THE GAP between poorer Bournemouth students and their more affluent peers attending university is one of the widest in the country, figures show.

The Sutton Trust said the university access gap across England – which is as large now as it was 14 years ago – is evidence of "stubborn and ingrained inequalities" in the education system.

Data from the Department for Education shows that of 190 students in Bournemouth who received free school meals at the age of 15, just 27 (14.2 per cent) were at university in 2019-20 – down from 20.5 per cent the year before. In Poole, 16 per cent of students on free school meals were in university in 2019-20.

Of 1,459 other pupils in Bournemouth not on free school meals, 44.6 per cent were studying in higher education at the age of 19, which was up from 43.3 per cent in 2018-19. In Poole, 42 per cent of pupils not on free school meals entered university during the same period.

This meant the progression rate gap between poorer pupils and non-disadvantaged students in Bournemouth rose to 30.4 percentage points last year (25.6 per cent in Poole) – among the largest in England.

Across England, 26.6 per cent of pupils who received free school meals at age 15 were participating in higher education in 2019-20, compared to 45.7 per cent of those who did not receive meals.

At 19.1 percentage points, this gap is the widest it has been since 2005-06, and varies significantly throughout the country.

A BCP Council spokesperson said: “We are entering a third year of pandemic related disruption of the assessment and data collection process, which means that nationally progression gaps are not currently accurately mapped. This year youngest pupils will have no official baseline and we expect to see continued disruption for an extended period.

“In the BCP Council area we do have a good overview of progression rates from school based assessment as well as national reporting and results. This has shown better outcomes for all pupils over the past 2 years from all groups.

“Many pupils from disadvantaged groups have also been getting into better than expected universities and entering high quality employment. Pupils in the most advantaged households have done even better than before however which accounts for the increased gap.

“We want to ensure brighter futures and equal access to high quality education for young people across our area. Working with local schools, we have done a number of things which we believe will help to address the progression gap.’’