A top university has faced harsh criticism after it was revealed it gave a third of scholarships aimed at disadvantaged local teenagers to private school pupils.
In December, the University of Bristol announced it would lower entry requirements for some students in a bid to improve social mobility, giving priority to young carers, teens in care and those who receive free school meals, among others.
“We want to recruit the most able students, regardless of their background”, Vice Chancellor Professor Hugh Brady said at the time.
But figures obtained by student newspaper Epigram have shown that 33% of these adjusted offers - based on potential and progress rather than grades - have been made to private school students.
With 14% of sixth formers nationally attending private schools, critics claim that independent school pupils are overrepresented on the scheme.
The university has defended its decision, saying these pupils fulfil the “widening participation criteria”.
The 93% Club, the university’s state school society, told the paper it “lamented” the fact that independent schools have been included in the Bristol Scholars programme.
“Students from state-funded schools will by and large not have the same opportunities that those from independent schools enjoy,” a spokesperson said.
“It would therefore not make sense to include those who already have had the privilege of a private education, at the expense of state school students who would better benefit from the opportunity.”
One in four children in Bristol currently live in poverty.
As part the innovative social mobility scheme, Bristol University vowed to offer five pupils with “high potential” from every school and college in the city a guaranteed place to study the course of their choice.
But some teachers and organisations have defended the scheme, suggesting that need is not always due to poverty:
Lucy Collins, head of UK recruitment at Bristol University, said: “Bristol Scholars from independent schools who have been offered places had to fulfil one or more widening participation criteria in order to be selected. For example, they may have faced a disrupted education due to ill health or family difficulties.”
“At the heart of the Bristol Scholars scheme is the determination to provide opportunities for local students whose potential is not recognised in their predicted A Level results.”