A new scheme has been launched to encourage pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply for places at top universities.
The Future Scholars Awards Scheme is aimed at 13 and 14 year-olds in England and Wales. It aims to raise aspirations by inviting pupils to a series of lectures and workshops at some of the country's best higher education institutions.
It is to build on the success of last year's scheme, which involved 400 young people from 764 schools. This year's initiative is to focus in particular on schools with no, or few, pupils going on to study at Russell Group universities.
Schools are being encouraged to ensure pupils who are eligible for pupil premium funding, in care or who do not have a family history of higher education take part in the initiative.
More children from disadvantaged areas than ever are applying to university, according to UCAS figures. Some 20.7 per cent applied to university in 2014, compared with just 14.9 per cent in 2009.
Despite this encouraging trend, a 2012 Sutton Trust report found fewer than half of secondary school teachers say they would encourage their brightest students to apply to Oxford or Cambridge.
Although high-achieving but disadvantaged pupils are sometimes encouraged to apply to top universities, this tends to take place in the run-up to GCSE exams in year 11.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, an association of 24 leading universities, said it is important students and teachers know that, with the right attitude and potential, it is possible for anyone to get a place at a Russell Group university.
"We hope this scheme will provide vital information and help raise the aspirations not only of Future Scholar Award participants but all other bright teenagers at their schools and make sure they are thinking about their options at a younger age," she commented.
Some 97 per cent of the pupils who took part in the 2013 scheme rated it as useful or very useful and 56 per cent said they were more likely to apply to a Russell Group university as a result of the visit.
Posted by Charlotte Michaels