TEACHERS from schools in disadvantaged areas are engaged in a “battle” to persuade gifted pupils to apply to university, a study has found.

Researchers from Stirling University said outside influences made it harder for schools to ensure university is seen as a suitable option.

In contrast, teachers working in more affluent areas - where pupils already aspire to go to university - spend their time honing the skills required to secure a place.

The research concludes that this imbalance gives better off pupils a head start when applying to higher education.

The report said: “Within the most advantaged schools, there was a long-term commitment to actively build the skills that institutions desired and undertake one-to-one interviews to ensure the personal statement was pitched correctly.

“Amongst the most deprived communities, there was evidence of a long-term battle by teachers to foster student aspirations and encourage them to reach their potential.

“This appears to lead to teachers focusing on persuading students to apply, rather than preparing them longer term to be desirable.

“Given these pupils are often located within insular communities, which appear detached from the more advantaged social worlds ... it is plausible this influences inequalities in the application level.”

Lead author Jennifer Ferguson, a PhD candidate in the university’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said the research sent a “powerful message” that schools need to start preparing and persuading students of all backgrounds about the benefits of university much earlier.

The small-scale study was based on interviews with teachers from six schools and pupils from 18 schools.