Around half of UK secondary schools did not provide a single applicant to study medicine over a three year period, new research suggests.
The University of Nottingham study commissioned by the Medical Schools Council (MSC) found that 20 per cent of schools and colleges provide 80 per cent of applicants to medicine, with grammar and independent schools responsible for about half of all applications.
The findings were published as the MSC released the final report of its Selecting for Excellence project, looking into how to widen access to medical degrees to people from less privileged backgrounds.
The report spells out how medical schools and other organisations can work together to improve access, through outreach programmes, for example.
A key problem that needed to be addressed was widening access for people who did not live near one of the UK’s 33 medical schools, it said.
It also calls on the NHS to expand the provision of work experience for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The report also stresses the importance of “contextualised admissions” - taking into account the educational, social and economic background of an applicant when considering them for interview.
The Nottingham University research, published alongside, adds: “The school level analyses produced, in general, a picture that depicts medicine applications being dominated by a small proportion of UK secondary schools and colleges, typically selective, and with applicants who are very likely to come from professional or managerial family backgrounds, and neighbourhoods with high participation rates in higher education and low indices of multiple deprivation.
“These schools and colleges are also associated with large numbers of Asian and white applicants and small numbers of black applicants.”
It added that relying solely on single measures of educational attainment – such as A Levels or performance in aptitude tests - was “likely to disadvantage” applicants from poor or ethnic minority backgrounds, especially those of Black African or Caribbean heritage.
The research shows that 2,746 schools and colleges contributed approximately 25,000 applicants to medicine from 2009-11, from the 5,250 establishments offering A-level and equivalent qualifications.
The number of applicants from different schools varied from a single applicant in many cases to a maximum of over 170.
Just under half of UK schools did not have any applicant to medicine that took the UKCAT test – the medical aptitude test used by the majority of the UK’s medical schools.
Professor Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access, said: “The report and guidance will help medical schools work harder and smarter to ensure that everyone who has the potential to become an excellent doctor has the opportunity to do so, regardless of their background.’
David Johnston, a member of Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, added: ‘For a long time medicine has unfortunately been one of the most difficult professions to access for those from less privileged backgrounds, particularly when it comes to areas like work experience.
“Today’s report shows real commitment from individuals across the profession to try and change that."