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Elite schools dominate admissions to top universities

1 February 2008

New research by the Sutton Trust into the university destinations of more than one million students over the past five years highlights the dominance of admissions to the country's leading universities by a small number of schools, mainly fee paying.
The Trust is committing a minimum of £10 million over the next five years to widen access to these universities and is calling on others to join the cause and to support innovative new projects which will increase the number of entrants from non-privileged backgrounds.

The study - University admissions by individual schools - is the first to analyse in detail admission rates between 2002 and 2006 for 3,700 individual schools and colleges on the UCAS admissions database. It shows that:

  • 100 elite schools (less than three percent of all schools and colleges offering post 16 qualifications) accounted for a third of admissions to Oxbridge
  • At the 30 most successful schools, one quarter of university entrants went to Oxbridge
  • 100 elite schools accounted for over a sixth of admissions to the 'Sutton 13' group of leading, research-led universities

Over 80% of these elite schools are in the independent sector, which accounts for 7% of the school-age population.
The analysis reveals that these trends cannot be attributed to A-level results alone:

  •  The proportion of university entrants going to Oxbridge from the top performing 30 independent schools was nearly twice that of the top performing 30 grammar schools -- despite having very similar average A-level scores.
  • At the 30 top performing comprehensive schools, only half the expected pupils were admitted to the 13 Sutton Trust universities, given the overall relationship between schools' average A-level results and university admissions.
  • At the 30 top performing independent schools, however, a third more pupils than expected were admitted to the 13 Sutton Trust universities, given the overall relationship between schools' average A-level results and university admissions.

 Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Trust, said:

"It is deeply worrying - not to mention a sad waste of talent - that the chances of reaching one of these highly-selective universities are much greater for those who attend a small number of the country's elite schools, mainly fee paying. Where does this leave the vast majority of the population who do not have access to these opportunities?

While these findings will be disappointing to everyone who has worked so hard to widen access to research-led universities, I am in no doubt that the situation would be worse had we and others - including the government and the university sector - not invested in initiatives like summer schools and outreach programmes over the last decade. The universities covered by this report have done a great deal to encourage applicants from non-privileged backgrounds and their efforts should be recognised. However, this study shows that there is much more to do.

 As a start, we should be opening up independent day schools and leading state schools to those from non-privileged backgrounds, as has been done at the Belvedere School in Liverpool and Pate's in Cheltenham. More widely, we should learn more from high-performing schools and look to extend the opportunities they offer to all young people, whether it is through tailored advice or guidance, extra curricular activities or the chance to deepen and broaden their subject knowledge.

The Sutton Trust with support from its donors is committing a minimum of £10m over the next five years to address these issues. We would like to invite universities, schools and other organisations to come forward with new and innovative ways to raise the aspirations and attainment of non-privileged youngsters, and we want to encourage businesses, philanthropists and government to join with us in providing funding for these new projects."

Barry Sheerman, Chairman of the Education and Skills Select Committee said:
"I commend the Sutton Trust for its commitment to increasing the numbers of young people from less privileged backgrounds entering the leading universities. There remains resistance to making the sort of institutional change necessary to make admissions to our top universities fairer. We need to see the full acceptance of the Education and Skills Select Committee's recommendations on university access if we are to transform the present, unacceptable, situation."

Summary results

Oxbridge

Most successful schools and colleges by Oxbridge admissions % of total Oxbridge entrants that came from the schools and colleges over five years % of schools' and colleges' university entrants going to Oxbridge over five years
Top 5 4 41
Top 30 15 27
Top 100 31 17
Top 200 48 10
Remaining 3500 52 1


Sutton 13 Universities

Most successful schools and colleges by Sutton 13 admissions % of total Sutton 13 entrants that came from the schools and colleges over five years % of schools' and colleges' university entrants going to Sutton 13 over five years
Top 5 1.5 83
Top 30 6 71
Top 100 17 58
Top 200 29 49
Remaining 3500 71 10

 The Sutton 13 Universities are based on average newspaper league table rankings and comprise: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrews, UCL, Warwick and York.

Attached documents

  1. University Admissions by Individual SchoolsPDF 204kb