Top schools and colleges 'tightening grip' on Oxbridge places

Stephen Exley

Five elite schools and colleges sent as many students to Oxbridge in one academic year as 1,800 state schools put together, new research has revealed.

According to an analysis by the Sutton Trust, three independent schools - Westminster, Eton and St Paul’s – and two state sixth-form colleges – Hills Road in Cambridge and Peter Symonds in Winchester – produced 260 students in 2011/12 who went on to study at Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Four of the top-performing institutions also topped the rankings in the Sutton Trust’s last piece of research on the issue, with only Peter Symonds breaking into the top five since 2011. It replaced St Pauls’ Girls School, for which data on Oxbridge applicants was not published in the latest Department for Education tables.

The latest study, based on new data from the DfE, also revealed that the proportion of A-level students from comprehensives progressing to the country’s 30 most demanding universities fell to 19 per cent, down from 23 per cent in 2008/09.

Lee Elliot Major, the trust’s director of development and policy, said it was a “concern” that “a small cadre of schools and colleges [was] tightening its grip on elite university places”.

In a blog presenting the findings, he writes that the two colleges had “developed such excellent reputations they have become the choice destinations for professional parents wanting to maximise the chances of their children getting into Oxbridge”.

“Just 40 schools and colleges provided about a quarter of all Oxbridge entrants in 2011/12 – the latest year for which we have hard data,” he adds. “What's powerful about these figures is that they show the extent to which a tiny minority of the country's 2,750 schools and colleges dominate enrolment at prestigious universities: a sombre message for the [hundreds of thousands] of students waiting to receive their A-level results this August.” 

Mr Elliot Major adds that, despite “valiant efforts” by elite universities, “entry into their hallowed colleges continues to be dominated by those from the most privileged families”.

Figures published earlier this year by the University of Cambridge revealed that the proportion of students from state schools dropped to 61 per cent in 2013/14, from 63 per cent a year earlier.

Related stories:

Pupils from poor families apply to university through clearing - August 2014

University support for poorer school leavers must not 'stop at the front door' - July 2014

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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