Access issues 1

February 11, 2005

Sam Freedman maintains that our finding that 3,000 suitably qualified state-school pupils don't attend our leading universities each year is a myth (Soapbox, February 4). We stand by our conclusions, which are based on extensive analysis carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The 13 universities used to highlight the issue were selected for their average ranking in the league tables of four newspapers when we began the analysis. For consistency, we have kept them; on an updated ranking, all but two would remain.

Freedman says we "ignored" location-adjusted benchmarks. But academically able young people should not be making decisions about the most suitable university on the basis of how near it is to their home.

Freedman ignores two other critical findings. One is that independent-school students are as likely to go to a leading university as students from the state sector who achieve two grades higher at A level. And, while 45 per cent of independent-school students who obtained 26 A-level points in 2002 - one A and two Bs - go to one of the country's top 13 universities, the same is true of only 26 per cent of state-school students.

Not all state-school pupils are poor. But whether they are or not, they should have equal opportunities based on their grades. Sutton Trust initiatives are targeted at disadvantaged young people, whereas almost all the money available to fund independent-school places is not for able children from poorer families, but for pupils who require less than 50 per cent funding, parents who get into financial difficulty and teachers' children.

We are not interested in attacking independent schools: in many ways, our report highlights how good they are at getting their pupils into top universities. We just want similar opportunities for all able young people. I hope that rather than sparring over statistics we can work with the independent sector to achieve that aim.

Tessa Stone
Director, Sutton Trust

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