Gap between poorer Nottinghamshire students and peers going to university reaches record high

The gap between poorer Nottinghamshire students and their more affluent peers attending university has hit a record high, figures show.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 6:00 am

The Sutton Trust said the university access gap across England – which is as large now as it was 14 years ago – is evidence of ‘stubborn and ingrained inequalities’ in the education system.

Department for Education data shows that of 931 students in Nottinghamshire who received free school meals at the age of 15, 132, or 14.2 per cent were at university in 2019-20 – down from 15 per cent the year before.

Of 7,001 other pupils in the area not on free school meals, 42.1 per cent were studying in higher education at the age of 19, up from 40.7 per cent in 2018-19.

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Across England, 26.6% of pupils who received free school meals at age 15 were participating in higher education in 2019-20, compared with 45.7% of those who did not receive meals.

This meant the progression rate gap between poorer pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils rose to 27.9 percentage points last year, the widest gap since records began in 2005-06.

Across England, 26.6 per cent of pupils who received free school meals at age 15 were participating in higher education in 2019-20, compared with 45.7 per cent of those who did not receive meals.

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The trust, which campaigns for equal access to high-quality education, called for further Government funding to address the problem, as well as more support from universities for low-income students.

James Turner, trust chief executive, said: “The fact the university access gap for children on free school meals has not closed at all in the past decade, shows just how stubborn and ingrained inequalities are in our system.

“The coronavirus pandemic means the divide between disadvantaged students and their classmates is likely to become even wider, but there is an urgency to act now to prevent the gaps widening still further.”

In Nottinghamshire, just 2 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals progressed to high-tariff institutions – universities with higher entry requirements – by the age of 19, compared with 11.3 per cent of those not eligible, the widest gap on record.

A DfE spokesman said a greater proportion of disadvantaged pupils are going to university than ever, but there is more to do.

He said: “Ensuring everyone has the opportunity to access a world-class education remains a top priority and we expect universities to do all they can to help disadvantaged students.”

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