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Don’t overlook non-Russell Group universities

Non-Russell Group UniversitiesShouldn’t we be encouraging our children to take a look at what other universities have to offer? A Good Schools Guide writer offers a personal view.

Applying to university is a complex business – for teenagers, teachers and parents alike.

By this stage in the year many youngsters will have already submitted their university applications for degree courses starting in 2018. The deadline for Oxbridge, for instance – and for most medicine, veterinary science and dentistry courses – was back in October.

But the closing date for the majority of other courses is January 15 next year, so some are still scrutinising the UCAS website, weighing up the pros and cons of different courses and universities and poring over their personal statements.

Why, though, do so many schools focus predominantly on Russell Group universities? When Good Schools Guide writers quiz heads and teachers about their pupils’ university destinations after A levels and the IB, most seem to measure their success by the number of Russell Group places they’ve notched up.

The Russell Group, incidentally, comprises 24 leading universities, ranging from Oxford and Cambridge to Bristol and York. All of them, says the Russell Group website, are ‘committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector’.

That’s great, but can’t the same be said of virtually all universities in the UK? And shouldn’t we be encouraging our children to probe a little deeper and take a look at what non-Russell Group universities have to offer? Automotive engineering at Coventry University is first class, for example, while Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) graduates have scored notable successes in the ultra-competitive creative industries. Five graduates from AUB’s costume and performance design degree course worked on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which won an Oscar for achievement in costume design this year.

Study the university rankings too. If your son or daughter is thinking of studying architecture for instance, you may be interested to learn that Huddersfield is ranked fifth in the country according to The Guardian’s 2018 University Guide. Not only that, it ranks higher than Russell Group institutions like Cardiff, Queen’s University Belfast and Newcastle.

Similarly, if your child has their sights set on a degree in materials or mineral engineering, did you know that Loughborough is third in The Guardian’s 2018 league table, ahead of the mighty Imperial College? Non-Russell Group Swansea is sixth – ahead of Russell Group institutions like Queen Mary University of London, Manchester and Sheffield.

My own son went to Swansea University and benefited hugely from studying materials science and engineering at the stunning new Bay Campus, which boasts cutting-edge labs, state-of-the-art technology and breathtaking views across Swansea Bay. He received brilliant teaching and support and took great pride in the university’s involvement in world-class projects (such as the supersonic Bloodhound programme, which aims to break the world land speed record next year) and its links with companies like Rolls-Royce and Tata Steel.

When I posted off my own university application form 30 years ago (yes, I did say posted) the only information I had to go on came courtesy of a thin blue UCCA handbook.Today’s students have a wealth of facts, figures and data to help them decide. Instead of directing them down a narrow pathway shouldn’t we be encouraging them to broaden their outlook? It might well be that Russell Group universities offer them the degrees they want to do, but there are many gems among our non-Russell Group institutions. Some place greater emphasis on work experience and building industry contacts too, both of which are increasingly important in the post-graduation job market. It’s worth having a look.

Do just how do schools get into our good books

21st BookAt the recent Independent Schools Show in London, our consultants worked non-stop advising parents about scholarships, bursaries, SEND, boarding schools, gifted children, London schools and much else besides. Parents were also curious to know more about The Good Schools Guide itself, so here are the answers to some of those most frequently asked questions.

Have you visited every school in The Guide?
We certainly have! We have writers all over the country who know the education scene in their areas inside out. Every one of our reviews is the result of a school visit during which we interview the head, sit in on lessons, talk to pupils, eat lunch (usually), and look at facilities – including boarding accommodation. We also talk to parents and conduct background research into things such as the school’s long-term academic record, local reputation and history.

How do you choose which schools go in to The Guide?
We rely on our writers’ local knowledge and parents’ suggestions – we always follow these up, but they don’t always result in a school being included. In the case of primary schools and private preps this may be because they are too small, too specifically local, or both – we simply can’t include them all. When it comes to senior schools we monitor academic achievement – not just the number of A*s but things like value added (difference between pupils’ academic attainment on entry and exit), pastoral care, local reputation etc. If your local school isn’t in the guide and you think it should be, get in touch.

Do schools ever get taken out of The Guide?
Yes, of course. It’s not a decision we take lightly or hastily, but if a school consistently falls below its hitherto high standard – in matters such as leadership, safeguarding, pupils’ performance etc we may remove it temporarily or permanently.

What is a good school?
The rather unscientific answer is that a good school is the school that is right for your child. Our writers assess schools in many different ways, but what makes our reviews unique is that we write about schools from a parent’s point of view. What’s the head like? Is the school run a nightmare? Do all the children get a match? What kind of families send their children to this school? Whether we’re writing about primary schools, preps, grammars, schools for children with special needs, comprehensives or private schools, we aim to answer the question: what kind of child would be happy here?

Do you have a question about The Good Schools Guide? Contact [email protected]


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