Sutton Trust Higher Education report, July 2011

The Sutton Trust is an educational charity and this just published report is the first detailed, school-by-school analysis of data on the higher education destinations of pupils for 2007-2009. Its author, John O?Leary, considers that its real value will be to allow parents to judge how successful schools are at getting their students into the 30 most selective universities, or indeed into any university.
The results show that 100 (84 independent and 16 grammar) schools accounted for 31% of Oxbridge admissions. Westminster School, Eton, St Paul?s School and St Paul?s Girls? School in London and Hills Road 6th form College in Cambridge alone, accounted for 946 Oxbridge entrants and exceeded the total of 927 Oxbridge students produced by the 2000 lowest-performing schools.
For the highest attaining schools, 87% of applicants from independent schools and 74% of applicants from grammar schools obtained a place at one of the top 30 universities but only 58% of those at comprehensive schools.
However, the research has been criticised by leading universities which since 2006 have spent a lot of money on outreach work with schools to justify the major increases in tuition fees charged to their students. They say that it relies too much on the A-level points system and does not distinguish enough between types of subject or achievement of the high grades required to secure entry to their universities.
It seems that one reason for the disparity in achievements is that independent schools tend to teach the more traditional subjects that leading universities want, whereas many comprehensives encourage their pupils to take so-called softer or easier A-levels or more vocational qualifications, to increase their points (and relative positions) in the A-level league tables. Indeed over the past 15 years there has been a significant decrease in the numbers of traditional subjects studied in comprehensive schools and local colleges. There is also the question of choice of university made by able pupils at some comprehensives, as university destinations varied widely between such schools with otherwise similar patterns of results.
Whatever the reasons for this stark demonstration by the Sutton Trust report of the inequality of achievement within the higher education system, it should not make comfortable reading for the current Coalition government with its concern to improve social mobility.

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