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Comprehensive success is driven by high aspirations

Pupils at Durham Johnston Comprehensive could not be accused of suffering from the low aspirations that Sutton Trust researchers say afflict many state schools.

Around 10 per cent of pupils go to Oxbridge and 27 per cent go to one of the top 13 universities as identified by the trust.

Carolyn Roberts, its headteacher (above), believes that keeping aspirations high is one of three keys to the school's success. The others are rigorous use of academic data to set individual targets for pupils and maintaining close links with university admissions officers so that teachers are experts on what is needed to win places on particular courses.

"There are very few pupils who stick with us until the end who don't get what they need for their first-choice university," she said. "This summer 92 per cent of our pupils got their first choice. The preparation is very thorough."

Students from Year 11 onwards are encouraged to think about their university careers. In Year 12 they attend practice interviews, take courses to help them write high-quality personal statements on their application forms, and are offered a range of university open day visits.

"Our sixth form know they are expected to be in school all day, wear a uniform and take part in supervised study sessions," Mrs Roberts said. "There is no time for them to lounge about."

Bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds can be tempted to follow vocational courses which they think will more readily lead to jobs, she said. "This can encourage some not to pursue the academic routes where they could secure places at good universities," she said.

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