Elite sixth forms will benefit poorer pupils, Eton promises

Academics commissioned to 'road-test' admissions policies for new schools proposed by private school and academy trust

Academics commissioned to 'road-test' admissions policies for new schools proposed by private school and academy trust

Three new sixth forms run by Eton and Star Academies are set to open in the Midlands and North

A private school teaming up with an academy trust to open elite sixth forms in deprived parts of England has promised a “laser-like focus” on ensuring poorer children benefit.

Eton College and Star Academies have commissioned academics to “road-test” admissions’ policies, and say an outreach programme in the areas where the schools are proposed will target pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The two organisations submitted bids to open new selective sixth forms in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham. Ministers have said they want to see a wave of elite post-16 institutions across England as part of the “levelling-up” agenda.

But campaigners warned earlier this year that the new settings would lead to “selection for a lucky few and rejection for the majority” after a study found elite sixth forms taught few poorer pupils and recruited heavily from neighbouring areas.

Challenged by Schools Week at the Schools and Academies Show about how the new schools would avoid these problems, Tom Arbuthnott, Eton’s deputy head, said the two organisations had a “laser-like focus on the kind of kids that we want to help”.

This included recipients of the pupil premium and those who would be the first in their families to go to university.

Arbuthnott said it was “premature” to set out the proposed schools’ admissions policies, but said Eton and Star were working with the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities at UCL.

Academics ‘road-testing’ admissions policies

“We’ve asked them what we can do in terms of our post-16 admissions policy to make sure that the project is focused on the kids who really need our help.

“They’re currently doing a phase two of that project where they’re interrogating the pupil database to road-test potential policies.”

But he admitted that target pupils “may not necessarily be in the exact localities that we’re talking about…because in a sense, our strategy is regional”.

Schools Week revealed earlier this year that FFT Education Datalab analysis found that 6 per cent of pupils attending the most selective sixth forms outside London were disadvantaged, compared with a national average of 17 per cent of all year 12 pupils.

Meanwhile, just 60 per cent of pupils at such schools lived in the same local authority area, compared with 82 per cent across all sixth forms.

According to Arbuthnott, the two organisations would also run an “outreach programme” in the three areas, which all have “lots of 11-16 schools”.

This would aim to “identify bright kids in those 11-16 schools and to start working with them at the age of 13, 14 to start raising eyes from the ground, to start getting them to think about their pathway into high top-tier universities”.

Eton-X, the private school’s online learning platform, which was rolled out free to state schools during the pandemic, would be a “very successful part of that outreach model”, Arbuthnott said.

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