Oxford, Cambridge Full of Toffs?

Bright pupils are being discouraged from applying to Oxford and Cambridge by state school teachers who believe Britain’s top universities are full of “toffs”, according to research.

Outdated attitudes may be preventing large numbers of gifted pupils from state comprehensives striving for Oxbridge places, it was claimed, says a report in The Telegraph citing the research. A study by the Sutton Trust found that more than four-in-10 teachers “rarely or never” advise academically-gifted children to apply to the ancient universities.

The study also exposed levels of misconceptions surrounding the extent to which private school pupils claim places. Currently, they account for fewer than half of students at the two universities. But 25 per cent of teachers believed private school pupils won at least eight-in-10 places, while 63 per cent thought they claimed more than half, says The Telegraph. The number of Asian students in these universities have grown up during recent years.
The majority of teachers also dramatically underestimate pupils’ chances of being admitted from the state system, it emerged, with a quarter wrongly believing at least eight-in-10 Oxbridge students are from private schools, says The telegraph report.
The disclosure was made as the charity – which campaigns for improved levels of social mobility – revealed it was staging a series of summer schools for teachers designed to “dispel the myths” surrounding entry to Oxbridge and other leading universities. Some 2,500 teachers from schools with a poor record of sending children to sought-after institutions will be attracted to the programme over five years.
“It comes just days before the publication of A-level results when thousands of students predicted to gain top grades will find out whether or not they have won Oxbridge places. Both universities have already reported record demand for courses this year. The sheer competition for places means the two universities traditionally admit more private-educated students than most other institutions. At Oxford, the proportion of UK students from state schools stood at 57 per cent last year, while Cambridge admitted 61 per cent,” says the report.
“Both universities are now investing millions of pounds in outreach programmes and generous bursaries designed to create a more balanced student body. But today’s study suggests teachers themselves may still be acting as a barrier to the applications process for many bright students.”
James Turner, director of programmes at the Sutton Trust, told the Telegraph: “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.”
Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, told the Telegraph some teachers created the impression that Oxford and Cambridge “are places for toffs”, adding: “Many teachers from state schools will not have been to Oxbridge – or indeed Russell Group universities – themselves that may colour the advice they give to their own students.”
The Sutton Trust commissioned a survey of 1,163 teachers. Of those, 42 per cent said they would “rarely” or “never” advise “academically-gifted pupils” to apply to Oxbridge. Among senior staff, the rate dropped to just 20 per cent.