The charity helping northern state students reach our best universities

Welcome to our spring newsletter. It has been an intriguing few months, with more success for our students but also new research showing just how much northern students need expert support.

Year 2 students – continued success

So far, nineteen of our 22 students in 2015-16 have won offers from our dozen most competitive universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Edinburgh and Durham. All come from parts of the north of England in the bottom third nationally for educational outcomes.

The rate of Oxbridge and Imperial offers (29%) was well above the national average of one success in five, if down on last year’s freakish success (70%). Disappointingly, some students were turned down by Oxford without interview, despite excellent GCSE results. Our students’ success rate so far with Oxbridge offers is 46% - similar to that of the hosts of our London residential, Westminster School, one of the world’s most academically successful independent schools, and of Eton.

Case Study: Wales High School, Kiveton Park

Wales is a comprehensive in Kiveton Park, a small mining town between Rotherham and Worksop. Its colliery employed 1,000 people and closed in 1994. In their first year with Linacre the number of students going to Russell Group universities almost doubled, to 43%

“Our first involvement was the interview given in 2014 to 19 of our students. Ultimately six were successful, but we had an extremely marked and positive reaction from all 19. They felt it was an opportunity for them to challenge themselves as academics. All 19 are now at Russell Group institutions. The fact we had almost double the number achieving places at elite universities from previous years shows that the top students being more aspirational had a knock-on effect to other students. The success of the cohort who went to university in September 2015 is unprecedented at the school.

“Our involvement with Linacre has encouraged us to examine our own practices. The consciousness of our students has been raised. All target grades are now set at one grade above the national average. Our data shows that nearly all students are in line with their targets, which would suggest a more academic and aspirational ethos is becoming accepted as ‘the norm’.

“There has been something of a sea-change in attitude from staff, which filters through to students, about elite universities. We have a much more positive attitude towards these establishments and our students’ entitlement to attend the very best for their subject. This has very much come from the supportive attitude of Linacre mentors.

“One of the things that has impressed us most is that students have not felt pressurised to apply to Oxbridge. They have been empowered not to choose it if it is not right for them. They have seen other aspirational alternatives as a realistic goal, such as Imperial, King’s and Durham. There is a significant impact on personal statements and upon the staff who complete the UCAS references. We have modelled this on the reports which we have had from Linacre on our students after the residentials.

“When we first contemplated working with Linacre, I think it is safe to say that we had a narrow view of the impact it would have on a narrow group of elite students; we have, however, found that the benefits of the partnership extend far beyond our initial expectations and have had a genuine impact on the success of many of our students. We can’t recommend it highly enough.”

Jude Cole (Linacre co-ordinator) & Hayley Ludlum (assistant headteacher)

Ashleigh Weir – Year 1 student takes Footlights by storm

Ashleigh, now reading English at Cambridge, has won glowing reviews after becoming one of the few first-years ever to win a leading role in the Footlights – the starting place of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and dozens of other stars of show-business.

Reviewers called hers the “standout performance” as Maid Marian in the Footlights pantomime. Another wrote that: “The star of the show was without doubt Ashleigh Weir’s Maid Marian, a role made even more impressive considering this is her Cambridge debut. Her performance was hilarious, loveable and utterly believable… she stole the audiences’ hearts”.

“The cast and crew are some of the most ridiculously talented people I’ve ever met,” she says. “I’m a fresher, so this is all very new to me (I keep having to ask what words mean… get-outs, comps… I mean, I thought college lingo with all its plodges, pidges and bops was confusing enough), but I can’t imagine a better way to be spending my first term at uni. I’m having a ball!”

North-South divide in life-chances grows

Several new pieces of research suggest that in education the North-South divide is growing into something approaching a chasm.

Last month the Social Market Foundation revealed that inequality in educational achievement between regions has grown over the past 30 years. Looking at where someone grows up is now a better indicator of their likely success in education than their parents’ income.

Their chairman Nick Clegg MP said: “There were stark differences in performance in different regions. We may live on a small island – but which corner of it our children call home makes a huge difference to their life chances.”

A separate Ofsted study of GCSE results showed a similarly clear pattern. (See map, where red shows comparatively poor GCSE results and blue shows strong ones).

And a Sutton Trust report suggested how much better the life chances of the privately educated remain.

Around 7% of the population attend independent fee-paying schools, but the Trust’s survey reveals that 71% of top military officers were educated privately, along with 74% of judges working in the high court and appeals court, 61% of prominent doctors and 51% of leading print journalists.

Ashleigh Weir, now reading English at Cambridge, has won glowing reviews after becoming one of the few first-years ever to win a leading role in the Footlights

A parent's view

“I would just like to express my gratitude to all the people involved in this year’s project.

“My son included Queen’s College, Oxford in his application. At interview, he said he believed he was almost the only applicant in that part of the process not from a private school.

“Although he is a bright and academically gifted individual I think the help and advice given to him by the people at your organisation gave him the confidence and self-belief to put in the application and to go on and secure himself an offer of a place.  So thank you very much for all the hard work put in by your people. It is very much appreciated.”