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PM plans for high fee universities to raise school standards

The new plan will require universities to set up new schools or sponsor existing under performers in return for higher fees

Posted by Hannah Oakman | September 09, 2016 | People, policy, politics

In a statement released today the Prime Minister has revealed plans designed to allow merit, not background, to be the deciding factor in how far pupils progress. These plans include allowing the opening of new grammar schools, as well as giving the green light for existing grammars to expand. 

As part of the wider commitment to increasing the number of good school places, Theresa May has stated that universities who want to charge higher fees should be required to set up a new school or sponsor an existing underperforming school

Research shows that prior attainment is one of the biggest factors determining access to university. 

There is a broad consensus that the most significant barrier to progress in widening access is differential attainment rates at ages 16 and 18

Commenting on the package of education reforms, University Alliance Chief Executive Maddalaine Ansell said: “There is a broad consensus that the most significant barrier to progress in widening access is differential attainment rates at ages 16 and 18; universities should be part of the solution to this alongside many others, and we are committed to playing our part. There are already examples of Alliance universities collaborating with others to boost educational attainment in schools, and more of these partnerships are under development.”

Under the new arrangements, universities would be expected to use their educational expertise to do more to raise standards in schools. This will create a talent pipeline, through which pupils from all backgrounds will have a greater opportunity to get the grades and skills they need to go on to university, and help universities in their efforts to widen participation of lower income students.

A number of top universities already have successful partnership arrangements with academies or free schools - and some have already established new free schools or sponsored existing academies.

Director General of the Russell Group Dr Wendy Piatt said: “We share the Government’s commitment to widening participation and social mobility. Ensuring our doors are wide open to talented and able students from all backgrounds really matters to Russell Group universities. Many Russell Group Universities already sponsor academies, free schools and University Technical Colleges and all of our universities work in close partnership with many more schools. These partnerships include direct interventions focussed on giving extra academic support to highly able students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as sharing facilities and giving advice and guidance to students on applying to university.”

Examples of these partnerships include: 

  • Queen Mary University of London co-sponsors the Drapers' Academy in the London Borough of Havering, supporting the Academy’s specialisms in mathematics and science through close contact with academic departments and help with curriculum development.
  • The University of Exeter and King’s College London have developed specialist maths schools, to offer both outstanding secondary education for pupils and to support other schools’ teaching of maths and other STEM subjects.
  • The University of Birmingham is part of the Higher Education Insight (HEI) Programme which is a national scheme designed to support Year 12 students from England and Wales who live outside of the Greater West Midlands region.  The programme gives academically gifted students with no family history of higher education the chance to participate in a week-long residential stay University of Birmingham and to access to e-mentoring from current undergraduates in Year 13.

Following the transfer of responsibility for Higher and Further education policy to the Department for Education, today’s announcement marks the start of the process of bringing England’s school and university systems closer together - with a culture of high expectations for all placed right at the heart.

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