One in ten of Oxford students from 13 schools

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.”

New Band Of The Week: Losers

Sounds like: Soulwax Nite Versions, Vitalic

In a nutshell: A partnership between XFM DJ Eddy Temple-Morris and ex-Cooper Temple Clause guitarist and programmer Tom Bellamy, Losers bridge the gap between electro and grinding rock.

In their own words:  “Eddy is responsible for the corruption of thousands of former rockers. Tom is a wild techno-noise guitar legend. Together, they are Losers.”

Best song: Smarmy bass-line, silly use of a vocoder and electronics come together to make something inexplicably cool in ‘No Man Is An Island (Losers Theme)’.

Fact: The duo have remixed The Prodigy, Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, The Gossip and Placebo, amongst others.

Live: Camden’s Koko on 6th November

Thespionage

Oi! Wankers! Yank your gobs off each others phalluses, it’s time for the weekly “Why I Hate  All and Want You to Choke on Your Smug Self-Indulgence” AKA: actually, that’s just pretty much what we all call it now.

What’s on the slab today? Well, first up I can finally stop talking about Foiled Brunt of the Dumb, as by the time you read this it should be mostly through. Apparently it was quite good, so all the best for getting drunk at the afterparty and forgetting that nobody cares.

Did anyone see Silence, sorry, S1L3NC3 last week? Boy oh boy, was it twisted as anything, there was one point where he, like, totally dropped some pennies! I was just sad he wouldn’t let me help him with any of the self-harm tricks. I was a totally willing volunteer to help him harm himself. In all fairness, there was one lovely trick where he swallowed a live hamster and, after it had chewed through his stomach, it burst out wearing a little party hat – it was adorable!
Apparently The Dream Play is having trouble squeezing money out of OUDS. I can think of someone else in that position. A little someone by the name of absolutely everybody. Must be tough for them, though, enough man power to build the Titanic, but no money to buy ice. Seriously, guys, you must have over 50 people involved, I’m going to have to make a manpower sex joke soon, and none of us want that.

Hold on, I smell fear. Freshers? Here? Ridiculous. No fresher’s going to read the hateful screen-chewings of a mescaline-addled ex-thesp, unless… Oh course! Cuppers is coming! And the NWF, I suppose, but there won’t be as much supple young flesh in that, probably more supple young… paper? Memory Sticks? Keyboards? What do you young people use to write plays these days? Whatever.

Ok kids. First rule of Cuppers:  do not talk about cuppers. Seriously, just keep that stuff to yourself: it’s a bad idea, poorly executed, with atrocious acting and the less I know, the happier you’ll be. Trust me.

The second rule of Cuppers: don’t piss yourself. It may seem like a good idea when you’re on stage under the hawk-like gaze of the judges but… ah, who am I kidding? Knock yourself out. Piss like a king, I guarantee they’ll have seen worse that day.
Jonny Sims

Frenching on stage

At turns funny, moving and absurd, this staging of Cyrano is a big entrepot of anarchic fun. We all know the plot, but word limits are word limits: Christian (Sam Lysons) is a young moron who comes to Paris and falls in love with Roxane (Anna Maguire) because he sees her and immediately falls in love (obviously). Cyrano de Bergerac (Joe Eyre), a massively overendowed man in an unfortunate place (the nose department) is also in love with Roxane, although he actually knows what she’s like. Roxane loves Christian because she’s seen him and never spoken to him (obviously) so Cyrano helps Christian get together with her and then World War One happens and I got confused.

I brought a friend, and at first she wanted to leave. A play with a large number of characters, this version uses just five actors to portray every part, with only a few gloves, hats and so on to delineate the character changes. At first this was confusing, and the over-the-top style of the play had about it the gentle whiff of ham. But within a short while, the rampant, camp absurdity of it all became quite wonderful.

The actors did a great job of portraying multiple characters, with especial credit going to Sarah Anson who switched from a French lout (apparently they have those) to the captain of the guard to a simpering maid. Cyrano himself was excellent, both hilarious and moving, with the one problem being that the character is meant to be hideous and large-nosed, whereas Eyre’s conk is well formed and the rest of his face isn’t much to sniff at. Or, to quote the person I brought along, “But he’s a fittie!” A massive prosthetic nose will sort this out, one can only imagine.

The rest of the cast were similarly excellent, with Matt Gavan as De Guiche portraying venality and positively exuding inappropriate lech.
What’s more, it’s genuinely funny. The scene where Christian is prompted by Cyrano through the medium of mime had me giggling like a schoolgirl, and the French cadets’ boastful introduction, acted so hard I was afraid the cast might pop like thespian balloons, stand out as particular examples. The physicality of the cast combines with the exaggerated (rhyming) dialogue to contribute a smorgasbord of hilarity.

What happens later in the play I do not know, and don’t want to find out because I intend to see this at the BT, by hook or by crook. Potential spoiler: either Christian gets with Roxane, or Cyrano does, or de Guiche, or they all die, or Roxane dies (or the entire cast die). Either way, this is a wonderful, energetic, amusing, moving interpretation; you will laugh and cry.

Alex Harvey

A pint of McGuinness

“I live in Carthage among the Carthaginians, saying Carthage must be destroyed.” If there’s one thing to take away from this play, it’s the idea of Carthage as a ‘new city’. Frank McGuinness’s Carthaginians deals with County Derry and its citizens’ struggle to come to terms with their own ‘new’ city and their shattered home. The fragmentary, flighty script makes it a challenging and unusual choice of production, but one to which Tatty Hennessy, as Director, does justice.

It’s simultaneously incredibly moving but quite spaced-out; think Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and you’ve got something quite similar to Carthaginians. Six characters sit circled together in Derry graveyard, grappling with their individual and collective traumas in the wake of Bloody Sunday in 1972. They all raise questions, attempting to find answers from each other, and it’s pretty agonizing to watch the shift from one to another, knowing that nothing can provide an adequate response. Their entire community is disjointed and torn apart. The cast is placed on stage collectively the entire time: there is quite literally no escape from each other or from the audience. However, it does give a sense of solidarity against whatever darkness lies beyond the graveyard. The stage is littered with spirit bottles, giving a simple yet very clear message about the state of these people’s lives, which require a constant means to numb pain – basically booze or conversation.

The cast is supremely reactionary, constantly watching or commenting on what each has said, and yet despite this the whole thing is a bit of an interior monologue. Vince Cochrane does a fabulous portrayal of the ‘occasionally’ insane Paul, whose determination to build a pyramid out of plastic bags seems as futile as the characters’ desire to rebuild each others’ lives. The location of the graveyard is also spine-tinglingly felt throughout, amongst the dead fragments of the lives of others, life seems determined to continue. Ghostly memories and anecdotes propel the characters to resurrect remembrances which serve as the only real basis for defining character.

Lucy Fyffe’s performance as Greta was traumatic even to watch, such was her excellent portrayal of a woman whom sanity has long abandoned, to be replaced by an overriding hysteria. There’s a strong sense throughout that another character exists, but is never fully present – that is, of course, that of Derry itself. Despite the ruin of the city, its inhabitants remain within its walls in order to satisfy some deep need; it seems like they refuse to watch it crumble and not bear that pain alongside it.

McGuinness has created a fantastic portrait of the incredibly redeeming powers of literature; quotes ranging from Chaucer to Auden pepper the dialogue, forcing the characters to move beyond themselves and seek a wider perspective. Timothy Coleman, though slightly muffled through a somewhat over-exuberant Irish accent, works very well as Dido, the metaphorical ‘queen’ of Derry, and Jack Peters is thoroughly believable as Harkin, the violent product of the country’s brutal history.

Ultimately what really makes the play a success is the wonderfully echoing fragments of poetry and song, which explode onto the stage and leave it just as suddenly. If Carthage and Derry can be called ‘new’ cities, then this is an entirely innovative working of McGuinness’s play; original and haunting.
Zoe Apostolides

Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson

When Benjamin Braddock, former captain of the debating club, cross country winner and top in his class, laments that he’s “lost the inclination” in the first scene of The Graduate, you know you’re in for a bit of a ride. After all, you’ve done it, you’ve got your degree, you’ve done the work – what comes next? It’s essentially a play about rediscovering that inclination, or, in this case, believing you’ve rediscovered it. The story revolves around Ben, a newly-graduated Californian boy with “romantic notions”, and his, um, dealings with a friend of his parents, the disquieting, sexy Mrs Robinson.

Terry Johnson’s brilliantly funny adaptation of the original novel in 2000 charts a not-too-desirable coming of age, where cynicism and scorn rule supreme. The surprising result of this is a rather beautiful tragicomedy, which sucks you in and refuses to let go. Director David Ralf has done a stellar job, making the most of a fairly small acting space. This works really well, it draws the audience into the confining, claustrophobic atmosphere that pervades the play. There’s a fantastically cringe worthy scene in an elevator (as the lovers head for a hotel room), which is heightened by the fact they’re standing a foot from you, and you’re thus incapable of not partaking in their mutual mortification. In many ways it relies upon the participation of the audience, their willingness to become a sort of voyeuristic onlooker, the third wheel in this most unusual affair.

The Graduate makes a refreshingly relevant point about the nature of student-life; Ben feels constantly pressured by the nagging, know-it-all grown-ups around him to make the most of his “golden years”, but he views them, his degree, his life in general, as “grotesque”. Jeremy Newmark Jones portrays the angsty, confused Ben with remarkable poise and understanding of character, timing the best one-liners with hilarious precision: “Mrs Robinson, you’re definitely the most attractive of all my parents’ friends.” Of course, much of the hideous embarrassment inherent to his character relies on choosing a good Mrs R., and Erica Conway more than meets the requirement, managing to blend detached, uncaring distance with a just-discernible vulnerability.
Ultimately, the play succeeds in that it displays a real sense of uniqueness, mingling the fabulous performances from a variety of well-chosen cast members, and such nice added touches as its own purpose-written musical score which, Ralf says “modernises” the text, and makes it more in-tune with “our generation”. Ultimately, it works because it makes such a relevant point, presenting us with the extremes of Mrs Robinson and her daughter Elaine, whose youthful vibrancy is nicely interpreted by Rebecca Adams. As Ben begins to drift into nihilism, we the audience are reminded of the dangers of losing that all-important inclination, and the importance of searching for some kind of meaning, whatever it may be. The strong overlay of comedy gold only adds to the true poignancy of a thoroughly well-adapted production. Don’t miss this.
Zoe Apostolides

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