Pupils queue up for a place at ‘hothouse’ state school

The Times is reporting that Britain’s most selective state school has expanded its first intake after more teenagers than expected passed its entrance tests…

Harris Westminster Sixth Form, which aims to send half of its pupils to Oxford or Cambridge, has offered places to 167 pupils when it opens in September, 42 more than its initial target, with a waiting list of late applicants should any not achieve their target GCSE grades.

If demand for places remains strong, it may increase its full planned capacity from 250 to 300 children a year.

The sixth form, sponsored by Westminster School, one of the highest-achieving independent schools, and the Harris Federation of academies, had 330 applications even before its premises in Central London were confirmed.

Almost 30 per cent of its first group of students will be entitled to free school meals, with a large number studying maths and sciences, subjects highly sought after by universities and employers. Offers have been made to 134 teenagers to study A-level maths, 34 for further maths, 100 for chemistry, about 70 for biology and 60 for physics…

Applicants sat 45-minute tests in each of their four chosen A-level subjects, with those who scored well invited for a 20-minute interview with a specialist teacher in a subject of their choice.

James Handscombe, the principal, said the admissions process was designed to identify potential rather than academic achievement alone.

Its admissions criteria also give priority to children who pass the tests and are entitled to free school meals or who live in disadvantaged areas, although a smaller proportion of places have been reserved for children in neither category to seek a comprehensive intake…

Mr Handscombe, who attended a Sheffield comprehensive, was the only child from his year to go up to Oxbridge. He studied maths, was awarded a first-class degree, then went to Harvard before training as a maths teacher. His long-term aim is for half his students to go to Oxbridge, which would be on a par with Westminster but make it the highest-achieving state school…

Mr Handscombe said: “There is a big problem at our leading universities in terms of the proportion of students who come from ordinary, deprived backgrounds. I want to fix that.

“I have spoken to people at top universities and they say it is really hard as the kids at Eton and Westminster and St Paul’s are getting an amazing education. They come and they know more, and they are better at learning. Their bottom line is that they need students who can access their curriculum.”…

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Your thoughts on what’s going on at Harris Westminster Sixth Form? What do you make of the idea of selective state sixth forms and do you believe the principal James Handscombe is doing the right things to challenge the low proportion of students from ordinary and deprived backgrounds at leading universities? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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  1. kccv1

    The demand among #parents for their children to be over #qualified but #badly #educated continues to grow?

  2. TaviaAllan

    SchoolsImprove I thought it was established state school students do better at H E than private school students with same grades?

  3. sjwilk

    kccv1 SchoolsImprove The OECD_Edu has said that UK has highest ratio of over-qualified:under-skilled for c.10 yrs

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