A-level data highlights challenges of widening participation

20 October 2011

Commenting on the latest release of A-level results data from the Department for Education, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:

“These figures illustrate the attainment gap between state and independent schools, and the difficulties our universities face as they work to attract students with the most talent, potential and ability from all backgrounds.

“Student success demands successful schools. Too few students from some state schools get the results they need to apply to our leading universities. In 2011, the proportion of A-level students from independent schools who gained AAA grades or above was nearly four times greater than the proportion getting such grades from comprehensive schools.

“Subject choice is also particularly important. More students from right across the state sector need appropriate information, advice and guidance on the subjects required for entry to the most competitive courses and universities. This is why the Russell Group published Informed Choices – in addition to our universities being very clear about preferred subjects – to help level the playing field.

“Good and early advice also helps foster ambition. Even when poorer students get the right grades they are much less likely than their wealthier peers to apply to top universities; we cannot offer places to those who do not apply. We’re fighting this ambition deficit through our outreach work, but we cannot do it alone. Schools, parents and Government must all do more to encourage young people to raise their aspirations from the earliest possible stage. By the time students are old enough to benefit from our universities’ outreach work, it is often too late. 

“We’re ready to offer top achievers the chance of a place: we need those who advise them to persuade them to apply. 
“Our universities go to great lengths to identify the candidates with the most potential to excel on our courses, whatever their social or educational background. Although more state school students than ever are winning places at Russell Group universities, our aspirations for access go much further. Over the next few years, Russell Group universities will pump millions more into outreach activities and financial support.

“Wherever you’re from, with the right grades, attitude and potential, you have a good chance of getting into a Russell Group university.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Russell Group’s guide Informed Choices gives guidance to teachers and students on the best A-level subjects to study to secure places on courses at Russell Group Universities.
  2. In 2015-16 the £28.8million which Russell Group Universities will spend on outreach measures will be used to support numerous summer schools, open days, special entry routes and access programmes to give students from lower socio-economic groups the best possible chance of winning a place.  See http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/widening-participation/ for more details of outreach activities and initiatives undertaken by Russell Group universities.
  3. By 2015-16 Russell Group universities in England plan to spend £153.7million of their additional fee income on financial support for students. This represents an average per institution of £9.6million with some of our universities spending as much as £17million. Overall, this amounts to over £5.9million more per institution than the sector average of £3.7million.  This investment will be targeted so that those in most need of financial support receive the help they need.

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