STATE schools should create their own versions of private schools' old boys' networks to prevent pupils from deprived areas dropping out of university, a leading headteacher has said.
Steve Ross, from Craigroyston Community High, which serves a disadvantaged part of Edinburgh, believes support from former pupils who have succeeded in higher education could be vital.
The term old boys network usually refers to social or business connections among former pupils of male-only private schools with the term originating from the fact much of the British elite attended a handful of public schools.
Mr Ross said: "Maybe in education we don't do networking well enough. I realise that's how the world works. It's networks, alliances, friendships and colleagues, but not in a negative old boys' network way, but by providing support for a young person who needs it.
"We go to such lengths to get these young people into university, only for some to drop out over what could be fixed in a conversation in a cafe with a trusted ally or friend.
"The risk of dropping out remains if they don't have that support mechanism or structure that they had in school."
Scottish universities currently have the worst student drop-out rates in the UK with some eight per cent of students leaving their university course before the start of the second year compared to a UK average of 7.2 per cent.
Some of the highest drop-out rates are concentrated in newer universities which take greater numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The figures have prompted concerns that moves to widen access in Scotland are not being accompanied by sufficient support.
Students from non-traditional backgrounds are more likely to drop out because of financial concerns and lack of support from families and friends who have little experience of university.
However, Euan Duncan, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said that although state school networking had "clear merits" it was also unfeasible for a great number of institutions.
He said: "With workloads in schools presently at a peak and resources in a trough, I don't see many places being in the position to find the kind of time such a scheme will need to succeed, unless there is a time and funding commitment from somewhere."
However, the idea mirrors the work of a UK charity Future First which runs an initiative which aims to inspire state school pupils by creating a network of former students.
St Andrew's Secondary School, in Carntyne, Glasgow, was the first Scottish secondary to sign up with the charity, which runs the unique scheme to harness the talents and experience of alumni.
Already adopted in more than 400 state schools and colleges across the rest of the UK, Future First hope the pilot in St Andrew's will be the first of many similar schemes in schools across Scotland.
More than 100,000 former students across the UK have already signed up to stay connected with their old state school or college. They range from professionals in law, banking and medicine to those in vocations like plumbing, catering and photography.