The schools that cost £30,000 and more

The most expensive schools in the country – the famous boys’ boarding schools – are now charging well over £30,000 a year. The most expensive is Tonbridge School with fees of £36,288, but Eton College (£35,721) and and Wellington College,  now co-educational, with fees of £35,775, not far behind.  They would say the quality of education and the 24-hour care is money well spent. Schools like Eton College have generous bursary schemes for bright children from impoverished homes.

Boys’ school have always been more expensive, a relic from the days when boys’ education was considered more important than girls’. It is possible to spend serious money on girls, but there are no all-girls’ schools in the top ten most expensive schools. Cheltenham Ladies College has fees of £33,090. Wellington is now co-educational and for social connections there is the co-educational Marlborough College (fees £33,930).

The Sevenoaks School in Sevenoaks, Kent,  (fees £33,156), has large numbers doing the International Baccalauerate,(IB). Bedales School in Petersfield, Hampshire,( fees £33,930), is popular with media types and has a reputation for combining good manners and liberal attitudes. For sporty types, there is Millfield Schoool in Somerset, (fees 34,650).

High fees do not always mean a school with brilliant exam results and Oxbridge success.

Top independent schools for hard A levels

Not all A-levels are created equal. Some are tougher than others. It is generally accepted that Further Maths and Physics are among the hardest, if not the hardest.  The problem with  tables that rank schools by A level results is that they do not take account of the A level mix, which makes it difficult to judge which schools are producing the best results in the sciences.  The data already published by the Department for Education, (results in 2011), makes it possible to rank schools on the basis of  A* stars in Further Maths and physics.

The list is not comprehensive, because it does not include schools that mainly do the International Baccalaureate (IB), such as Sevenoaks School and King’s School, Wimbledon. Winchester College and Charterhouse School are also missing because they do the pre-u.

In the main, the must successful schools are the traditional, seriously selective boys’ schools in membership of  The Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, (HMC).   The exception is Concord College in Acton Burell, Shrewsbury, a small co-educational boarding school with a high proportion of pupils from Hong Kong and China. Its A* results in Further Maths in 2011, (30 A* s), put it on a par with Westminster School.  Tom Lawrence, the school’s academic vice-principal,  says pupils coming Hong Kong and China see maths as the most important subject. They arrive at the school at 16 two years’ ahead in maths of their UK couterparts. Bellerby’s College, a tutorial college, which also draws students from Hong Kong and China,  had 23 students that achieved  A* in Further Maths.

The other schools at the top are all boys’ schools: Westminster School, (it takes girls in the sixth-form),  St Paul’s School in Barnes, London;  the Royal Grammar School in Surrey and Eton College. .

Westminster School’s results are remarkable, even given its  intake.  Two-thirds of its physics A level group  of 53 achieved an A*.  Its A* results in Further Maths were only outdone by Concord College. Westminster School, St Paul”s, Eton College and the Royal Grammar School in Surrey are highly ranked in both subjects.

For parents of girls, the choice of schools in the top ten is limited. Concord College is a co-educational boarding school. Westminster takes girls in the sixth form. Magdalen College School in Oxford and Brighton College in Brighton, two schools in the top ten for Further Maths, are co-educational.  The only co-educational school in  the physics list is The King”s School in Chester.

There are state schools that do as well as the top independents. The school with highest number of A*s in Further maths is Hills Road Sixth Fform college in Cambridge. It had 111 sixth-formers take Further maths; 35 achieved an A*: 26 in physics. Three other sixth-form colleges and 4 grammar schools had results that compare with the best in the independent sector. Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in  Bromley, Kent   racked up 22 A* in Further maths; 13 in physics. Runshaw Sixth-form College in Leyland, Lancashire,  had 21 A*s in Further maths and 18 A*s in physics. St Olave”s and St Savoir”s School, the grammar in Bromley, Kent, that hit the headlines when Labour MP Harriet Harman sent her son to the school, racked up 19 A*s in Further maths and 15 A*s in physics.






Top ten independent schools for Further Maths*


Source: Department for Education: Further Maths A level results in 2011

1 Concord College, Shrewsbury, Shropshire                              30 (50)

2 Westminster School, Westminster , London                            29 (51)

2 St Paul”s School, Barnes, London                                               29 (43)

2 Eton College,  Windsor, Berkshire                                             29 ( 58)

5 Royal Grammar School, Guildford, Surrey                                 25 ( 32)

6 Bellerby”s College                                                                              23 ( 33)

7 Tonbridge School, Tonbridge, Kent                                            19 ( 33)

8 Haberdashers” Aske”s Boys” School, Boreham Wod, Herts   17  (23)

9 Brighton College, Brighton                                                            16 (  33)

9 Magdalen Collge School, Oxford                                                   16 ( 25)

* Number in bracket is the total number of students that sat the exam.



Top ten indepedent schools for physics

A*s in 2011: Figure in bracket is total number taking the exam.


1 Westminster School, Westminster, London                      36  ( 53)

2 Royal Grammar School, Guildford                                      26 ( 57)

3 Tonbridge School, Tonbridge, Kent                                    25 ( 48)

3  Eton College, Windsor                                                          25 (61)

5 St Paul”s School, Barnes, London                                       21  (43)

6  Hampton School, Hampton, Middlesex                          18 ( 46)

6 The Perse School,  Cambridge                                            18 ( 39)

8 Concord College, Shrewsbury, Shropshire                        16 (57)

9 Haberdashers” Aske”s Boys                                                  15 ( 34)

10 The King”s School, Cheshire                                               14  37)













Top ten independent schools for Oxbridge

Boris Johnson’s dad, Stanley, is smart enough to know that if you send your children to the right school you maximise their chances of getting to Oxford or Cambridge.

When the Daily Mail asked how he managed to get all six of his children to Oxbridge, he said:  “It never struck me that was particularly remarkable. What do you expect if you send your kids to Eton and St Paul’s?”

Not much has changed since Boris and his siblings went to university. The top  ten is dominated by the traditional, seriously expensive boys” schools.  Eton College and St Paul’s School  rank top and third in the Oxbridge stakes, (though Boris’s dad might have meant St Paul’s Girls’ School  where Boris’s sister, Rachel, did her A-levels),  ranked sixth.

The two schools that send the most sixth-formers to Oxbridge are Westminster School, the alma mater of Nick Clegg,  deputy Prime Minister and leader of  the Liberal Democrats, and Eton College. which has educated a long line of prime ministers, including David Cameron.  Westminster is the most expensive boys’ day school in London – almost a quarter of its intake is boarders who pay even more.  Girls are admitted only in the sixth-form.

Their closest rival is St Paul’s School, famous old boy, George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, (53) to Oxbridge.  King”s School Wimbledon, a boys” day school in  south London is listed fourth.  It used to do only the International Baccalaureate, (IB), but has now reintroduced A Level, alongside the IB. Winchester College, a boy”s boarding school in Winchester, is fifth.  The two girls” day schools in the list are St Paul”s Girls and North London Collegiate School. The only co-educational schools are Sevenoaks School in Kent, an International Baccalaureate (IB) trailblazer, and Magdalen College School in Oxford.







  • School                                                                                                  Oxford           Cambridge


Eton College, Windsor                                           76                                     52                          24

Westminster School, Westminster                     75                                      37                          38

St Paul”s School, Barnes                                        53                                     30                           23

King”s College School, Wimbledon                     39                                      21                           18

Winchester College, Winchester                          37                                      21                           18

St Paul”s Girls,  Hammersmith                            35                                      22                            13

North London Collegiate School, Edgware      35                                      18                            17

Magdalen College School. Oxford                      31                                       14                            17

Sevenoaks School, Sevenoaks                             30                                       9                              21

Tonbridge School, Tonbridge                             30                                      12                             18

Royal Grammar School, Guildford                     30                                   12                               18











Top ten state schools for Oxbridge

Michael Gove argues that if schools raised the aspirations of their pupils lots more poor children would end up at Oxford and Cambridge. The reality is that only a handful of state schools and colleges send pupils in any numbers to Oxbridge.  There are four successful sixth-form colleges that admit large numbers of 16-year-olds and have the critical mass to prepare a proportion for Oxbridge. Two are in affluent areas – Hills Road in Cambridge and Peter Symonds in Winchester.

Apart from sixth-form colleges, the other schools that sent 20 or more to Oxbridge last autumn  are grammars. All are in the south-east.

The latest figures reveal that the top ten  state schools for Oxbridge are four sixth-form colleges and six grammar schools. The furtherest north you can live to have a child in one of the grammars is Enfield in north London.

Two sixth-form colleges give independent schools a run for their money: Hills Road in Cambridge, which has 880 sixthformers in what used to be called the upper sixth, but is now year 13, managed 56 Oxbridge places. Peter Symonds Sixth Form College in Winchester, Hampshire, with the country”s biggest year 13, (1330), sent 44, more than its famous neightbour, Winchester College.

Further north, Greenhead College in Huddersfield has like Hills Road critical mass, (830 in year 13), and is less selective.The college sent  30 sixth-formers to Oxbridge. The sixth ranking is the Sixth-form College, Farnborough, (1270 in year 13), which sent 26 to Oxbridge.

If you live in the north, you don’t have a chance of getting your children into any of the other six schools. If you do live south of Reading, you will probably need to get a tutor to get them through the entrance tests.  The highest performing is Colchester Royal Grammar School – 33 to Oxbridge – on a par with the Independent Magdalen College School in Oxford. It takes girls in the sixth form. The other boys’ school is Queen Elizabeth School in Barnet, which got 20 sixth-formers into Cambridge.   QE  Boys is the school that created upheaval in Jeremy Corbyn’s marriage. The left-wing MP for Islington North separated from his wife, Claudia Bracchitta, after she had insisted their son Ben should go to QE Boys.

Latymer School, a co-educational grammar in Enfield, north London,  managed 24 places, mostly at Cambridge. Latymer’s sixth form draws in 16-year-olds from London’s many independents. In fifth place is Pate’s Grammar School, a co-educational school in Cheltenham, similar in size to QE Boys. (180 in year 13), sent 26 of its sixth-formers to Oxbridge. The only girl’s grammar in the list is Henrietta Barnet in Hampstead, north London.




Top state schools                                                                       Oxford                                 Cambridge

1 Hills Road, Cambridge                                  55                        29                                                  25

2 Peter Symond”s College, Winchester          44                        24                                                  20

3 Colchester Royal Grammar School              33                       11                                                    21

4 Greenhead College, Huddersfield               30                       21                                                      9

5  Pate”s Grammar School, Cheltenham        26                       16                                                    10

5 Sixth Form College Farnborough                 26                      10                                                    16

7 Queen Elizabeth School, Barnet                  24                         4                                                    20

7 Latymer School, Enfield, London               24                          4                                                   20

9 St Olave”s and St Saviour”s,  Orpington       23                       6                                                    17

9 Judd School, Tonbridge                               20                         16                                                     4

9 Henrietta Barnett, Hampstead                20                          10                                                   10


























Unruly pupils sent to classroom ‘cooler’

Geraldine Hackett, Education Correspondent

A HEADMASTER given a knighthood by Tony Blair has introduced isolation rooms for badly behaved pupils in an attempt to restore discipline to the classroom.

The pupils are confined to the rooms during school hours for up to three days and are only allowed out for toilet breaks. Meals are delivered to the room.

The move is part of a new approach called “assertive discipline”, which has been pioneered by Sir Dexter Hutt. He has introduced the isolation rooms into three schools in Birmingham where he is executive headmaster. “For some students, social interaction is more important than work,” he said. “If they are socially isolated, they miss that outlet.”

Pupils are put in isolation after receiving four warnings about their behaviour. Isolation rooms typically hold six pupils sitting in cubicles with partitions, meaning they cannot see or speak to their neighbour. Once in a cubicle, they have to study from worksheets.

However, teachers at one of the schools, the International, have complained that such methods are draconian; a modern version of the prison cooler.

There, teachers claim some pupils have sought time in the cooler as a badge of honour. A representative of the National Union of Teachers said: “With a lot of students it escalates the problem. All the other wannabe bad boys and girls want to follow them.”

Hutt rejected the criticisms. His success at improving results at another Birmingham school, Ninestyles, brought national attention and a knighthood.

When Hutt took over at the school in 1988 only 6% of pupils left with five or more GCSEs. Last year 72% left with five or more A-C grade GCSEs. As a result, Birmingham city council asked him to also take on the International and Waverley schools.

He insisted his methods had worked at the International. “Two years ago the behaviour was appalling. Pupils regularly threatened teachers. In one incident a teacher  narrowly escaped having her hair set on fire,” he said.

“You can’t keep teachers unless you create a climate where children are able to learn. In some schools a small group of students ruin the atmosphere for the majority.

“A student who misbehaves gets two verbal warnings, then detention for one hour and finally a day in the isolation unit.

“It is very rare that a student gets sent there for three days. They either change their behaviour or we have to discuss their future with their parents.”

Ruth Robinson, head of the International school, said children had also been banned from wearing hats and hooded tops — or “hoodies” — inside the building.

Last week the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent banned youths wearing hoodies from the premises as part of a “zero tolerance” approach to antisocial behaviour.

Blair later backed the Bluewater policy when saying he wanted to make the restoration of “respect” for others a central plank of his third administration.

Hazel Blears, the minister for antisocial behaviour, says teenage offenders should be forced to wear US-style distinctive uniforms while carrying out community punishment. The uniforms would identify offenders and reassure the public, she says.

“People feel very strongly that they don’t often see justice being done,” she tells today’s Observer. “I want them to be identified.”

The government is also planning residential parenting courses for dysfunctional families and cheap leisure activities to occupy teenagers.

Elite public schools tighten grip on Oxford

Geraldine Hackett, Education Correspondent

Published March 2007

OXFORD’S attempts to rid itself of its reputation for giving preference to the “old school tie” have been dented by new figures showing it admitted almost twice as many Old Etonians last year as in 2001.

The number of pupils from Eton and other leading independent schools such as Westminster, St Paul’s and Winchester have surged despite efforts by the university to boost its state-school intake. While the overall proportion of state-school pupils has edged up slightly at Oxbridge, elite private institutions have notched up the greatest gains. The main losers have been less prestigious independent schools.

The figures suggest Gordon Brown’s outburst seven years ago against the “privileges” represented by Oxford has been counterproductive. The chancellor claimed it was an “absolute scandal” that Oxford had rejected Laura Spence, a talented Tyne-side comprehensive pupil. He said the university was “reminiscent of an old-boy network”.

While the elite schools insist their success is down to their teaching, Labour critics say Oxbridge has not done enough to encourage state-school pupils.

Barry Sheerman, Labour chairman of the Commons education select committee, blamed the universities for failing to broaden their intake. “Oxford and Cambridge shouldn’t be seen as finishing schools for Eton and Westminster,” he said.

The new data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, give a snapshot comparison between 2001 and 2006. Both universities reduced their independent sector intake by only 177 in that period.

The top-performing schools have achieved spectacular gains. In 2006, 70 pupils from Eton were offered places by Oxford, compared with 38 in 2001. At Westminster school 52 pupils received offers from Oxford, up by 14 from 2001.

There has also been an increase at Cambridge, although it is less marked. North London Collegiate school won 20 places there  in 2006, compared with 17 in 2001; St Paul’s school won 23, compared with 21.

The top school for Oxbridge last year was Westminster, where 60% of the upper sixth won offers from Oxford or Cambridge. Stephen Spurr, the head-master at Westminster, believes Oxbridge is not biased but is searching for the brightest applicants to maintain its position in the world rankings.

Tony Little, Eton’s head master, said he told pupils that a place at Oxford or Cambridge had to be earned. “There is no golden road. The clever dilettante doesn’t wash for Oxford now, if it ever did. We go far beyond the syllabus required for exams.”

Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, denied the university was failing to give due credit to state school applicants.

“The best independent schools are stretching their most able pupils,” he said. “There are ways in which state-school pupils are not as well guided as applicants from independent schools. State schools have had to deal with a shortage of qualified maths and physics teachers. They have also been dropping languages.”

Nigella ousts Einstein in school science

Geraldine Hackett, Education Correspondent

PUPILS at GCSE are to be allowed to abandon learning traditional “hard” science, including the meaning of the periodic table, in favour of “soft” science such as the benefits of genetic engineering and healthy eating.

The statutory requirement for pupils to learn a science subject will be watered down under a new curriculum introduced next year. There will be no compulsion to master the periodic table — the basis of chemistry — nor basic scientific laws that have informed the work of all the great scientists such as Newton and Einstein.

The changes, which the government believes will make science more “relevant” to the 21st century, have been attacked by scientists as a “dumbing down” of the subject.

In June the government had to announce financial incentives to tackle a shortage of science teachers. Academics have estimated that a fifth of science lessons are taught by teachers who are not adequately qualified.

Most children now study for the double-award science GCSE, which embraces elements of biology, chemistry and physics. This GCSE will be scrapped and ministers have agreed that from next year all 14-year-olds will be required to learn about the general benefits and risks of contemporary scientific developments, in a new science GCSE. A harder science GCSE will also be introduced as an optional course

One expert involved in devising the new system believes it will halve the number of state school pupils studying “hard” science. Independent schools and more talented pupils in the state sector are likely to shun the new papers in favour of the GCSEs in the individual science disciplines of physics, chemistry and biology. These will continue to require pupils to achieve an understanding of scientific principles.

The new exams were devised after proposals by academics at King’s College London, who told ministers that science lessons were often “dull and boring” and required pupils to recall too many facts.

Their report said: “Contemporary analyses of the labour market suggest that our future society will need a larger number of individuals with a broader understanding of science both for their work and to enable them to participate as citizens in a democratic society.”

However, Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, warned that reducing the “hard” science taught in schools would create problems. “I can understand the government’s mot- ives,” he said. “There is a crisis of public confidence in science which is reducing the progress of policy on such issues as nuclear energy and stem cell research. But sixth-formers are already arriving at university without the depth of knowledge required.”

Others endorse the new approach. Results at North Chadderton upper school in Oldham — one of 80 schools piloting the new “softer” GCSE, named Twentyfirst Century Science — have improved. Martyn Overy, the head of science, said: “The proportion getting higher grades in science went up from 60% to 75%. The course kept their interest, had more project work and was more relevant.”

As part of their course, the pupils studied what kind of food they needed to keep fit and healthy. Critics say it is only marginally more demanding than following the advice of Nigella Lawson, the television chef, who promotes the benefits of eating proper meals instead of snacking from the fridge.

Some science teachers are sceptical. Mo Afzal, head of science at the independent Warwick school, said: “These changes will widen the gap between independent and state schools. Even the GCSE that is designed for those going on to A-level science is not as comprehensive as the test it replaces.”

John Holman, director of the National Science Learning Centre at York University, who advised the government on the content of the new system, said: “The new exam is not dumbing down. The study of how science works is more of a challenge than rote learning.”

Additional reporting: Tom Baird

All work, no play at Blair flagship school

All work, no play at Blair flagship school

Geraldine Hackett


Britain’s most expensive state school is being built without a playground because those running it believe that pupils should be treated like company employees and do not need unstructured play time.

The authorities at the £46.4m Thomas Deacon city academy in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, due to open this autumn, also believe that the absence of a playground will avoid the risk of “uncontrollable” numbers of children running around in breaks at the 2,200-pupil school.

“We are not intending to have any play time,” said Alan McMurdo, the head teacher. “Pupils won’t need to let off steam because they will not be bored.”

The absence of play time has angered some parents whose children will attend the school, designed by Lord Foster, architect of the “gherkin” office tower in London. But staff insist that it will have the added benefit of avoiding pupils falling victim to playground bullies.

Miles Delap, project manager at the academy, said: “For a school of this size, a playground would have had to be huge. That would have been almost uncontrollable. We have taken away an uncontrollable space to prevent bullying and truancy.”

Anne Kerrison, who has three children, said her 14-year-old son Matthew was devastated when he discovered that he would not be able to kick a casino football around at lunchtime.

“All children need fresh air and a chance to exercise during the school day. Break times are the only unstructured time they get,” she said.

Another city academy, Unity in Middlesbrough, opened in 2002 without a playground, prompting criticism from government inspectors about poor design. The school later built a playground.

Thomas Deacon, nicknamed “the blancmange” because of its rounded shape, will be one of the The DEA Philadelphia Field Division reports that the primary sources of supply for cocaine in the city are Colombian and Dominican organizations, which are capable of moving multikilogram quantities. biggest schools in Europe. Its features will include a “wetland eco-pool” designed “for rain-water collection” planted with wild flowers. It will replace three schools in Peterborough and is one of the showcases of Tony Blair’s academies programme.

Academy schools remain in the state sector but are independent of local councils. They are sponsored by private sector firms which have some say in the management.

The academy’s timetable will be tightly structured and exercise for pupils will take place in PE classes and organised games on adjacent playing fields. There will be a 30-minute lunch period when pupils will be taken to the dining room by their teacher, ensuring they do not sneak away to run around.

McMurdo said refreshments, often taken in break periods at other schools, could be drunk during the school day. “[Pupils] will be able to hydrate during the learning experience,” he said.

Other head teachers questioned the wisdom of the playground ban. Ian Andain, head at a comprehensive in Liverpool, said: “There has to be bit of open space to play football. It is important that pupils can have a run around and expend energy.”

However, Delap, who has run the academy project on behalf of its sponsor, Perkins Engines, and the Deacon school trust, said that playgrounds did not fit into the concept.

Bursaries and scholarships: are you getting enough?

Huge bursary budgets are left unclaimed every year by disadvantaged students, do your homework to make sure you don’t miss out

By Geraldine Hackett


Some £12m in bursaries that should have gone to students from disadvantaged backgrounds starting their degree courses last year was left unclaimed. The reason why such large sums went begging is something of a mystery.

The Office for Fair Access (Offa), the Government agency responsible for increasing opportunity for disadvantaged students, believes students were simply not aware of what was available. Critics say that the complexity of the schemes is the root cause, and blame universities for using the cash to attract the students they want rather than providing for financial hardship.

Funding up for grabs

Universities are offering generous funds for students. For the academic year 2008-9, university expenditure on financial support for students is expected to be around £300m – £100m up on last year. The wealthier universities –Oxford and Cambridge – top the table for generosity.

Students from families on low incomes are eligible for means-tested bursaries of £3,000 a year. (Oxford pays £4,000 in the first year.) Cambridge has no fixed limit on its funds and expects that this year up to a third of the new intake – 2,000 students – will get some bursary money, at a cost to the university of an estimated £2m.

A more typical bursary is £1,000 a year, though some of the newer universities are limited to the minimum £300 a year for students from low income families. There are exceptions. The University of the West of England supports around half its students with bursaries worth up to £1,250 a year. Universities are also giving generous scholarships.

They are not means-tested and universities apply a wide range of criteria to their award. Research commissioned by the Sutton Trust suggests university applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to know about bursaries and scholarships – the exception being students with high GCSE results, who do tend to be aware of the schemes.

Ministers are hoping the changes being put in place for this year’s applicants will improve the take-up. The forms that students are required to fill out have been changed. Applicants will have to opt out of giving their financial information to universities rather than, as previously, consenting to give the information.

More students will become eligible for bursaries because the Government has moved the threshold – it will now be possible for students from families whose income is £25,000 or less to get a full bursary. (The threshold was previously £18,000). In addition, more universities are using the Higher Education Bursary and Scholarship Scheme (HEBBS). It is run by the Student Loans Company (SLC), who allow funds to be channelled through them to students automatically, provided they have consented to give their financial information to the university.

“Institutions are keen to learn from experience,” says Professor Rick Trainor, president of UniversitiesUK. “Those universities that spent less than they estimated have reviewed their access agreements and expect there to be greater take-up in future years.”

Problems with the current system

But the problem remains that schemes are complicated and vary from university to university. The National Union of Students wants the Government to impose a national bursary scheme. Next year’s Government review of university top-up fees will also examine the operation of bursary and scholarship schemes. Within Offa, there is opposition to a national bursary scheme because officials fear it would lead to a levelling down of what is available.

“We think take-up is an awareness problem, and we are still in the early stages of a new system. A national system would have few benefits,” says David Barrett, Offa’s assistant director.

The take-up varies between universities. At Gloucester, students claimed £835,000 of the £1.2m that had been allocated. At City University in London, all of the allocated £900,000 was taken up. Most of the funds paid out by universities goes on means tested bursaries, but large sums are being given by some universities to attract students to courses that are hard to fill or to attract better qualified students than would normally apply to them.

Manchester University will cover the course tuition fees for any chemistry student, regardless of income, who has achieved three As at A-level. Scholarships worth £1,000 a year are given to the most “promising” students that apply for the earth, atmospheric and environmental science courses.

Sheffield University has a list of priority subjects – mainly science and engineering – where it pays bursaries of £260 for each A grade at A-level achieved by applicants.

Hull will pay £1,500 to engineering and technology students who get three Bs or better. Middlesex University has a chancellor’s scholarship that pays £2,000 a year to the student who is considered to have made a significant achievement in sport, community involvement or exam success.

Leeds University offers an organ scholarship worth £450 plus a bursary towards the cost of organ lessons. If a student gains three As at A-level the university gives £500in the first year of entry. It has an enterprise scholarship that offers a one-off payment of up to £4,000. This year it will award 10 enterprise scholarships.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the think tank, the Higher Education Policy Institute, accuses universities of using their funds to meet their strategic goals rather than the financial needs of students. “I think the system is fairly defective at the moment,” he says. “The fact that millions are left unclaimed suggests the schemes are too complex and students find it difficult to find out what is available.”

“Some universities have completely lost sight of the  fact that schemes should be about financing the poorest students. They are offering scholarships to attract applicants to particular courses or they are attempting to boost their student entry qualification profile.”

Is a national scheme the future?

The HEPI has begun an analysis of whether there is a case for a national bursary scheme. The report will examine how each university’s contribution to a national fund could be calculated. The results will be published later this year.

When the bursary scheme was first mooted, the newer universities had wanted a national scheme on the grounds that they would easily be outbid for students by the richer institutions, but they were out-voted. The system as it currently operates is unfair in that two applicants with roughly the same qualifications applying to similar universities can be offered widely different finance packages.

The research shows that the least well-informed applicants are from low income homes with parents who did not go to university – and they are the ones that most need the money.

It is difficult to navigate the system, but the Government has designed a bursary map ( which brings together links to the 219 universities and colleges in England so that applicants can find bursary information for all institutions.

To apply for a bursary, students have to approach the university they are interested in to find out what is on offer and how to apply. For some, bursaries are essential. According to a report from Natwest, last year’s entrants can expect to spend £33,500 during a three-year degree and leave with debts of £14,779.


My story: how I got my hands on a bursary

‘I don’t rely on a job to keep going’

Andy McGowan, 20, who has just finished the first year of his law degree at Cambridge University, finds he does not have to worry too much about money, and can have the odd meal out because he gets a bursary of £3,250 a year. “Textbooks for my course are very expensive, so the bursary has really been very helpful,” he says. “I have a part-time job in the holidays, but I don’t have to rely on a job to keep me going.”

The family income is low because McGowan’s father, 56, has a heart condition and has had to retire. His mother has also retired. McGowan got his place through Cambridge’s special access scheme because the amount of time he had to take off school to help his parents had an impact on his GCSE grades. “I find I am relatively well-off, but there are a lot of very well-off students here.

Some have parents who pay their tuition fees; accommodation costs and all their other expenses,” he says. McGowan is the first in his family to go to university. “I am not from your typical Cambridge background and it is a challenge in terms of work, but I have made loads of friends,” he says.


‘The money helped with my rent’

Charlotte Ferguson, 20, has a music scholarship from the University of Gloucestershire where she is studying psychology.The scholarship is worth £300 a year and to win it she had to complete an exam paper and play the flute for the university’s musical director.

It was one of only two instrumental scholarships. The university also awards three choral scholarships. Ferguson has played the flute from the age 12 and was taught at her independent school, Trent College in Nottingham. She left school with a B grade in business studies; D in music and E in chemistry.

She hopes to pursue a career in music therapy with disabled children. “Music helps such children to communicate. The bursary did make quite a lot of difference because I was living off campus in Cheltenham, which is expensive,” she says.

The flat Ferguson shares costs her £75 a week. The university has much to offer students with musical talents. Ferguson sings in the university choir and the chamber choir run by the university’s musical director, Ian Higginson. She also had a part in the university’s version of The Boyfriend. “The campus where I am is quite small so you get to know everyone,” she says. Ferguson has to audition every year to retain her bursary.

University choice: The cost of getting it wrong

Few state schools teach their students about the status differences between universities – even though it is a big factor in how much money they will earn.

Geraldine Hackett reports


Durham Johnston, in the North-east, is one of the few state comprehensives that can give independent schools a run for their money when it comes to getting its pupils into the top universities.

Steve McArdle, head of sixth form, makes it clear to his students that a degree from the University of Warwick will set you up for a high-flying career in a way that may not be case if you get a degree from London Metropolitan or Thames Valley universities.

“I know it is considered politically incorrect by some teachers, but I tell our sixth-formers that employers will be more concerned about which university they attended than the class of their degree,” McArdle says.

Research commissioned by the Sutton Trust and carried out by London”s Institute of Education suggests that McArdle may be unusual in the state sector in pointing out that if you, say, want a job with a big city law firm or a high-powered finance company, you are better off getting a place at a Russell Group university.

“I can understand teachers” reluctance to stress the different status of universities,” he says. “The children”s parents or teachers in the school might be graduates from Teesside University. But it would be doing the pupils a disservice not to provide the information.”

Durham Johnston sends 42 per cent of its sixth-form students to Russell Group universities. It is one of the relatively few comprehensives in the country to send significant numbers of students to the most prestigious institutions.

Even in the successful schools, teachers are reluctant to draw attention to status differences between universities, according to the Sutton Trust study, which surveyed comprehensives that have a good track record in sending pupils to highly selective universities. Many students appeared to have only a vague notion of the status of individual institutions.

The research is backed up by an online questionnaire of 3,000 young people, carried out by PeopleSurv for the Sutton Trust. It found that 51 per cent of people educated in state schools believe that there is no difference in earnings between graduates of different universities, compared with 35 per cent from independent schools who think that there is. Teenagers from poorer backgrounds were the least likely to be aware of the differences.

Schools also fail to warn pupils that they may be jeopardising their chances of getting in to a top university by opting for “soft” A-levels. That is because some universities won”t accept soft subjects such as film studies, media studies, leisure studies or dance. Cambridge University, for example, advises applicants against taking more than one subject from a list of 25 “soft” subjects that appears on its website.

“Doing these A-levels individually is not a problem – it is doing too many of them,” says Geoff Parks, Cambridge”s director of admissions. “We know the schools” bright students are on track to get As, but in subject combinations that essentially rule them out.”

The new National Council for Educational Excellence, in a report to be published later in the summer, is expected to recommend that every secondary school appoint a senior teacher to give guidance to pupils about their choice of courses from age 14. League tables ranking schools on the proportion of pupils they send to university could also be published.

The wrong choice of university can cost a great deal in terms of getting a highly paid job. Research by the London School of Economics (not yet published) suggests that the wage returns for graduates from a top-ranked university can be as much as twice as high as the returns for a graduate from a more lowly ranked institution.

Separate research at London”s Institute of Education has found that nearly one-fifth casino online of graduates from elite universities in the mid-1990s were now earning more than £90,000, compared with only eight per cent and five per cent of those who had gone to other “old” and “new” universities. More than one-third of the graduates from elite universities now owned their home outright, compared with 21 per cent of graduates from other universities and 13 per cent of non-graduates.

Does all this research constitute evidence that state schools are failing their university applicants? Most schools insist that they do tell pupils that universities differ in status. However, one head, who did not want to be named, says that it probably is the case that some schools don”t encourage their students to apply to the elite universities.

“There are some teachers who think their pupils won”t fit in at the top universities,” he says. “There are teachers who are antagonistic to the idea of privilege, and that is how they see elite universities. We encourage our students to apply for the top universities, but we are not particularly critical of ‘new’ universities. Those new universities might be the best bet for some of our students.”

At St Charles Catholic sixth-form college in Ladbroke Grove, west London, where 82 per cent of pupils are from ethnic minorities, a group of AS-level students has a hazy grasp of the university pecking order. They know that Oxford and Cambridge are the top two universities, but have not heard of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, though they knew that Imperial College and Warwick are leading universities.

They do, however, have a good idea of the universities they want to go to and the grades they would need. Abigaile Cawley Gentles, 18, who has Jamaican parents, is predicted to get grades of AABC at A-level, and hopes to go to UCL to do architecture. Zainab Moh, 17, who lived in Nigeria until she was nine, knows she needs A grades if she is to get a place at King”s College London to study medicine. Mara Wamot, 18, who is Polish, is applying to Portsmouth to do sports science; she would have preferred to go to Loughborough, but doesn”t think she will get the four As needed.

To help with their choices, the college organised a special day for them with admission tutors from 25 universities. Paul O”Shea, the college”s principal, admits that his students are probably not as clued up about the differences between universities as those from independent schools, but that doesn”t stop them getting places at leading universities, he says.

“We know students” predicted grades and we advise them on their Ucas choices. This year we have three students holding Oxford offers. If a student has the potential to go to a top university, we make sure they apply,” he says.

The findings of the PeopleSurv poll have prompted the Russell Group of universities to hold special conferences to inform teachers and advisers about applying to university. “We are alarmed at increasing evidence that some teachers may not be encouraging some of their students to consider Russell Group universities,” says Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group. “It is particularly important that pupils from families who haven”t been to university, or who have less knowledge about higher education than others, are given robust support and guidance at school.”

The Institute of Education”s research on successful schools recommended that pupils be encouraged to think about university entrance much earlier than they currently do. This is particularly important in schools without sixth forms, where the model of high-aspiring sixth-form students is missing, they say. Their study found that large sixth forms are generally more successful, and warned against the proliferation of small ones.

The study also suggested that the Government set up pilot programmers of extra support for the application process in schools less experienced at getting their pupils into leading universities. But Durham Johnston”s McArdle believes that even such efforts will leave state schools at a disadvantage. “The independent schools can invest more time on getting their pupils into the target universities,” he says. “They cultivate their links with admission tutors. We have to work just as hard at it.”