Poor pupils to be ‘mentored’ into top universities

Bright graduates will mentor potentially high-achieving pupils from poor backgrounds to apply for places at the UK’s top universities, the government has announced.

Participants from the teacher training Teach First scheme – including those that have moved into roles in industry – will mentor disadvantaged but gifted and talented pupils in a bid to raise participation in the most academically demanding courses.

Pupils on free school meals and who have also been identified as “gifted and talent” will receive support from Teach First Advocates in applying for highly competitive courses.

The advocates will also work with their own teaching peers to raise expectations of what pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds can achieve.

Announcing the scheme today, schools minister Andrew Adonis said the programme was designed to give gifted and talented pupils the confidence and skills needed to apply for the most academic institutions.

Mr Adonis said: “Teach First graduates are already exceptional individuals who are well equipped to become advocates of higher education, providing structured support and information to bright young people who may not recognise the value of a university education because of their family background.

“This programme is designed to raise their aspirations and help them secure admission to the most demanding higher education courses and the most competitive universities.

“We are determined to break the link between deprivation and underachievement which prevents many young people from securing places at university.”

However, the Liberal Democrats said the scheme relied on gifted and talent pupils from deprived backgrounds being identified in the first place.

With just seven per cent of gifted and talent pupils receiving free school meals, the Liberal Democrats point out children from low income families are half as likely to be identified as gifted.

Lib Dem schools spokesman David Laws said: “It is disturbing that young people from low income families are only half as likely as other children to be in the government’s gifted and talented programme.

“If more children from deprived backgrounds aren’t identified in the first placed, today’s announcement will make little difference.”

Higher education minister Bill Rammell said the initiative would address many of these concerns.

Mr Rammell said: “There is talent and potential out there and if it is not being properly identified or nurtured at an early enough stage it is in danger of being unfulfilled. Teach First Advocates create a real opportunity to put that right.”

The mentoring will be piloted in London before being rolled out at state schools across the capital, the Black Country and greater Manchester.

It will be supported by £15 million of funding over the next three years.