10/10/2005

Poorer pupils ‘underrepresented’ at top state schools

Pupils from poorer families are “significantly underrepresented” at the UK’s top 200 state secondary schools, an education charity has reported.

The report, by the Sutton Trust, found that only 3% of students at those schools qualify for free school meals, compared to a national average of 14.3%.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “We have replaced an education system which selected on the basis of ability with one that is socially selective: the best comprehensives serve the relatively affluent, while the remaining grammar schools attract far too few able students from poor backgrounds.”

The report studied the 6% of state schools with the best GCSE results. According to the report, grammar schools were more socially exclusive than top comprehensive schools, with 2.1% of students eligible for free meals, compared to 6% for comprehensives. However, the charity said that this could be explained by the fact that grammar schools are usually located in more affluent areas.

Sir Peter called on top flight schools to broaden their intake by the development of outreach projects in local communities and also urged the government to provide a dedicated network of school buses, so that state schools would be within the reach of all pupils.

The report concluded: “It is clear that the admissions system is not operating equitably and is in need of review and that more needs to be done to raise standards earlier down the educational chain. The unevenness of the state school system serves to exacerbate existing inequalities and we see its consequences in the under-representation of those from lower social classes and poorer areas in higher education, particularly at the leading universities.”

The Sutton Trust report was published ahead of a government White Paper, which is expected to address the issue of broadening the range of pupils gaining access to state schools. The White Paper is expected to be published later this month.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Edward Davey said that the report was a "damning critique of Labour's failure to deliver on equal opportunities for all in education". He said: "Parents' income as an indicator of how well a child will do in school has become even more pronounced now than under the Conservatives. Worse still, this study shows that Labour's false choice agenda is widening the social divide in education even further.

"Educational opportunity for those from less wealthy backgrounds has actually taken a backwards step under Labour. Ministers should feel ashamed."

(KMcA/SP)

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