Oxford retains its reputation... ...as a bastion of elitism

21st November 1997 at 00:00
The old debate about the proportions of students from state schools admitted to Oxford and Cambridge has surfaced again (TES, October 31 and November 7), and I wonder how many parents or state schools have had experience similar to those in our family.

One of our children was a scientist (the first in our family), well-taught in his comprehensive school, and deemed likely to get into Cambridge.

One of the colleges offered a place if he achieved three As and a S1. He got the three As, but like many state school children did not do well enough on the S papers. Cambridge turned him down, and when his headteacher telephoned and wrote to the admissions tutor just after the A-level results were published the school was told he was on holiday. The head's letter described our son as an outstanding student and suggested reasons why it is difficult to tutor for S-level papers in an inner-city comprehensive.

Our son went to Bristol, and got a first; he then went on to Imperial College and got a PhD. How many of the scientists who were admitted to Cambridge 10 years ago have such a track record? How many of their carefully-selected students fail to reach the levels of excellence that their carefully-rejected applicants reach in universities of equal stature?

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