In your article “Universities defend access record after Cameron criticism” (1 February) there appears to be a consensus that to overcome the continued inequality in access, more cooperation between schools and universities is needed. Universities point out the large amounts of money that they are investing in improving fair access through outreach, bursaries and fee waivers, and suggest that schools need to do more to raise attainment and aspirations and that entry requirements should be lowered for this group. But when you look at where underachievement is greatest, it is among those with the highest ability. Surely, therefore, it is better to raise their attainment, rather than lower their grade requirements. Schools respond that they lack the resources (time, money and staffing), which means that they are unable to do more. However, in the article no one offered a solution to how this cooperation would work.
There is little reference to the role of the third sector in bringing together schools and universities to tackle fair access. At Villiers Park Educational Trust, we have established a cohesive four-year Scholars Programme. We work in partnership with universities and the students’ schools and colleges to raise attainment and develop the life and study skills that enable young people to thrive. Our evidence shows that a programme of workshops, mentoring, residential courses and university masterclasses from Year 10 to Year 13 works. In 2015, 50 per cent of GCSE grades were A* or A; 74 per cent of A-level grades were A* to B; 79 per cent of our scholars gained a place at university, 63 per cent at a leading university, with our scholars coming from less-advantaged backgrounds.
We track outcomes for our scholars after they have left school or college. Our 2015 survey found that 100 per cent of those embarking on a degree course had successfully graduated (compared with a national average of 92 per cent) and 100 per cent achieved a first or 2:1 degree.
We are working with four universities – Bath, Cambridge, East Anglia and Lancaster – and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss our solution with more university partners so that we can help to improve social mobility in more areas of the UK.
Villiers Park Educational Trust