Russell group numbers soar in Newham

This year, more students than ever before are progressing from Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) to Russell group universities. Once again the college has the highest number of Russell group progressors of any Newham sixth form.

90 NewVIc students have progressed to Russell group universities in 2015. This means that the college’s Russell group numbers have more than doubled over a 3 year period of steady and consistent increase:

2012: 42

2013: 60

2014: 71

2015: 90

For the second year running NewVIc is making the biggest contribution to what is a strong increase in Russell group numbers from one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas in England. New selective providers in the area have also contributed to this but it is clear that selection at 16 has not been a pre-requisite for achieving success in university progression – including to the most selective universities. At NewVIc, our pioneering Honours programme has been the key to these improved numbers and it was established well before all 4 of the new selective sixth forms in the borough.

NewVIc is already the sixth form which has the most students eligible for free school meals progressing to university in the whole of England. The college is also doing its best to ensure that these students get their share of places at the most selective universities. We do not regard Russell group progression rates as the sole measure of social mobility but in a borough where they have been below the national average we clearly want to see them rise.

These increases, together with those from other Newham sixth forms, will mean that the proportion of Newham teenagers making it to Russell group institutions will have doubled or even tripled between 2012 and 2015. The 2012 figures for Newham showed around 80 students progressing to Russell group universities from all the borough’s providers. This year’s figure could well be over 200. Unfortunately, the published national statistics on this lag a couple of years behind so we don’t yet have the official data.

What NewVIc’s Russell group increase shows is that it is possible to achieve high progression to the most selective universities without necessarily establishing separate highly selective sixth forms premised on keeping most students out and segregating high achievers from their peers. Sixth forms with broad, inclusive curricula and comprehensive admissions can also promote high aspirations.

In other words we can have social mobility without social segregation. In fact I would argue that a system designed for all is actually better placed to promote excellence for all.

Finally, we find ourselves once again having to point out errors in the statements of one of our local competitors, the London Academy or Excellence (LAE) a 16-18 free school. This time last year, they claimed that Newham students had not been able to study ‘traditional’ A-levels like biology, maths and history in Newham before the creation of their school in 2012. In fact, these subjects, and all those offered by LAE have been thriving at NewVIc for over 20 years.

This year they are claiming that “before LAE opened only 46 Newham sixth formers from Newham schools secured places at Russell group universities.” In fact, the figure for 2012 was at least 80 and this statement is only true if one chooses to completely ignore the largest sixth form in the borough. This amounts to a fairly breathtaking rewriting of history for the second year running.

Perhaps it is time for the champions of the London Academy of Excellence to at least acknowledge that their model is not the only one which can achieve student success.

Richard Cairns, the head of Brighton College and a governor of LAE has said:

“We must get away from the idea that we can successfully deliver both vocational and academic courses in the same school”.

In fact, these courses have co-existed successfully at NewVIc throughout the period of strong increase in Russell group numbers.

Former Eton headmaster Tony Little, also an LAE governor, asked in 2012:

“Where in Newham can you get that unabashed approach to academic work, leading to a top university?”

Well…it seems that the answer, for a very substantial cohort of young people at least, is:

“At Newham Sixth Form College”.

See also:

Can we celebrate success without rewriting history? (August 2014)

Post-16: education’s wild frontier (July 2014)

College success with disadvantaged students (June 2014)

A tale of two boroughs (May 2014)


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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5 Responses to Russell group numbers soar in Newham

  1. Another phenomenal success and it is testament to the hard work and solid ethic of teachers and pupils alike. Those from NewVic going on to Russell Groups have the privilege of knowing that their success is due to their diligence and commitment, and what’s more, they can look forward to enjoying yet greater success once they get there. Congratulations to all those who have secured places at university and those who are moving onto different paths. You are setting a more and more visible path for the kids in Newham’s primaries and secondaries.


  2. Rhonda Evans says:

    Great to read this.


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