Scheme encouraging disadvantaged pupils to apply for leading universities opens

11 Feb 2014 10:42 AM

Scheme invites English schools to send disadvantaged 13- and 14-year-olds to visit top universities for a day of lectures and workshops.

Disadvantaged pupils will get a taste of studying at the UK’s leading universities thanks to a joint Department for Education and Russell Group scheme which opened yesterday.

The Future Scholar Awards scheme sees 13- and 14-year-olds in England invited to visit top universities for a day of lectures and workshops. Schools will in particular be encouraged to ensure that pupils eligible for pupil premium funding, in care or without a family history of higher education take part.

The scheme aims to raise aspirations among these pupils so that they consider going on to leading universities.

It also encourages teachers and schools to forge links with universities.

According to UCAS figures more children from disadvantaged areas in England are applying to university than ever before: 20.7% in 2014 compared with 14.9% in 2009. Eighteen year olds living in the most disadvantaged areas of England are nearly twice as likely to apply as they were 10 years ago.

But a 2012 Sutton Trust report showed that fewer than half of secondary state school teachers say they would advise their brightest pupils to apply to Oxford and Cambridge universities. Russell Group universities are spending more than £200 million on outreach and financial support, and working on outreach programmes with the Sutton Trust and others.

Last year more than 1,400 young people from 764 schools participated in the awards.

This year’s scheme builds on that by focusing on schools with no, or few, pupils progressing on to Russell Group universities and increasing the number of pupils who can participate from each school.

Ministers and Russell Group universities are committed to ensuring more students from poorer backgrounds have the opportunity to go to leading universities. This requires more students to get good grades in the right subjects, but also for schools to encourage their students to apply.

Schools Minister David Laws said:

We are building a stronger economy and a fairer society, so that everyone can get on in life. That means helping more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to understand the benefits of an education at some of our best universities. Too many bright pupils who have the potential to study at this level miss out simply because they never thought of applying, or never knew they could.

Through the Future Scholar Awards, young people will get a taste of studying at a top university and their teachers will be given the information they need to advise their brightest pupils on how they can apply. I encourage all schools to apply.

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, an association of 24 leading universities, said:

It’s so important that students and teachers know that - whatever your background - if you’ve got the right grades, attitude and potential, you have a good chance of getting into a Russell Group university.

We hope this scheme will provide vital information and help raise the aspirations not only of Future Scholar Award participants but all other bright teenagers at their schools and make sure they are thinking about their options at a younger age.

Pauline Shann, Assistant Director of Sixth Form at Huntingdon School in York, which participated in 2013’s awards, said:

The Future Scholar Awards provide pupils with a unique taste of how rewarding, exciting and within-reach higher education is. Since participating in 2013, our school has involved more 13- and 14-year-old pupils in further university-based activities.

The scheme was especially rewarding for pupils with little or no family history of studying at university, and we look forward to many more of our pupils planning to apply for top universities in the future.

The scheme for 13- to 14-year-old pupils comes as a new report suggests that while schools do act to raise the aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils, these activities tend to take place in the run up to exams in year 11.

The report, an investigation on behalf of the Department for Education on how schools raise aspirations of disadvantaged pupils, also states that the best schools have good links between teachers and universities.

And figures show the scheme is helping pupils to raise their aspirations:

  • 97% of 2013’s participants rated the day as useful, or very useful, with 56% saying they were more likely to apply to a Russell Group university as a result of the visit
  • 60% of 2013’s participating teachers said they will encourage students to think about university earlier and 66% would arrange more visits

The scheme boosts teachers’ knowledge of higher education, such as finance, admissions and how to support pupils making applications to selective universities.

It also supports and encourages both teachers and pupils to share these messages after the events and supports teachers to undertake further aspiration-raising work in their schools.

Notes to editors

  1. See more information on the awards, including a registration page.
  2. Read the report ‘The investigation of school and college-level strategies to raise aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education’.
  3. See UCAS figures on university applications.
  4. The Russell Group is an association of 24 leading British universities. They are:
    • the University of Birmingham
    • the University of Bristol
    • the University of Cambridge
    • Cardiff University
    • Durham University
    • the University of Edinburgh
    • Exeter University
    • the University of Glasgow
    • Imperial College London
    • King’s College London
    • University College London
    • the University of Leeds
    • the University of Liverpool
    • London School of Economics and Political Science
    • the University of Manchester
    • Newcastle University
    • the University of Nottingham
    • the University of Oxford
    • Queen Mary University of London
    • Queen’s University Belfast
    • the University of Sheffield
    • the University of Southampton
    • the University of Warwick
    • the University of York