A new drive in the UK aims to fast-track the country’s brightest state school pupils towards elite universities. The most gifted Year 9 pupil in each state school will be rewarded with a trip to a leading Russell Group University in a move which seeks to address the elite schools’ admissions diversity.
Earlier this year, Prof Les Ebdon, the incoming head of the Office for Fair Access, said Russell Group universities had a “mixed” record on taking in deprived students.
Each institution is now being forced to set tough targets designed to increase the number of candidates admitted from state schools, poor backgrounds or postcodes with a poor record of going on to higher education.
But the Russell Group, which represents Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, has opposed the move, saying too many poor pupils are failed at school and often do not have the grades needed to win a place
Russell Group Universities say they want to accept state school applicants, but many of these don’t make the academic cut and those that do aren’t encouraged to apply. Worse, they are often discouraged from applying by teachers motivated by inverse-snobbery.
Baroness Deech, chairman of the Bar Standards Board and former principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, warned that too many teachers were “anti-elitism”.
Writing in Times Higher Education magazine, she said schools often “discourage pupils from aspiring to enter top universities”.
This new drive is a way for the schools to meet the new targets without compromising standards. Even the children who are not selected as their school’s top achiever are likely to be more aware of the Russell Group as an option and more motivated to apply.
The Russell Group represents 24 of the UK’s most prestigious universities and similar schemes already operate in Scotland, Australia and the US. Although schools don’t have to select the student who is top of the class and may choose a high achiever from a poor background and family who haven’t attended University before, the meritocratic tone of the award is set early.
The champion will be named their ‘Dux’ — which ensures that Year 9 pupils in state schools will all know at least one Latin word.