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The University’s Bristol Scholars scheme was branded a ‘mockery’ by a Bristol MP in the House of Commons last week.

The University of Bristol’s scheme was billed as a scheme to ‘help ensure local school pupils have an equal opportunity to realise their academic potential, irrespective of their background’.

However, following Epigram revealing that a third of the tailored offers that were given out through the scheme had gone to private school pupils, the scheme has been criticised by UoB’s state school society, the 93% Club, as well as in the national press.

In a question to Ed Timpson, a Minister at the Department of Education, the Bristol South MP Karin Smyth claimed that the scheme made a ‘mockery’ of its own stated aim of ‘widening access’ to university for disadvantaged students.

The University have always stated that all Bristol schools and colleges offering post- 16 qualifications were allowed to nominate students for the scheme, and that the students had to meet a number of widening participation criteria.

Talking to Schools Week on the 20th March, Labour MP Smyth criticised how the University had presented the scheme.

‘I think what was disappointing is that I think this was a good innovative scheme… I think the intent was genuine, because we know that lowering grades doesn’t just work. But it makes a mockery of it because at no stage was it suggested that private schools would be included’, Smyth said.

She continued: ‘If they’d said it includes the large number of private schools in Bristol, we would have questioned it. Without being upfront about the inclusion of private schools, they’ve made a mockery of that’.

Smyth admitted that pupils at private schools still have to meet a criteria such as being ‘on FSM or bursaries’, but said that their schools ‘have more resources’ and are more able to ‘take advantage’ of the scheme in a way that disadvantaged schools aren’t.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital School is another of those involved in the scheme

Lucy Collins, Head of UK Recruitment at the University of Bristol, said: ‘Bristol Scholars from independent schools who have been offered places had to fulfil one or more widening participation criteria in order to be selected. For example, they may be a young carer, first in family to go to higher education or receive a post 16 bursary’.

‘This is a pilot year and only a subset of schools applied to take part in the scheme. Our ambition for the future is that all schools in Bristol will submit applications’.

There are 13 schools taking part in the pilot Bristol Scholars scheme this year: six independent schools and seven state schools. All students receive a tailored offer, guaranteeing them a place at the University.

‘It’s about making it work better. I want the University to do better’, Smyth said following her comments in Parliament.

In a letter in Epigram, Collins wrote: ‘We worked hard to encourage all state schools and colleges to submit nominations and will be redoubling our efforts for the 2018 cohort’.

The Bristol Scholars scheme was launched by the Education Secretary Justine Greening. It was announced at the same time as a national scheme in which pupils can receive offers two grades lower than the standard offer. The latter scheme is only open to state school pupils.

Should the Bristol Scholars scheme be open to private schools? Let us know…

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