The opportunity for the brightest students to go to the UK’s best universities should be open to everyone. But currently just 19 per cent of students who go to a state comprehensive school apply to a top university, compared to 65 per cent of their peers who have had an independent education.
And for the most disadvantaged students, that figure falls to just five per cent.
It’s a statistic that The Elephant Group are trying to change.
Founded by a group of school headteachers who wanted their pupils to achieve more once they moved on from school to university, they run an intensive programme to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or who live in deprived areas, to apply to top universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Sheffield and Exeter.
The programme includes confidence building activities for students, training and guidance for teachers on how to encourage their pupils’ ambitions, and also a summer school where teenagers are invited to spend several days experiencing life at a top university to give them a glimpse of what they could achieve.
Laura Compton is the Managing Director of the charity. She said: “Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not and should certainly not be influenced by your family income or area of the country where you grew up.
“The Elephant Group works with schools and universities via two regional hubs which allows us to listen, reflect and address local issues faced by communities in supporting their young people to aspire, apply and attain the grades to access a top university.
“Our pilot data in London shows that 96 per cent of students we supported applied to at least one top third university.”
And students supported by the charity have had a huge boost to their confidence and ambition.
Shakirat Aliu, who attends Ark Globe Academy in Southwark, south London, said: “Through visits to top achieving universities such as Kings College I’ve been made aware of the application process through UCAS and the key things you must look for when choosing the right university for yourself.
“Additionally the summer school visit to Exeter was very helpful as it gave me a taster of what it’s like moving to a new city and meeting people from different backgrounds.”
The Elephant Group work with schools and universities from two hubs, one in London and one in Yorkshire.
They are keen to hear from any independent schools or businesses in these areas who could support their students with activities such as work experience placements and professional and confidence building skills.
They are also keen to hear from donors who would like to support the project or from schools or universities who would like to be involved.
For more information see www.theelephantgroup.org or follow them on Twitter @theelephantgrou