The gap between poor students and their more affluent peers attending university has widened to its largest point for 12 years, new figures show.
The proportion of white British boys eligible for free school meals (FSM) entering higher education has also fallen in the past year, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).
Better-off pupils are significantly more likely to go to university than their more disadvantaged peers and the gap between the two groups – 18.8 percentage points – is the widest it has been since 2006/07.
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The latest statistics show that 26.3% of pupils eligible for FSMs went on to university in 2018/19, compared with 45.1% of those who did not receive free meals.
Only 12.7% of white British males who were eligible for FSMs went to university by the age of 19 – and the progression rate has fallen slightly for the first time since 2011/12, according to the DfE analysis.
But the Government’s Widening Participation in Higher Education report reveals significant regional differences across England in the likelihood of getting university places.
Almost half (49%) of FSM pupils in inner London go to university by the age of 19. This is higher than non-FSM pupils anywhere outside London.
Fewer than a fifth of FSM pupils attend higher education in some areas of England – including in the South West (17.2%), South East (17.7%) and the East Midlands (18.3%).
Progression rates have risen for all ethnic groups in the latest year except for black pupils – where it has dropped for the first time in a decade from 59.9% in 2017/18 to 59.1% in 2018/19, the report found.
Black pupils are still the least likely ethnic group to progress into higher tariff universities at 9.8% in 2018/19, although this rate has more than doubled since 2009/10.