North East students missing out on top university places

YOUNG people from the North East are missing out on places at top universities even if they achieve good exam grades, a new report shows.

YOUNG people from the North East are missing out on places at top universities even if they achieve good exam grades, a new report shows.

The study by education charity, The Sutton Trust, shows there is a worrying gap between schools in the North and South and the percentage of students who go on to higher education – even if their exam results are the same.

Headteachers say they are concerned the gap could widen in years to come, especially for schools with a high number of students from poorer backgrounds.

Phil Hearne, principal at Northumberland Church of England Academy in Ashington, said: “With rising tuition fees, it’s likely more young people from working class families will be discouraged to apply for a place at one of the more selective universities, especially as these tend to be further afield and people can’t afford to travel for their studies anymore.”

Mr Hearne says students from more affluent families might also be better prepared for their university applications than poorer students, giving them an advantage during the interview process.

“Middle class students are more likely to have more life experiences to call on, such as volunteer work abroad, or an internship at a company,” he added.

“The majority of work experience placements are done for free and how many young people from working class families can afford to work for nothing?”

Paul Sampson, headteacher at Walbottle Campus in Newcastle, said: “This report raises the question of fairness and equality.”

The report includes data from sixth forms and colleges from across the UK and compares exam points per student, used by universities when allocating places.

The table shows Gosforth Academy in Newcastle had a strong points score of 750, but just more than a fifth of its students were accepted at one of the top-performing universities.

In comparison, a comprehensive school in affluent Kingston-upon-Thames had a lower points score of 652, but more of its students gained a place at top institutions.

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell said: “The report is very interesting and appears to suggest that, for many students, it is not enough to simply achieve good A-level grades to get into one of the top-performing universities. The school they attend clearly also plays an important role, and it would be valuable to know what certain schools are doing to ensure higher participation rates for their students in university education.”

The report also shows a gap between private and state schools. St Cuthbert’s RC High in Newcastle’s West End had a similar points score to the independent city school Church High, in Jesmond, but more than half the students from Church High gained a top university place, compared to 39% from the Catholic school.

Sacred Heart RC High School in Fenham was highlighted in the report as the only school in Newcastle with a good progression rate for its students going on to higher education.

According to the table, 83% of students gained a university place, with 28% being accepted by a “highly selective” institution.

Nationally, the report shows four schools and one college sent more students to Oxbridge over three years than 2,000 schools and colleges across the UK put together.

Between them, Westminster School, Eton College, Hills Road Sixth Form College, St Paul’s School and St Paul’s Girls School produced 946 Oxbridge entrants over the period 2007-09 – accounting for more than one in 20 of all Oxbridge admissions.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “We know these stark inequalities in university progression rates are driven primarily by the exam results in schools, yet the data we are publishing today also reveals that university chances can vary dramatically for schools with similar average grades.”

:: Click here to see the full table

Page 3 - Cash support to encourage leavers toward college

Cash support to encourage leavers toward college

A NORTH EAST college is offering a support package worth up to £2,000 a year to encourage school leavers to study there following the abolition of a key Government allowance.

Students aged 16 to 19 enrolling this September at Bishop Auckland College in County Durham could qualify for a £500 college allowance along with a host of other benefits, including free travel, free meals, and free childcare.

Additional financial support includes help with course study costs, such as equipment and uniforms, and vouchers for stationery, with other incentives including free gym membership and free hair and beauty treatments.

The college has topped up the allocation made available from the Government’s new £180m Bursary Fund to pay for the new support package. The national Bursary Fund provides £1,200 a year for young students from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have certain disabilities.

Principal Anne Isherwood said the move was essential to ensure school leavers from less affluent backgrounds were not put off further education as a result of the scrapping of the £540m Education Maintenance Allowance, which paid eligible students with a family income below £30,000 up to £30 per week.

She said: "Over half of our students were this year awarded EMA grants, which shows just how important this financial support is.

"We don’t want young people being deterred from giving themselves a great chance in life because they are worried they can’t afford to come to college. With a bursary of up to £500, free travel, free meals, free childcare and additional support for other study costs we believe we have a comprehensive support package in place which should ensure everyone, whatever their background, can take advantage of our superb facilities and teaching."

Mrs Isherwood has written this week to 6,500 16 to 19 year olds living in the college’s catchment area, which includes some of the most deprived wards in the country, to highlight the new support measures and the 150 courses on offer for 2011/12.


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