It's a graduation ceremony like no other. Proud parents of 350 students whoop and cheer as their offspring, wearing mortar boards and gowns, collect their certificates at city hall.

The students are 13-year-olds who have completed a Junior University course, pioneered by Hull and two local universities. Already more than 1,000 pupils have graduated from the 'Achievers in Excellence' programme, which began three years ago with the aim of raising the aspirations of youngsters from working-class backgrounds.

The idea is that a positive experience at an early age will result in more pupils considering university as an option in the future. The top 10 per cent of Year 8 pupils at each of the 15 secondary schools in the city are invited to attend the five-day course which is held on Saturday mornings over a five-month period.

They work on the university campuses, meet and work with other high achievers from schools across the city and participate in practical sessions that aim to make them more effective learners.

Every pupil who completes the course - and around 95 per cent do - gets a guaranteed conditional offer of a place at both Lincoln and Hull Universities, which they can take up after completing A-levels.

Lincoln University's John Knowles, who conceived the scheme, says: "Because of the nature of the city and the catchment areas of the schools, very often the brightest kids feel very isolated.

"The notion is that we can bring the brightest kids together to gain a critical mass of high attainment."

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