Free schools ‘must increase number of poorer pupils at top universities or be blocked’

New free schools should be blocked unless they pledge to increase the number of pupils from poor homes attending leading universities, the Government’s social mobility tsar declared yesterday. This is from the Independent…

Alan Milburn, a former Labour minister, yesterday outlined a series of radical measures aimed at increasing the number of disadvantaged students going to the most selective institutions. His report also called on all Russell Group universities to sponsor academies in deprived areas, and guarantee pupils at these schools interviews if they applied for a place.

Mr Milburn, who was appointed by David Cameron to advise on social mobility and child poverty, also urged universities to make lower A-level offers to students from less advantaged communities. Admissions staff should also use contextual data such as school performance and home background before deciding on admissions. At present, about 40 per cent of universities do so.

On the free schools policy, the report argues: “It [the Government] should make the creation of free schools conditional upon increasing the proportion of their pupils, especially those from less well-off backgrounds, who get a place at a leading university. I’m a supporter of free schools but I think on the condition that free schools don’t just end up in the leafy suburbs and are attracted into the disadvantaged areas instead. That’s a big opportunity.”

If they failed to deliver on pledges to widen university participation, they should be subjected to the same “failure regime” faced by other schools through Ofsted inspections.

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