Russell Group record on free school meal pupils revealed

On average each Russell Group university admits just 64 of the poorest young people per year, as measured by those receiving free school meals

January 12, 2014

A written Parliamentary answer from David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has revealed how many state school pupils in England “with free school meals at age 15” progressed to Russell Group institutions.

The answer states that for the 24 institutions now in the Russell Group, the number of free school meal pupils “in HE by age 19” was 1,580 in 2009-10 and 1,540 in 2010-11, the most recent figures available.

For 2010-11, that works out at an average of 64 for each university. For the University of Cambridge the total of free school meal pupils admitted was 25 in both years, while for the University of Oxford the total was just 15 in both years, according to Mr Willetts’ answer.

The Department for Education said in 2012 that 18 per cent of 4 to 15-year-old pupils in maintained schools were registered to claim free school meals.

For a child to qualify for free school meals – a widely used indicator of deprivation – their parent or carer must be in receipt of benefits such as income support, jobseekers allowance, or child tax credits.

Mr Willetts gave the answer on 7 January in response to a question from Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: “Our universities want to give places to students with the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed, irrespective of their background. That’s why we are pumping millions more into outreach programmes and bursaries.”

But Dr Piatt said that the “the number one cause of under representation is that too few students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve good enough grades in the right subjects. In 2009, only 232 students who had been on free school meals achieved 3As at A-level or the equivalent.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Students typically seek University/HE/FE courses accredited by Professional Bodies/Institutes linked to industry and commerce, or alternatively study on equivalent Professional Awards/Higher Apprenticeships generally requiring a pass grade in prerequisite qualifications for entry. In contrast the (top) RG universities apparently adopt a different approach by mostly stipulating A/A* grades GCE A levels, a strategy seemingly rather more designed to maintain high league table standing to secure/maintain prestigious research funding. Accordingly their student element is necessarily predominantly secured from the Independent sector and the better performing State schools. Thus, perhaps the functions of the universities also needs to be addressed alongside the ‘free school meals at age 15’ segment and the ‘too many’ under-performing State schools issues - and not just ‘Ebacc’ assessments but extra-curricula school/pupil performance as well.

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