The Missing 2000 – Introduction

The below is the introduction to ‘The Missing 2000’, edited by Tom Arbuthnott and Anushka Chakravarty, which was published in March 2020.

In 2010, fewer than 40 students from the whole of Newham progressed to Russell Group universities and only three achieved places at Oxford or Cambridge from Newham schools. In fact, only 330 Newham sixth formers took A-levels through Newham providers, with most children in the borough leaving the area to take A-levels. It was undoubtedly an educational ‘cold spot’.

By 2020, the cold spot was appreciably warmer. One school, the London Academy of Excellence, received 37 Oxford or Cambridge offers in 2020, equivalent to 15% of its cohort. Meanwhile, aspiration and standards were being driven up across the borough with another school in Newham increasing its offers from one to over 50 between 2014 and 2020.

How has this happened? Somehow, clear aspirational and operational principles have been established. Students throughout that part of London now aim for the top universities and have a choice of schools that can help them make it happen.

One of those schools, the London Academy of Excellence, presents an innovative model for social mobility. This state school has been founded on a model of partnership between the state and independent sectors, with committed educationalists from both sides working together to create a pathway for the most disadvantaged students into the best universities. In five years, over 850 students have earned places at Russell Group universities, 95 have gone on to study medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, and 68 have taken places at Oxford or Cambridge. Given Oxford’s target of admitting 25% of its students from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2023, irrespective of school type, this type of partnership work shows huge potential in supporting students in getting where they want to go.

Seven years ago, this 25% (equivalent to 850 students) would have been part of the ‘missing 2,000’: 2,000 students every year who, with appropriate interventions, would have a good chance of applying for, receiving an offer from, and finally entering our top universities – but who were not accessing this opportunity.

How do we reach the number 2,000? The Social Mobility Commission calculated in 2014 that, of a cohort of pupils born in 1991-2, 7,853 pupils from the most disadvantaged homes achieved well in school aged 11. Of these, only 906 made it to a highly competitive university, defined as Russell Group or equivalent.  Taking the same size cohort from the top 20% of families in socio-economic terms, 3,066 of these children made it to these universities. Something happened between the age of 11 and the age of 18 that meant these 2,000 (or, to be precise, 2,150) children went missing[1].

So how can the “missing 2,000” be reached? The thrust of policy for the past few years has given the responsibility to universities to develop coherent and effective outreach programmes which succeed in reaching into disadvantaged communities. Some extraordinary organisations, including the Brilliant Club, Villiers Park and IntoUniversity, have worked really hard to support their efforts, sometimes with great success, sometimes not. But while some progress has been made, there is a great deal more to be done.

In this country there is a group of institutions which is committed to social mobility and which cares deeply about the life chances of disadvantaged children. They understand, with professional clarity and with an unrivalled record of success, how to work with children aged 11-18. These institutions are spread around the country, with all counties and large cities containing at least one. These independent schools were often the historic providers of education in their regions, especially to less privileged boys and girls. Surely it is sensible to see this group of institutions as key to the national challenge of widening access to top universities.

But instead, independent schools are generally seen as part of the problem, particularly in crude media analysis. The headline figure in unquestioning news reports simply features the relative percentages of state-educated and independent-educated pupils making it into Oxford or Cambridge. This often cloaks the fact that many independent-educated candidates are on bursaries or that many independent schools are keen to partner with and promote social mobility in state schools as part of a mutually beneficial enterprise. It also cloaks the rise of tutoring, with over 27% of children now receiving additional private help with their studies, irrespective of whether they attend a state-sector or independent-sector school.[2] Indeed, the independent sector is very successful at supporting students from more disadvantaged backgrounds in preparing them for competitive undergraduate programmes. As the Oxford University Press Office put it in 2011, “Of students coming to Oxford University with household incomes under £25k, who then automatically qualify for a full Oxford Opportunity Bursary, 31.6% are from schools in the independent sector.” Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, was quoted in the Daily Telegraph on 18 July 2019 as saying, ““The reality is that independent schools are identifying these smart, poor kids. They are bringing them in, giving them scholarships and educating them, and then they apply to us, and we take them.” 

This publication aims to show that partnerships between independent schools and state schools are part of the solution in reaching the missing 2,000, coming up with innovative and forward-looking projects to support the universities’ outreach efforts. If we can (using the Schools Together Group’s strapline) harness the power of partnerships to the benefit of children, then we can make progress. This will require embedded partnerships between independent schools, grammar schools, comprehensive schools and universities which take a long-term approach consisting of a series of interventions. We hope that partnership professionals in both sectors will read this pamphlet for ideas for collaborative projects, which can be easily set up and replicated. We are trying to address the question of widening access in a systematic way: whatever resources a given school has, primary or secondary, state or independent, there will be a project somewhere in here that they can pirate or adapt to local circumstances.

Most of the ideas in this pamphlet emerged from a symposium, hosted at Eton at the Tony Little Centre in May 2019, which brought together 20 educators from both sectors, all of whom are focused on trying to improve their practice in cross-sector partnership. In addition, we have tried in this publication to feature the words of students alongside the words of schools.

Finally – a word of apology. Despite having absorbed over 2,000 projects on the Schools Together website, having convened a symposium and invited over 300 partnership professionals to participate in this project, there is no doubt that we will have missed some excellent practice out there, which should have been part of this compendium. If it’s your project that we have missed, then we apologise: and we would ask you to contact t.arbuthnott@etoncollege.org.uk with information. We hope to launch a new magazine, Partnerships in Practice, later in 2020 and we hope to include your initiative there.

Emerging from this pamphlet are some questions: if we were trying to design a suite of activities that well-resourced schools, state or independent, could adopt in order to maximise their impact in supporting more disadvantaged students in reaching university, what would those activities be? Where should schools start in constructing this suite of activities? And how do they demonstrate, effectively, their impact and importance?

Tom Arbuthnott and Anushka Chakravarty, March 2020


[1] Data from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/324501/High_attainers_progress_report_final.pdf

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/09/25/quarter-secondary-school-children-now-have-private-tutors/

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