Guardian article attacks Cameron’s College, but does “disservice” to state school applicants

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A Guardian article published this Thursday ran under the headline: “David Cameron’s Oxford college admits fewest state school applicants”, in a move described by a former Brasenose JCR President and others as a “hatchet job”, “the politics of despair”, and “the worst use of statistics ever”.

The article began by drawing readers’ attention to the 11% admission rate at the college for state school students, a statistic obtained as part of a report by the Sutton Trust, a think tank founded “to improve social mobility through education”. The Trust works “to combat educational inequality and prevent the subsequent waste of talent” through research and by funding social mobility programmes.

This emphasis on the low rate of state school admissions has been labelled “misleading” since it provides no point of comparison to the admissions rate for private school students, which is comparably low. Brasenose College is the most competitive college in Oxbridge, a fact which Ex-JCR President Siddarth Shrikanth said is “reflective of the strength of our access”.

Siddarth went on to point out that the statistics presented by The Guardian demonstrated little more than Oxford being generally more competitive than Cambridge, with far more applications per place from both privately and state educated students.

Brasenose JCR President, Beth Jenkinson, wrote from personal experience to highlight the misleading nature of the piece:

“I came to Brasenose from a state school that was deemed unsatisfactory by Ofsted. Not only that, but I and members of my Sixth Form were encouraged and supported by members of Brasenose Access and Admissions team throughout the application process. I stayed over at the College for free over the Open Days, and students from Brasenose came to give application advice at my Sixth Form – Brasenose encouraged me every step of the way. And the same could be said of Brasenose by so many state school students.

“The article published by the Guardian today uses misleading data to come to conclusions designed deliberately to confuse and to misrepresent, all in the name of a cheap political dig. To be clear, around 1 in 5 applicants from state schools who applied to Brasenose last year were successful in gaining a place at the university, and college choice absolutely does not affect students’ chances of receiving an offer – that is the only relevant data. Brasenose cannot be blamed for its own oversubscription, which results in many students, of all backgrounds, being pooled to other colleges, and David Cameron is certainly not responsible for this.

“This isn’t just annoying and misleading, it’s damaging. Prospective students from state schools need to know that they will be supported and encouraged in this institution: both in the application process and in further study. I cannot emphasise just how true this is of Brasenose, and the Guardian has done these students a disservice in publishing this article.”

As part of a wider regional outreach project to ensure that every school in the country has a point of contact for Oxford admissions, Brasenose is linked with East Berkshire and North Yorkshire. Dr Joe Organ, the college’s Schools and Publications Officer, runs “access road trips” to these areas, attempting to demystify the process of applying to Oxford for disadvantaged students, helping to fulfil the college’s objective to admit “the brightest and best students regardless of background”. Ex-President Siddarth described the work of the Schools Officer over his tenure as “unbelievable”.

Attempting to “set the record straight”, Brasenose Access and Admissions staff posted a short response to the Guardian piece on The Student Room discussion board:

“We read this morning’s Guardian newspaper’s coverage of the Sutton Trust’s report on Oxford admissions. The Sutton Trust’s criterion for widening access is unusual. The report would, for example, praise a college receiving just one state school application and admitting that person on the grounds that 100% of applicants were admitted. Another college receiving 100 applicants, admitting 25 of them and seeing the other 75 accepted by other colleges would be criticised for only having a success rate of 25%. Worst of all would be a college with 1000 applicants, admitting 50 of them and seeing another 950 accepted by other colleges – their admission rate would just be 5% according to the Trust.”

Sam Galbraith Slater, an officer in the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), told The Oxford Student: “Oxford’s colleges work tirelessly to improve access, but unfortunately it seems the problem is coming from application rates themselves; whilst only 14% of sixth-form age students in the UK are privately educated, they make up 37% of Oxford applications. More state school students, like myself, need to be encouraged to apply, and articles like this actively work against that.”

David Cameron attended Brasenose College between the years of 1985 and 1988 to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Other notable alumni of the college include comedian Michael Palin, novelist Sir William Golding, and journalist Toby Young.