Whole persons apply at own risk

10th March 1995 at 00:00
I can contribute to the latest debate on the unfairness of the Oxford admissions procedures by relating what happened to my son.

He went to the local grammar school and applied to a renowned Oxford college. He was called to interview in December 1993. At that time he decided to take a year out (he is now doing voluntary work in an inner-city parish). He must have interviewed well as the college sent a most encouraging letter to his school urging him to do well in his A-levels and asking him to re-apply this year.

He achieved three grade A passes in academic subjects and re-applied. He was interviewed in December 1994 by a different tutor (who had no knowledge of the letter sent the year before) and was turned down. He was kept waiting for 24 hours before being interviewed.

I wrote to the warden of the college asking about the admissions appeal procedure and was told there wasn't one, as it "would be very cumbersome". I was also told that it was not ideal for candidates to be kept waiting for 24 hours but any other system "would be impractical". My son, I was informed, should have enquired at his interview about the "possibility of changing schools". He would have no more thought of this, even had he understood it, than of saying boo to the tutor.

My conclusions are that the single-tutor interview is incredibly narrow and does not take into account the whole person (in my son's case considerable success in sports, social work and as deputy school captain); that the system seriously discriminates against the bright but unsophisticated state school candidate (who has not been coached in interview technique and who is unaware of the ethos and terminology of the university); that it favours those from private schools, and statistics clearly show this; that it degrades A-levels by paying scant regard to them (in the same week that my son was rejected with three A grades, others were being offered places with two Es); that those in charge are reluctant to change the system or even to acknowledge its failings.

In short, the procedure can be, and was in my son's case, unfair, elitist and inefficient.

DAVID WEIR Bennett Road, Bournemouth.

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