations of school-leavers:
New research by the Sutton Trust into the university destinations of more than one million students over the past five years highlights the dominance of admissions to the country's leading universities by a small number of schools, mainly fee paying. The Trust is committing a minimum of £10 million over the next five years to widen access to these universities and is calling on others to join the cause and to support innovative new projects which will increase the number of entrants from non-privileged backgrounds.
The study - University admissions by individual schools - is the first to analyse in detail admission rates between 2002 and 2006 for 3,700 individual schools and colleges on the UCAS admissions database. It shows that:
- 100 elite schools (less than three percent of all schools and colleges offering post 16 qualifications) accounted for a third of admissions to Oxbridge
- At the 30 most successful schools, one quarter of university entrants went to Oxbridge
- 100 elite schools accounted for over a sixth of admissions to the 'Sutton 13' group of leading, research-led universities
Over 80% of these elite schools are in the independent sector, which accounts for 7% of the school-age population.
The analysis reveals that these trends cannot be attributed to A-level results alone:
- The proportion of university entrants going to Oxbridge from the top performing 30 independent schools was nearly twice that of the top performing 30 grammar schools -- despite having very similar average A-level scores.
- At the 30 top performing comprehensive schools, only half the expected pupils were admitted to the 13 Sutton Trust universities, given the overall relationship between schools' average A-level results and university admissions.
- At the 30 top performing independent schools, however, a third more pupils than expected were admitted to the 13 Sutton Trust universities, given the overall relationship between schools' average A-level results and university admissions.
Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Trust, writing in today's Sunday Times (his words are quoted in this post's title):
According to our research, parents in professional and managerial occupations believe that their children will go on to take A-levels, to attend good universities and end up in high-paying careers. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those in lower-paid jobs, by contrast, are likely to think that their children will leave school at 16 and go into routine employment. You might think the classroom would act as a corrective. But all too often low expectations are reinforced by our socially selective school system.
… social mobility has declined in Britain and we languish at the bottom of the international league table. Also, the relationship between children’s educational performance and their family background is stronger here than anywhere else in the developed world. If you are born poor, your qualifications will reflect the fact and you will remain poor.
Raising the aspirations of young people – as well as parents and teachers – is half the battle. The Sutton Trust is trying. We work with children in the early years, through school and into further and higher education, to provide the sort of support and encouragement to non-privileged youngsters that better-off families and high-achieving schools provide as a matter of course. More is needed. Why not open up leading private and state schools to those from non-privileged backgrounds, as has been done successfully at the Belvedere school in Liverpool and Pate’s in Cheltenham? We should learn from successful schools and extend the opportunities they offer to all. Children’s futures should not be down to luck: we must ensure that all young people have access to real educational opportunities.
The Sutton Trust repays attention. Its 2005 report, 'The Educational Backgrounds of Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords', is available here (pdf); also from 2005, 'The Educational Backgrounds of the UK’s Top Solicitors, Barristers and Judges', here (pdf); from 2006, 'The Educational Backgrounds of Leading Journalists', here (pdf); and the full report referred to above, 'University Admissions by Individual Schools', is here (pdf). Finally, from their News & Features page, there's a news bulletin of their latest research into the educational backgrounds of 500 leading people in the UK.
Some moves afoot — St Paul's (where I teach) has committed itself to going needs-blind, and Marlborough College (where I once taught) has established a link with Swindon Academy that 'will loan staff, share expertise and provide facilities' (BBC):
The partnership between the two schools will include linking some departments and supporting the establishment of a new sixth form at the academy. They will share relevant expertise - in areas such as sport or performing arts - to develop joint ventures which would benefit young people in both establishments.