Trinity under fire for access response

Trinity’s President has defended his college’s access record after it came under attack from an alumna who was denied the chance to bring her school children to her old college.

Secondary school teacher Rebecca Newsome claims Trinity rejected her request to bring her Year 11 pupils for an access event, despite her specifically wishing to visit her college. She was instead told to liaise with Corpus Christi because it was the link college for her school’s area; and that Trinity do not accept pupils younger than sixth form from outside their allocated regional area. However, other colleges have since disputed Trinity’s position.

Trinity Law graduate Newsome, who now teaches in Greater Manchester on the Teach First scheme, wrote to the college’s president Sir Ivor Roberts: “Trinity’s access policy, as you are aware, is appalling. It is just another barrier which many comprehensive students face when trying to fulfil their potential.” She added her school has 65 percent of children on free school meals.

“I think most other forward thinking colleges would have responded in a more positive way to a request for help from a Teach First Alumnus in matters about increasing aspirations at their school.”

However, Trinity President Sir Ivor Roberts rebutted Newsome’s claims: “Rebecca’s school is not in our regional catchment area. Corpus Christi does have responsibility for her area. Trinity normally arranges school liaison events in college for schools from our regional areas and also any visits from Years 12-13.”

Roberts added: “We aren’t in a position to respond to the very many requests for hosting visits from Years 7-11 unless it is from a school in our region. We run a visit to Trinity state schools in the Durham area, which is in our catchment zone.”

He stressed that the University centrally allocates areas to colleges to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure that no areas are neglected. “We do what we are told to do and there’s no reason to compete with other colleges.”

However, Queen’s, Merton and Somerville staff say they would make arrangements to accept schools that particularly want to come to their college.

Queen’s Admissions Tutor Charlie Louth, when asked whether he would have accepted a request from an alumna similar to Newsome’s, said: “Of course, why not? ‘Regionalisation’ is not intended to limit college activity to a particular area, and many visits come from outside it. Many visits are also from Year 11 pupils or even younger.” He added that an overnight stay would depend on how much space there was in the college.

Cressida Ryan, former Classics Outreach Officer and now School Liaison Officer at Merton College said: “In general, I would want to work with anyone where I could, certainly regardless of age group, and in terms of regions, accepting the courtesy of liaising with the link college. Practical matters would depend on the individual circumstances, and whether it was inside or outside term, for example.”

“Particularly when dealing with alumni, it makes absolutely no sense to reject them flat out. The college officers are a great community and this teacher must have had an exceptionally bad experience. I would hazard a guess that it involved a college without a dedicated Schools Liaison and Access Officer, because they have far less time or resources to be helpful. More posts are being created all the time though, as people realise the importance.”

“I can honestly say that the outreach officers here impress me immensely. They would never stand in people’s way without extremely good cause.”

Dr Steve Rayner, Admissions Tutor at Somerville said: “The regional outreach system does not preclude Colleges from undertaking access activities outside their link region where there is some direct link with the school, often through alumni who are teachers or other personal connections, for instance with Fellows. There would certainly not be a problem with working with year 11 students since evidence suggests that the decision about whether to progress to University is formed very early and year 11 may even be too late to influence this key expectation in some cases.”

Official university statistics show Trinity have one of the lowest records for accepting state school pupils. In 2010 its percentage of students accepted from the UK maintained (state) sector was in the bottom five of undergraduate colleges, while its percentage of 47.2 percent compared with a university average of 55.6 percent. Over a three-year average from 2008 to 2010, it had the lowest percentage of state school students accepted.

Newsome said: “I find it outrageous that Trinity is not doing everything in its power to rectify the current abhorrent situation where very few undergraduates that come from comprehensive schools attend Trinity.”

Roberts responded: “I completely dispute these figures. My colleagues and I go to great efforts to encourage schools in the state sector to send us their best prospects, and we have many talented students at Trinity from the state sector from all four corners of the UK. Our percentage of students from the state sector is broadly in line with the university average.”

He added that Trinity currently had a part-time interim Admissions Officer and would be recruiting a new Admissions and Access Officer in January. Trinity’s permanent part-time School Liaison Officer was unavailable for comment.

Newsome also claimed “many colleges give Teach First participants bursaries to encourage their alumni to bring pupils from their schools to their college no matter where in the UK that school is placed.”

A Teach First spokesperson said: “A number of Oxbridge Colleges offer bursaries to students who have been accepted on to the Teach First Leadership Development Programme. The bursary offered to participants is at the discretion of the College and offers financial assistance during the first few months of the programme.”

Mek Mesfin, JCR Access Officer at Corpus Christi, said: “Corpus thinks it’s important for students to come and visit Oxford during their time at secondary school and invites schools for visits from year nine upwards. Trips in sixth-form can sometimes be too late for some students from schools with little or no tradition of sending students to Oxbridge. We look forward to welcoming Miss Newsome’s school.”