Statistics released by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills shows that the proportion of state school students going to university has dropped in recent years. This year, whilst 64% of students from independent schools went on to one of “the most selective” universities, only 24% of students from state schools did. This represents a percentage point gap of 40, a rise from 37 percentage points in 2008/2009.
Inequalities also persist within the State System, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds continuing to lose out. Students from selective grammar schools, which tend to exclude the poorest (only 2% of their students qualified for free school meals in 2012) were far more likely to gain a university place than students from comprehensives or FE colleges. Only 20% of students from comprehensive schools or FE colleges went on to university, down from 23% in 2008/9. Perhaps most worrying, in many local council areas fewer than 1 in 10 students eligible for Free School Meals gained a university place.
The fact that the proportion of students from state schools and from low income backgrounds entering top universities has dropped is extremely worrying. The assumption that things can only get better when it comes to educational equality is clearly flawed and action is vital if we are to give all students a fair chance to progress to higher education.
One suggestion touted by ‘social mobility tsar’ Alan Milburn is that top universities need to take the performance of candidates’ schools into consideration when making offers. This is especially relevant since two recent reports have shown that state educated students with the same A levels outperform their privately educated counterparts. Clearly, the over-representation of students from independent schools is not down to ability alone.
It is vital therefore that the work of IntoUniversity is continued and expanded, so that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not shut out of our higher education system and talented students can progress to a top university regardless of their background.