Oxford ‘myths’ discourage state school applicants

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Intelligent state school pupils are being discouraged from applying to Oxford by their teachers, a recent report by the Sutton Trust claims.

The research argued that “myths” such as Oxford being full of overly posh people or “toffs” prevented teachers from recommending applications to Oxbridge.

The Sutton Trust claims that 40 per cent of teachers “rarely or never” suggest that academically gifted pupils apply to either Oxford or Cambridge. The research also showed that many teachers significantly underestimate the chances of state school students being accepted. 

60 per cent of teachers surveyed believed that the majority of Oxbridge students were privately educated and 25 per cent believed that 8 in 10 Oxbridge students were from private schools. In reality, 2013 figures show that 56.8 per cent of Oxford undergraduates are from the state sector, and private school students are actually in the minority. 

Only 9 per cent of teachers came close to the correct number.  

An Oxford University spokesperson responded to the report, saying: “The findings about teachers’ perceptions are frustrating, not only because state students are in the majority at Oxford (56.8 percent), but because of all the outreach work we do in state schools. We holding well over 2,000 events and spending millions on activities every year. Sadly, just one negative or stereotyped headline in the media can unravel that work in an instant, which teachers are not to blame for.”

“Teachers play a vital role in getting students to aim for Oxford and so we naturally do a lot of work with them. We send out a regular e-newsletter with the latest information about the Oxford application process. Every year our Vice-Chancellor gives out Inspirational Teachers awards to state teachers who have supported a student through the application process and been nominated by that student for recognition.

“These findings make us more determined than ever to continue our work with teachers. Misperceptions of Oxford, partly informed by the media, are a hurdle we shall overcome,” they added.

James Blythe, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, commented: “One of the biggest challenges for increasing the percentage of successful applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds and other access priority groups is attainment at GCSE.”

“I want Oxford’s students, through OUSU and the NUS, to be part of a national student movement that campaigns and lobbies the government to do more to support schools and families in improving performance at GCSE. Schools already do incredible work but they need more support.”

A Magdalen medic said: “An Oxford filled with braying toffs is not an Oxford that I recognise. It’s a real shame that these misconceptions are putting clever kids off applying.”

The Sutton Trust has launched a summer school program for teachers to attempt to combat “Oxbridge myths”. James Turner, Director of Programmes at the Sutton Trust, said: “We all know how important teachers are in guiding their students’ choices about where to go to university.”

“As our polling shows, too few state school teachers consider Oxbridge as a realistic possibility for their brightest pupils. They might not think the students will get in to the universities, or fit in once there, or they may lack the specialist knowledge to prepare their students for the application process. We hope our teacher summer schools will begin to change that.”