A comprehensive school educated head principal of an Oxford college has said the university should recruit 90 per cent of its students from state schools, which will help to identify "cleverer people".
Helen Mountfield QC, who was appointed as principal of Mansfield College Oxford 18 months ago said increasing the proportion of offers to state school students had boosted Mansfield's academic performance.
In The Sunday Times today, Ms Mountfield said taking more bright teenagers from state schools and further education colleges had raised Mansfield's performance from "the bottom" of the Norrington table – which ranks Oxford colleges on the number of firsts and 2:1 degrees achieved by students.
“We have consistently gone up and this year we are fifth. It shows that we are...not saying let’s let in some poor kids as a charity case...but identifying cleverer people because we are looking more broadly at who might benefit from being here," she said.
Ms Mountfield said the university overall should aim to ensure its student body reflected the educational background of the country. In the UK, 7 per cent of GCSE pupils are educated privately, with double this proportion attending fee-paying schools at A level.
“I would like to see [the proportion] to be broadly representative of the society from which people come. That would be about 90 per cent," she said.
Ms Mountfield attended Stationers’ Crown Woods Academy in Eltham, south London, a comprehensive school.
The human rights barrister said admissions tutors should consider contextual factors such as whether an applicant is the first person in their family to attend university.
“It might be the person with sparky ideas [of whom] you think, ‘I can teach you to write like a dream. But what I can’t teach you is ideas.’ So we’re just trying to find the people who might be slightly fumbling for it, who haven’t been taken to the theatre all through their childhood, or seen people reading broadsheet newspapers," she said.
At Mansfield, 90 per cent of students are state-educated, and a quarter are the first in their family to attend university. Last year, 60.5 per cent of Oxford offers went to state school applicants compared with 53.8 per cent five years ago.
She said the College’s approach to contextual data was not social engineering
“What you’re trying to do is recognise some of the patterns of advantage of society and...find potential by trying to set those aside," she said.
She described how a judge once told her positive discrimination for female judges would be "dreadful", as they would feel "they were only there because they were women".
She said, "Does it undermine your self-confidence that you’re a white man? Do you ever think, maybe I’m only a judge because I’m a white man and if I was a woman I wouldn’t be here?’”