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New scheme to turn poorest teenagers into future scholars at top universities

Disadvantaged school pupils are being invited to visit top universities as part of a new scheme designed to raise aspirations for teenagers from the poorest backgrounds.

The Future Scholar Awards scheme, launched by the Department for Education and the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, will allow 13 to 14-year olds to attend a day of lectures at Russell Group institutions including Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics.

The scheme was announced as a new report from the DfE revealed that the majority of state schools are not encouraging high achieving disadvantaged pupils to apply to Oxbridge and other Russell Group universities.

The Future Scholar Awards replaces the Dux Awards – which gave up to five year 9 pupils from state secondary schools in England a chance to visit a Russell Group university.

More than 1,400 young people from 764 schools participated in the Dux Awards in 2013.

The new scheme is particularly aimed at pupils eligible for pupil premium funding as well as those in care or without a family history of higher education.

It aims to raise aspirations for these pupils, as well as building links between teachers and top universities.

The announcement follows recent UCAS figures showing more children from disadvantaged areas in England are applying to university – up from 14.9 cent in 2009 to 20.7 per cent in 2014.

But a new report published by the Department for Education
shows that only 14 per cent of secondary schools encouraged applications among poor pupils, while only 28 per cent of school sixth-forms and 29 per cent of colleges advised their pupils to apply.

The research report, School and College-level Strategies to Raise Aspirations of High-achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to Pursue Higher Education Investigation, also says state school pupils still see Oxbridge as being full of “posh” students.

Schools tend to only act to raise the aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils in the run up to exams in year 11, it says.

Commenting on the Future Scholar Awards scheme, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said: “It’s so important that students and teachers know that - whatever your background - if you’ve got the right grades, attitude and potential, you have a good chance of getting into a Russell Group university.

“We hope this scheme will provide vital information and help raise the aspirations not only of Future Scholar Award participants but all other bright teenagers at their schools and make sure they are thinking about their options at a younger age.”

Schools Minister David Laws said: “Too many bright pupils who have the potential to study at this level miss out simply because they never thought of applying, or never knew they could.

“Through the Future Scholar Awards, young people will get a taste of studying at a top university and their teachers will be given the information they need to advise their brightest pupils on how they can apply. I encourage all schools to apply.”