Poorest children in Nottinghamshire far less likely to progress to higher education
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Education charities have called for more to be done to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds attend university, with the gap in higher education attendance at its highest ever level.
Department for Education figures show, for the 2021-22 school year, 19.1 per cent of children in Nottinghamshire receiving free school meals aged 15 were in higher education at 19. By comparison, this figure was 45.5 per cent among their peers.
This divide grew from the year before, when 16.8 per cent of the areas poorest children went on to attend higher education, compared with 42 per cent for the rest of their cohort.
Across England, more children on free school meals are going on to universities and other institutions, but the number has been increasing at a slower rate than for their peers.
As a result, the gap in higher education enrolment is at its highest level on record, at 20.2 per cent.
The Fair Education Alliance – a group of organisations looking to improve how young people are educated – said it is concerned about the hurdles faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Janeen Hayat, alliance director of collective action, said: “We know university is one of the key ways young people from poorer backgrounds can increase their chances of employment.
“We also know the growing inequality we see in university admissions starts much earlier in education, with the attainment gaps at the end of primary and secondary school each at their highest point in more than a decade.”
She further cautioned the gap in educational outcomes starts earlier in life – and while widening access was university is important, work needs to be done to prevent academic disparities early on.
Despite a small increase in attendance among the least well off, a significant gap also exists when it comes to “high-tariff” higher education providers – those that require the best grades to attend.
Across England, most children are almost three times as likely to enrol in a top institution as those who have previously received free school meals.
In Nottinghamshire, 3.1 per cent of the most disadvantaged children were attending a "high tariff" provider aged 19, compared with 14.6 per cent for the rest of their cohort, and the largest gap on record.
Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute think tank, agreed disparities start long before young people leave school.
"We have already recommended that the government should extend the pupil premium to disadvantaged students in post-16 education, underpinned by a cross-government child poverty strategy to tackle the root causes behind rising inequalities," she said.
A DfE spokesman said: "A greater proportion of free school meal eligible pupils are going on to higher education than ever before. There is always more work to be done, and we are continuing to work with the Office for Students to make sure the brightest pupils from every walk of life are supported to earn places at our world-class universities.”