Oxford admissions don: 'Laura Spence will happen all over again'

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Heads told three A grades no longer good enough

Oxford University will reject more pupils like Laura Spence - the comprehensive schoolgirl who was refused a place to study medicine despite gaining straight A grades in 2000 - according to the president of Magdalen College.

Professor David Clary told a conference of leading headteachers last week that Magdalen is "unapologetically elitist" and that not every bright student would get a place at his or any other college at Oxford.

Professor Clary said: "When Laura Spence was not offered a place to study medicine there was an awful lot of fuss. But can this sort of thing happen again? Absolutely it can. There are just not enough places to go around.

"In fact, today it is even more competitive. Achieving three A grades is no longer enough and we simply can't offer a place to every bright pupil. I am sorry if that sounds elitist but that is how it has to be if we are to stay competitive on the world stage."

Professor Clary's words are at odds with the Government's position on university admissions policies.

Back in 2000, Miss Spence was rejected from Oxford's most famous college despite her achievements at A-level, sparking public outcry.

At the time then Chancellor Gordon Brown accused the university of "elitism", describing the move as an "absolute scandal".

Mr Brown was heavily criticised after claiming the university's interview system was "more reminiscent of the old boy network and the old school tie than genuine justice".

The rejection of Miss Spence, a comprehensive student from North Tyneside, prompted an inquiry by the then Commons Education Select Committee, which called for universities to give preference to pupils from state schools in their admissions criteria.

Professor Clary told the 100 Group conference in east London: "We now ask all applicants to use the UCAS form, and our conferences (around the country) also go through what takes place at interview, we want to banish the mystique around the Oxford interview.

"Around 55 per cent of our 2008 intake was from the maintained sector."

THE SPENCE SAGA

- In August 2000 Laura Spence, a pupil from Monkseaton High School in Tyneside, achieved five As at A-level. Despite this she was denied a place to read medicine at Magdalen College, Oxford.

- Dubbed "The Oxford Reject" at the time, Miss Spence was told she had achieved one of the five best geography results in the country.

- The decision not to give her a place at Magdalen was labelled an "absolute scandal" by then Chancellor Gordon Brown. It also sparked a Commons inquiry into university admissions criteria.

- The then Commons Education Select Committee called for wholesale reforms to university admissions, demanding greater emphasis be placed on applicants from the state sector.

- Independent schools were outraged and Mr Brown was widely criticised for his role in the furore.

- Miss Spence was handed a scholarship to Harvard to study biochemistry.

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