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State schools miss out on university access help, report shows

Schools serving less affluent communities are more than two-and-a-half times as likely to encounter barriers when trying to work with universities, shows new research from The Brilliant Club.

Contrary to recent press reports of ‘positive discrimination’, private schools find it significantly easier to involve their pupils in opportunities to learn about university – over half of private school teachers say they “hadn’t encountered any barriers to working with universities and related organisations” compared to only twenty percent of teachers in the state sector.

Despite efforts by charities and universities to broaden access, teachers in schools with the most pupils on free meals were more than three times as likely to say that opportunities were not designed to meet their needs than teachers at independent schools (19% v. 6%). They were also more likely to cite concerns about the number of opportunities available to their type of school (22% v. 11%) and logistical challenges (34% v. 19%).

The research report Barriers to Access: Five lessons for creating effective school-university partnerships, draws on a survey of more than 3,000 teachers conducted for The Brilliant Club by specialist pollsters Teacher Tapp.

Brilliant Club Chief Programmes Officer, and co-author of the report, Richard Eyre, said:

“There are more opportunities to learn about university today than ever before. But this research shows some schools still aren’t able to access the support that’s available – and it’s the young people who most need this support that are losing out. That can’t be right. Everybody working in university access needs to make sure that the funding is there and what we’re offering is relevant and accessible for the schools that are currently being underserved.”

Speaking at the report’s launch, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, Dr Mary Bousted said:

“Access to the most selective universities is another example of the deep inequality in Britain today. This research demonstrates one key reason why that inequality persists – schools serving the most privileged young people still find it easier to take advantage of opportunities to prepare them for university. It just goes to show how much more work is needed to give all pupils a fair chance, wherever they go to school.”

Speaking at the same event, Director of Social Mobility and Student Success at King’s College London, Anne-Marie Canning MBE said: “This research shows what many of us working with state schools and colleges have felt for a long time. Many teachers wish to foster strong partnerships with universities, but time and resource pressures prevent them from doing so. Universities should redouble their efforts to build meaningful relationships with schools and colleges in ways that are sympathetic to teachers and leaders in these settings. The Brilliant Club research provides pragmatic recommendations for making this a reality.”