Oxford is victim of media;Letters;News amp; opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
EITHER you omitted a fundamental part of the Prime Minister's letter to Nada Farhoud (TES, October 15), or you grossly misrepresented its contents in the headline "PM backs charge of Oxford 'elitism".

What I read was a polite but neutral reaffirmation of the Government's education policy. Simply remarking that she is "right to raise this issue", and that it is desirable that everyone should fulfill their potential, does not constitute an attack on Oxford. Your headline and interpretation of the letter add to the media perpetuated anti-Oxford sentiment which is the real barrier towards equality here.

I went to an atypical comprehensive school and am now in my third year at St Catherine's College, where Nada Farhoud is applying. The morning I left for my first day at Oxford, picking up The Guardian to distract my nerves, I was faced with an article entitled "Why comprehensive school pupils fail at Oxford". The only negative experience I have had as a result of studying here is in the reactions of people who, I should have thought, ought to have been encouraging.

When the parting words of my sixth-form English teacher (and deputy head of sixth-form) as I set out to continue his subject at Oxford, were that I was "off to enjoy three years of privilege", it is hardly surprising that more don't apply from my school and schools like it.

Unfortunately this antagonism is propagated by articles like yours. Yes, Oxford has a large number of public school and a poor number of comprehensive school pupils, as do many of the universities demanding top A-level grades. But one of the things which encouraged me to apply was the university prospectus which pointed out that, once having applied, state school pupils were proportionately as likely to be accepted as those at public schools.

There are options and means to improve imbalances here, but they now lie as much with the media and schools as Oxford.

Harriet Sawyer

St Catherine's College, Oxford

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