Sixth-form hails Oxbridge offers

Mid Devon Star: This is just the beginning, says Barnaby Lenon, chairman of governors at LAE
This is just the beginning, says Barnaby Lenon, chairman of governors at LAE

A free school for sixth-form pupils in one of Britain's most deprived areas is poised to send six of its students to Oxford or Cambridge University.

The London Academy of Excellence (LAE) in Stratford, east London, is said to have secured more Oxbridge offers on its first attempt than all other schools in the borough of Newham last year.

The LAE, a selective sixth-form for 16 to 19 year olds, opened its doors to its first intake of 207 pupils in September 2012 after being set up by independent Brighton College in East Sussex.

Backed by seven other leading public schools, including Eton and Roedean, LAE's aim is to draw London's brightest children from poor backgrounds to prepare them for the best universities.

Newham is the second most deprived borough in England. At almost 40%, the average free school meal rate in the area is significantly higher than the national average of around 14%.

Teachers have hailed the Oxbridge success of LAE students Onkar Singh, Zeeshan Iqbal, Olivia Hylton-Pennant, William Sorflaten, Audrey Walela and Amena Ali.

They have received conditional offers to study at Downing, Newnham and Robinson colleges, Cambridge, and Wadham College, Oxford.

Onkar Singh, who aims to study modern foreign languages at Downing College, said: "I chose to apply to Cambridge because having been taught by three teachers at LAE who went to Oxbridge I wanted to acquire the same level of passion and understanding that they brought to every lesson."

One of the goals of LAE - which was the first sixth-form college to be set up under the Government's free schools programme - is to promote social mobility.

LAE headmaster Robert Wilne said: "I am delighted that 15 LAE sixth formers were invited for interview at Oxford and Cambridge and that six have secured offers."

Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, said his work as a governor at Kingsford Community School in Newham convinced him that there was a need for an academic sixth-form college to prime students for entry to top universities.

He said: "Too many youngsters I spoke to thought that university was not for them.

"Even those who had aspirations to go to university were choosing A-level subjects like sociology and media studies that were of limited value in securing offers from the best institutions.

"I realised that we needed to provide a curriculum that focused on those hard subjects that Russell Group universities tend to demand.

"With Joan Deslandes, head of Kingsford Community School, I then approached a number of independent schools, including Eton, Roedean, Highgate and Caterham, and asked them to support the project.

"They were quick to respond. Each of us decided to sponsor a particular A-level subject, mentoring teachers, providing curricular support and assisting with university preparations."

He added: "The free school initiative allowed us to create a model that played to our strengths. In the independent sector, we have great experience of teaching rigorous academic subjects and preparing youngsters for entry to demanding universities."

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of governors at LAE and former head of Harrow, said: "We are very pleased with these results which suggest there is much untapped potential in the maintained sector. But we have only been open for four terms, so for us this is just the beginning."

Students aiming for a place at LAE have to achieve at least an A grade in the GCSE subjects they want to continue studying in Year 12.

In addition, they also have to have at least five A or A* GCSE grades overall, and at least a B in GCSE maths and English language.

LAE students have to dress formally in dark coloured suits. They are told to "always aim to present yourself as you would for an interview at a top university, or for a professional role in a prestigious company".

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