Low admissions for free school meal pupils

Oxford University accepted three times as many pupils from Eton College than pupils on free school meals between 2009/10 and 2011/12, new Freedom of Information figures have shown

The figures, obtained by the Daily Express, show that only 50 pupils on free school meals successfully applied to the University over the three year period. Free school meals are an indicator of low family income.

This contrasts with the much higher acceptance rates for some top private schools, including Eton College and Westminster, the former schools of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, from which 152 and 144 were admitted respectively over a similar three-year period (2011 – 13). Other high-achieving schools included St Paul’s school, with 78 successful Oxford applications during the same period.

Oxford performed slightly worse than Cambridge in attracting applicants from low-income backgrounds, with Cambridge accepting 70 free school meal pupils during the same three year period.

The University spent £5.67 million on outreach work, including school visits and summer schools, in 2012-13, with a further £10.79 million spent on support for students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dr Lee Elliot-Major, the director of policy for the Sutton Trust (an educational charity), stressed the importance of having a degree from a top university for finding a “good job”.

He continued: “All bright kids should have those chances, not just those whose parents can pay high fees. We believe the Government should introduce a national programme of support for highly able children from low and middle income backgrounds.”

However, the Department for Education told the Daily Express that progress is being made, claiming that “disadvantaged primary school pupils achieved their best ever results this year and the attainment gap between rich and poor is narrowing faster today than when this Government came to power”.

They continued: “Tackling the attainment gap has been a priority for this Government.”

A spokesperson for the University defended Oxford’s record, stating: “The figure of only 50 children on free school meals ending up at Oxford is terribly low, but the picture is about far more than university admissions alone.”

They continued: “At least 80,000 children were eligible for free school meals last time full figures showing attainment were released. Of these, just 176 achieved AAA – the minimum to make a competitive application to Oxford or Cambridge. But of those 176, around 50 ended up at Oxford or Cambridge – which is a very good success rate indeed.”

The University also blamed “serious disparities in school attainment” to explain the admissions figures, commenting: “It is unfair to hold Oxford accountable for inequalities that come into play long before students even consider applying to university.”

When presented with the figures, OUSU VP for Access James Blythe emphasised the need for outreach work to be “truly targeted, effective and impactful”.

He continued: “These articles appear with saddening regularity, but that in no way diminishes the seriousness of the statistics they present. If any student reading this is not doing anything to promote access, they should consider coming along to OUSU’s first ever Access Showcase in 3rd week to hear about ways to get involved”.