OXFORD’s Brideshead image may be clichéd, but the news that ten percent of the University’s undergraduates come from just 13 top private schools will do little to discourage it.
More than half of school-leavers from Westminster, St Paul’s Girls School and Wycombe Abbey were successful in securing a place at Oxford last year, figures obtained by The Oxford Student show.
Such schools charge up to £29,000 a year in return for the promise of smaller class sizes and better resources. Many give their students several mock interviews, while some have dedicated staff to deal with the Oxbridge admissions process.
The schools that comprise 10 percent of the 2009 intake are: City of London School for Girls, Cheltenham Ladies College, Eton, Harrow, Magdalen College School, North London Collegiate School, The Perse, Guildford’s Royal Grammar School, St Paul’s boys and girls schools, Westminster, Withington and Wycombe.
Simon Wood, publicity officer for the Target Schools campaign to increase state school applications, said: “This is a disturbing statistic that shows that in reality only 80 percent of spaces are open to applicants from anywhere, state or private, other than the elite public schools.
“Clearly some of this is down to natural ability and encouragement from an early age, but the fact that the level of public school admissions is so high gives the lie to the notion that ability alone will get you into Oxford.”
Westminster alone supplied almost five percent of the University’s undergraduates last year, far outstripping any other school.
Former student Vyvyan Almond, who is now studying History at Magdalen, is sure his schooling made a sizeable impact on the success of her application.
“We were prepared in separate classes for the interviews and aptitude tests, using old Oxford papers. Some of us even travelled to Eton to stimulate the experience of an interview.
“My primary emotion on opening my acceptance letter was relief. If I had not applied to Oxford, or not been accepted, I think I would have felt myself to have failed,” he said.
The picture is somewhat different at many state schools. Although Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School consistently ranks highly in national league tables, it typically sends only five students to Oxford out of a year group of 140.
Beverley Johnstone, one of the school’s English teachers, thinks her students lose out. “State school students are massively disadvantaged, not because teachers in the private sector are any better but because they have such smaller class sizes. We often have over 20 students in an A-level class – we just can’t devote the same amount of time to our students.
“When it comes to university interviews, students from private schools have a greater sense of ease, and they have a feeling of entitlement which state school pupils lack,” she said.
Overall, state school pupils are narrowly in the majority at Oxford, although private school entrants are still vastly overrepresented. Applicants are much more likely to be successful if they apply from a private school too. While independent school pupils made up only 39 percent of applicants in 2009, they comprise 46 percent of acceptances.
An Oxford University spokeswoman said: “There are a whole range of factors stretching back to birth and beyond that affect someone’s ability and potential at age 17 or 18 when they are applying to Oxford. Oxford cannot compensate for a lifetime of inequality but it is doing its best to ensure all those with the potential to succeed apply, regardless of background.”