PUPILS from disadvantaged backgrounds who want to go to university will be able to make contact with each other for the first time through a groundbreaking social messaging service.

The new Focus Point website, which has been developed to help widen access, has a unique student forum where pupils from low participation schools can discuss their university applications and other issues online.

The forum - which covers some 40 schools in the west of Scotland, but could eventually involve up to 90 across the country - has been developed to combat the difficulties facing pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds if they want to go to university or college.

Such pupils can be the only ones in their school applying and there is no natural peer group to discuss their options - unlike schools where significant numbers go on to higher education.

Pupils in this position are also more likely to come from families who have not had an experience of higher education which they can share.

The Focus Point website, funded with £90,000 from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) under the Schools for Higher Education Programme (Shep), also contains a range of other resources including information on what qualifications pupils need in order to apply for particular university courses.

Dr Bernadette Sanderson, director of Focus West, which is part of the Shep programme, said giving pupils a way of communicating was crucial to the success of widening access.

She said: "If you are a pupil at one of the schools which have low progression rates then the culture is very different from schools where there is a high number of pupils regularly going on to higher education.

"You could be the only one in your entire year group wanting to go to university so the idea, when we were developing the website, was to use the social networking type of model as a means of communicating because that is the way young people talk to each other in the modern world.

"This forum allows pupils to connect with other people applying to the same universities or to do the same courses in an accessible way that is also credible."

Jonathan Jones, head of widening participation at Glasgow University, said the website supported a range of other activities including school visits, trips by pupils to universities and summer schools.

He said: "The website serves as a central source of information, advice and guidance tailored specifically for pupils and parents who may have little previous knowledge or experience of higher education.

"Feedback from schools suggested that existing sources of information were disparate and of varying quality and Focus Point aims to provide a comprehensive, clear and engaging source of guidance.

"We wanted to engage with pupils at an earlier age than most existing widening access activities do by developing content for each year group from S1 onwards."

Mr Jones said one problem frequently encountered was that senior pupils found they had not studied the subjects necessary to gain entry to their desired university or college course.

He added: "Focus Point offers a unique subject chooser tool that informs pupils as early as S2 which subjects they must study at school in order to pursue the course or career they are interested in."

A spokeswoman for the SFC said: "We've supported the Shep scheme for several years and seen this brilliant initiative raise aspirations and help pupils in schools across Scotland to progress on to college and university. We are delighted to continue our support."