The proportion of teenagers on free school meals going on to higher education has fallen for the first time since 2005-6, new figures reveal.
Department for Education data shows that in 2013-14 – by which time £9,000 tuition fees were in place – just 22 per cent of 19-year-olds who were receiving free school meals (FSM) aged 15 were in higher education.
Previously, this proportion had been rising, peaking at 23 per cent in 2012-13, from a low of 13 per cent in 2005-6 – the earliest year in today's data.
The figures also show that there has been little progress in the past five years on closing the gap between the numbers of teenagers on FSM and other pupils successfully progressing to university.
In 2013-14 this gap stood at 17 percentage points, only a marginal change from 2009-10 when it was 18 points (see graph below) .
'A gap persists depending on a student's background'
The figures also reveal that the overall number of state-educated students going to university and colleges fell by four percentage points in 2013-14.
The statistics have been published in the same week that the government scrapped maintenance grants for students from poor backgrounds and replaced them with loans.
Critics, including the National Union of Students, have said that this could deter young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university.
Today’s figures also reveal there has been a slight rise in the difference between the numbers of state-educated and privately educated students going to the top third of universities, with the most demanding entry requirements.
In 2013-14, 64 per cent of A-level students in private schools went to the top universities, compared with just 23 per cent of their counterparts in state schools:
Universities minister Jo Johnson responded to the figures today, saying: "We are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged young people going to university and benefiting from the real opportunities that our world-class universities can offer.
"But, with a gap still persisting depending on a student's background, there is still more work to do to build a society that works for everyone.
"Everyone in our country should be allowed to rise as far as their talents will take them, whoever they are and wherever they're from. We will not rest until every young person in our country has the chance to fulfil their promise."