Curb on middle class students as top universities join scheme to help pupils from poorer families

The Mail is reporting criticisms of the university Realising Opportunities programme because, it suggests, middle class students face losing out because the scheme prioritises disadvantaged pupils for places…

Top universities are signing up to a scheme that means disadvantaged teenagers don’t need to obtain the same grades as their better-off rivals to get a place.

Twelve universities including Birmingham, Warwick, King’s College and Bristol are already involved in the Realising Opportunities programme which involved them giving ‘alternative offers’ to disadvantaged students.

And it has now been revealed that three more universities have entered the scheme – Goldsmiths, University of London; Sheffield and Sussex.

The Universities say the scheme promotes ‘fairer access’ and will increase the number of pupils from working-class families and poorly performing state schools going to university.

But critics say it is unfair to discriminate against hard-working pupils from middle class backgrounds, and say the scheme does nothing to solve the root cause of educational disadvantage.

Dr Martin Stephen, former chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and ex high master of prestigious St Paul’s School, London, said asking universities to address inequality in this way was letting schools ‘off the hook’ and was like ‘applying a bandage to lung cancer.’

Dr Stephen, who is now director of education for GEMS Education UK, said: ‘This isn’t an answer to a problem, it an evasion of a problem. 

‘I think it’s because our school system has failed to do the right thing by our children and we want an easy fix.

‘Our schools are not helping disadvantaged children to achieve respectable grades and these things don’t do anything about that problem. In fact, if anything, they take the pressure off.

‘It’s like saying that if enough people can’t afford to buy a Rolls Royce, you lower the price.

‘That’s not the point really, is it? It’s acting on the point of supply, not the point of production. We have a supply line that’s not working.’

The move comes amid mounting pressure from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) on England’s most selective universities to set ‘challenging’ targets to recruit pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A-Level students who attend a school with below average exam results or high numbers of poor pupils are eligible to join Realising Opportunities.

They must meet at least two criteria including live in a ‘low participation’ neighbourhood; be eligible for discretionary payments, free school meals or come from a home where neither parent has attended university.

The pupils must have also achieved at least eight A* to C grades at GCSE including English and maths, with a minimum of five at A*/A or B.

Students who successfully complete the programme – which includes E-mentoring, online study skills courses and entering an Extended Project Qualification – ‘benefit from alternative offers or additional consideration’ from partner universities, according to the group’s website.

It says: ‘Many partner universities will give an alternative offer worth up to two A level grades or equivalent.’

For example, where a middle class student might be told they need three A grades to get into a university, a student deemed as ‘disadvantaged’ would only need three B grades…

Universities Minister David Willetts said: ‘The expansion of Realising Opportunities is good news, and will help even more young people from less advantaged backgrounds benefit from the transformational experience of higher education.’

Professor Les Ebdon, head of OFFA, has previously backed the use of differential offers for students from struggling state comprehensives – allowing them to win places with lower grade A-levels than those from high-flying schools…

More at:  Curb on middle class students as top universities join scheme to help pupils from poorer families

Is there any validity to these criticisms or is is not the case by definition that any attempt to increase participation by an under-represented group with result in things becoming less easy for those groups currently doing well? Please give us your thoughts in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Higher Education.


  1. ktlangspec

    SchoolsImprove Originally coming from a communist country, where the majority were disadvantaged, I have mixed feelings on this…

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove It does give those unis that sign up access to potentially more bums on seats at time when numbers are dropping #justsaying

  3. LiterateCynic

    SchoolsImprove Positive discrimination is NOT the way to ‘widen access’! “Give the little guy stilts, don’t cut the legs of the tall guy!”

  4. riverstour

    SchoolsImprove Why are schools with poor sixth forms allowed to keep them, when better provision post 16 available in other Schs, 6FCs,FE?

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