University 'a natural step' for SW1 pupils

With its mixture of 17th-century grandeur and sleek modernity, Grey Coat Hospital seems every inch the type of school which the Higher Education Funding Council for England says is turning out a disproportionate number of university students. But its location in a wealthy enclave of Westminster in the sought-after SW1 postcode area, does not tell the whole story.

Rachel Allard, headteacher, says many local parents send their children to private schools, leaving her with a more challenging intake than the postcode suggests. And with Victoria Station just down the road, the Church of England girls' comprehensive attracts students from all over London.

Nevertheless, 84 per cent of the students in the mixed sixth form go on to university. "All those who want to go, do so, on the whole," Mrs Allard said.

"We have quite a lot of students who think about university from the time they enter school. They help teachers to create the expectation that it is the natural next step. It's not peer pressure, it's peer encouragement."

For the students who are the first in their families to contemplate taking a degree, the school has a member of staff involved in the Aimhigher project to offer information and encouragement. However, Mrs Allard said that despite the HEFCE report's finding that tuition fees were not deterring students, fear of debt incurred by university fees remained a major worry among poor families.

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