Russell group offers: hype and reality

Comprehensive sixth form college: 162

Selective 16-19 free school: 100

I wrote here about the misleading use of Russell group offer data to demonstrate the impact of a new 16-19 free school in our area. The fact that 100 students from the highly selective London Academy of Excellence had at least one Russell group offer was seen by some as a triumph worthy of national press coverage.

While not wishing in any way to minimise this achievement, I pointed out that in the previous year, 137 students from Newham sixth form college (NewVIc) had Russell group offers and that 60 of these had subsequently progressed to Russell group institutions, a big improvement on the previous year.

We now have the data for this year and can compare like with like. With only 4 applicants still to hear about potential Russell group offers, 162 NewVIc applicants have one or more Russell group offers, a further increase on last year. Overall, 226 Russell group offers have been made to NewVIc students.

It has not been our choice to engage in a competition about offer numbers and we have never done this before, but if new post-16 providers are going to use offer numbers to claim success, it seems only fair for existing providers to do the same. Our mission is broad and comprehensive and we don’t regard Russell group numbers are the key measure of our students’ success but we do recognise that historic progression rates to the more selective universities have been lower than average in our borough despite very high progression rates to university overall. We want our students to benefit from the full range of university opportunities available and our Honours programme has been very successful in increasing the number of students progressing to more selective universities in an increasingly competitive HE market.

We try not to refer to Russell group universities as “best”, “top” or “elite”. They are brilliant places to study, but so are many other universities. These are simply among the more selective on average and we are increasingly successful in getting students to progress to them.

So perhaps we can tone down the hype and try to avoid making outlandish claims. Instead, let’s celebrate the achievements of all students as well as the fact that different kinds of sixth form provider are making their contribution to an increase in progression to the most selective universities. But please…don’t ignore the contribution of established and comprehensive sixth form colleges like ours.

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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