Times article on access to top universities

Jill ShermanWhitehall Editor

Published at 12:01AM, January 17 2015

All but one of the 20 councils that send the most state-school children to the top universities in England are based in London or the south, according to the analysis by The Times and the Sutton Trust.

By contrast, the 20 authorities that send the fewest number to the top 30 universities are mainly in the north and the Midlands.

The data shows the top council is Reading — which has good grammar schools — where 53 per cent of students who have sat A levels go on to a top university.

Second is the London borough of Sutton, with 38 per cent and then Buckinghamshire with 34 per cent.

Fourteen of the top authorities are in London, reflecting an improvement in schools in the capital. The only council outside the south that appears in the top 20 is Trafford in Greater Manchester, which has good grammar schools.

Otherwise the analysis shows a north-south divide, which reflects poverty, poorer schools and a difference in the support for high achievers to get into universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

Councils languishing at the bottom include Rochdale and Knowsley in the northwest, which send 3 per cent and 2 per cent respectively, while Barnsley, Humber and Middlesbrough send 4 per cent each. However, Portsmouth also sends only 2 per cent of its schoolchildren to the top 30 universities, indicative of poor results in many coastal areas.

“London has benefited from a lot of programmes and attention and we need that attention to spread across the country if young people are to improve their chances of getting a good degree,” said James Turner, Sutton Trust’s director of programmes.

“We’re working with leading universities to break down those barriers, but we need a co-ordinated effort which involves government, schools, businesses and other important players too.”

The analysis, from the latest data from the Department for Education, shows a similar divide for poorer children, defined by those on free school meals, who get to the top 30 universities.

Eight of the top councils are London boroughs and the remaining two are both in the south, North Somerset and Buckinghamshire.

There are a smattering of low performers in the southeast and southwest, including Poole, Bracknell Forest and West Sussex.