Bright pupils are facing an "ideological block" against excelling at school, a leading education expert said.
Professor Deborah Eyre said it was perverse that they were being held back in the name of "equality of opportunity".
She called for teachers to "talent spot" their most able students to ensure they did as well as they could.
Universities also needed to be involved in the process at an earlier stage to make sure many were not lost in the system.
Current attempts to improve access were uncoordinated and too localised, needing to be organised at a national level, she told a meeting in London.
The professor, based at the Government-backed National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, based in Warwick, said some pupils with the ability to progress to good universities were not being given the right support and fell by the wayside.
She said: "There are still some parts of the school sector with a real ideological block about anybody excelling ahead of anybody else. In my view that is a perversion of equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity is about recognising diversity and providing opportunity for it.
"There are some people who feel a focus on the most able is somehow undesirable and that we should be focussing on those who are more in need. I am suggesting it is not an 'either or'."
Prof Eyre said attention needed to be focussed on pupils with higher potential to make sure they could go to university no matter what their social background.
The current investment is "uncoordinated" and "needs to be done more systematically", she said.
Current schemes run by individual universities with pupils in individual deprived areas were " incredibly well meaning" but " very expensive" and "misplaced", she said. They did not address individual needs of pupils.
Instead, she said, there needed to be a " coordinated national approach" to the issue.
She added: "Teachers need to be talent-spotting all the time."
Universities did not need to be narrowing entry standards but rather helping to make sure that those who had the right potential were identified.
The professor said: "I don't think universities should lower the bar but I think it is a challenge for the education system to see how many people you can get up there."