400 highly able students from non-selective state schools will have the opportunity to take part in two and three year programmes at four leading universities thanks to a new Sutton Trust programme announced today. The scheme is funded by the Wolfson and Sofronie Foundations and the four universities involved.

The Sutton Trust has urged ministers to introduce a national programme for highly able students at state schools in its recent Mobility Manifesto. Polling released today shows that over 80% of parents and teachers believe it is important that schools provide extra programmes for their most able students. Government funding for ‘gifted and talented’ programmes was discontinued in 2011.

Students from low and middle incomes from schools in challenging circumstances will be selected to take part in regular academic seminars, skills sessions and university visits run by the universities of Cambridge, Warwick, Nottingham and University College London (UCL). Pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 who are in the top 10% of the ability range will be selected to participate by each university from target schools.

The scheme is launched against the backdrop of limited provision for the most able students. However, YouGov polling published today shows that, of those who said they were parents of children aged 5-18, 80% think schools should provide specific programmes that give extra support for the most able students. 90% of teachers questioned by the National Foundation for Educational Research in a poll for the Sutton Trust also think it’s important that schools provide additional programmes for highly able or gifted and talented students.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) finds that the UK compares poorly in international comparisons of the highly able. Around half the number of UK students reach the highest levels in maths at age 15 compared to the average for developed nations, and the UK ranks 26th out of 34 OECD countries for the performance of its brightest students.

Since the demise of the national Gifted and Talented programme in 2010 there has been very little activity to support highly able pupils from low and middle income backgrounds in the early stages of secondary education. Research from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission earlier this year found early promise shown by the brightest poor students can be lost as they progress through school, particularly between ages 11 and 16.

The Sutton Scholars programme aims to address this problem by supporting these able students through their first years of secondary education. This will improve access to initiatives aimed at older students, including the Trust’s own university summer school programme. The Cambridge scheme will be targeted at schools in East Anglian coastal areas, UCL will work with schools in London and Nottingham and Warwick will target the East and West Midlands respectively.

Students on the Sutton Scholars pilot scheme, which ran at UCL last year, attended six Discovery Days at the university on topics ranging from Ancient Worlds to Mission to Mars. They also attended a three day residential summer school on the theme of London: Past, Present and Future. Throughout the programme each student had a UCL mentor to offer support with academic projects and general advice and guidance.

Shan Hama started the pilot programme at UCL in 2013 when she was in Year 8. Both of her parents are unemployed, there is no history of higher education in her family and she is registered for free school meals. After attending the summer school, she said;

“The programme was a huge success! I had a blast and I am now even more open-minded about learning. I especially enjoyed the lectures, as I now have more experience with university life. I feel more educated and ready when school opens again.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said;

“The Trust has long worked with bright students in the later years of secondary school and in the sixth form.   But if we want more students from low and middle income homes to be in the running for university places when they are 18, we need to support them much earlier on, so that they continue to do well at school, have high aspirations for their futures, and make the right educational choices.

“Today’s new programme is intended to show the way forward, increasing social mobility through enhanced opportunities for bright young students. But we need to tackle this problem on a bigger scale. That’s why we are calling on the Government to develop a national programme, with ring fenced funding, that highly able state school pupils across the country can access.”


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 150 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. The Sofronie Foundation awards grant to support children and young people to reach their potential through a variety of interventions, generally in partnership with charitable institutions.  The Foundation believes that this can be achieved through educational interventions raising opportunities for their future and supporting improvements to their general family life and social mobility.
  3. The Wolfson Foundation is a charity that was established in 1955. The Wolfson Foundation supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health & disability, education and the arts & humanities. All funding is based on expert peer review.
  4. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) surveyed a representative sample of 1,163 teachers in March 2014 in both primary and secondary schools for their Teacher Voice omnibus survey. See below for full table.
  5. The Sutton Trust’s report Educating the Highly Able by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson from Buckingham University details OECD findings and can be found here.
  6. Details of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s report on high attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds can be found here.
  7. More details of the Sutton Trust’s policy recommendation for highly able students can be found in the Mobility Manifesto here.
  1. YouGov questioned a representative sample of 6,185 adults across Great Britain of which 1,169 were parents of school aged children (aged 5-18) between 26th and 29th August 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). See below for full table.

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Sam or Rocky on the number below. The number is also monitored out of hours.

E: [email protected] T: 0204 536 4642

Keep up to date with the latest news