The new Bristol Scholars scheme has been praised as an innovative step to increase social mobility in the city by making lowered offers to students judged to have ‘high potential’ by their schools. However, information obtained by Epigram has revealed that half of the schools partaking are private schools, with 33 per cent of the adjusted offers made to their students.
Launched in December of last year, the ‘pioneering’ scheme which aims to ‘ensure local student have an equal opportunity’ is open to five students from every school in the local region, with head-teachers making the choices based on ‘potential and progress’ rather than solely on exam results.
Priority is given to students who meet a range of widening participation criteria such as being the first in their family to attend university, being part of the Free School Meals cohort, living in care or being a young carer.
However, at the time of the launch, much of the praise surrounded opportunities for state school students, with Elisabeth Gilpin, head teacher of St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School, praising the University for nurturing ‘highly intelligent students in state schools who are achieving excellent results’.
Professor Hugh Brady, Vice- Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol, said: ‘We want to recruit the most able students, regardless of their background’.
Lucy Collins, UoB Head of UK Student Recruitment told Epigram, ‘Two thirds of the offers are going to students in the state sector so independent school students have not been disproportionately represented in the offers.’
Nationally, 14 per cent of sixth formers attend private schools meaning that they are over-represented in the new scheme’s offers. One in four Bristol children live in poverty, and there are several schools failing by the governments standards.
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The University’s state school society, The 93% Club, told Epigram that ‘although it is not in contravention of the University’s Widening Participation Strategy, we lament the inclusion of independent schools on this scheme’.
‘Students from State funded schools will by and large not have the same opportunities that those from independent schools enjoy. It would therefore not make sense include those who already having had the privilege of a private education, at the expense of state school students who would better benefit from the opportunity.’
The average yearly fee at an independent school is £12,500 – £600 less than the annual earnings of one person on minimum wage. In comparison, the investment per Bristol state school students was £4,717.30.
Three of the independent schools which have had tailor-made offers to their students exceed the average private school fee. One, Badminton School has annual fees of almost £18,000, and achieves some of the best results in the region.
This translates to a significant gap between the likelihood of private and state school students progressing to ‘the most selective institutions’, including the University of Bristol. 64 per cent of private school pupils progressed to such universities in 2014, compared with 23 per cent of those from state schools, and has widened since the introduction of £9000 fees.
All-girls Badminton School saw 12 per cent of their Upper Sixth students recently achieve offers of a place at either Oxford or Cambridge University to study courses in Medicine, Law, Natural Sciences, Fine Art and Architecture.
‘I am comfortable that the students that need to be reached have been’, said Lucy Collins, UoB Head of UK Student Recruitment.
‘All students selected from the independent sector had to fulfil one or more WP criteria. We are working closely with all schools and colleges in the state sector (including the feeder pre 16 schools) to increase the number of applications next year.’
Several state schools are participant, including the maximum five students from Merchants’ Academy, which is situated in the electoral ward with the third lowest rate to higher education in the country.
As the University with the third highest proportion of privately- educated students – a full 40 per cent – UoB has been under considerable pressure to offer more opportunities for state-school applicants. Alongside other Russell Group institutions, Bristol has spent £18 million on recruiting and supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the last 10 years. However, despite this, the proportion of state-school students has stagnated, remaining roughly the same as in 2003.
42 students have taken part in the outreach program and been made tailor offers, with an aim to expand to 100 students by 2018. The scheme was launched alongside a national initiative where students from the lowest performing 40 per cent of schools would be made offers two grades lower than the standard.
The Bristol Scholars scheme is open to all local schools and is separate from the national scheme the University also runs that is not open to private schools. The national scheme, which has been running for much longer, includes giving contextual offers to students from state schools that fulfil particular criteria.