University entrance season

The Christmas break in the UK is one that is often rich with stories in the press about university entrance – typically this is when UK teenagers get offers from the universities of their choice and it is a time when schools are keen to share the fabulous offers their pupils have achieved, and inevitably there follows the press comment and opinion….

It is widely accepted that two of the oldest universities in the world, Oxford and Cambridge (termed together, Oxbridge) are some of the most competitive universities to secure an offer from globally. They attract the best qualified candidates in the country (typically with 4 A/A* at A level predicted) from some of the best schools. Every year there is a discussion about why independent schools far outnumber state (publicly funded) educated pupils at these universities as a proportion of the population as a whole. In addition, two institutions are under some pressure from government and the public (not to mention schools) to widen access to pupils from the state sector and from non-selective schools.  This piece from the BBC shows just how clear these inequalities are.

The report shows the imbalance in admissions:

  • 7% of all UK pupils attend private schools
  • 18% of those taking A-levels are at private school
  • 34% of Oxbridge applications are from private schools
  • 42% of Oxbridge places go to private school pupils
  • Of the top eight schools admitting pupils to Oxbridge, only two are state funded. 

The job of widening access and redressing the balance in inequality is not easy – but this year there were two fantastic stories about state funded schools which can (and have) started to tip the balance and show that it is possible for schools of all types to generate an atmosphere where aspiration to the top universities (whether in the UK or elsewhere) can prevail.

Reading about these two state funded academies, where many of the pupils are from poor backgrounds, with high immigrant populations and economic and social issues that may accompany these families, it is wonderful to see that they are achieving so much. Robust and rigorous curricula to inspire pupils, and a questioning approach where the pupils are encouraged to argue (politely of course!), debate, be intellectually curious and question the status quo, seem to be a recipe for success, with almost 80 pupils being offered places in these two schools alone for September 2019. These are the articles:

London state school says 41 students offered Oxbridge place

School for poorest pupils gets 37 Oxbridge offers

I remember once hearing a speaker at a conference telling me that he was looking for students who could ‘flounder intelligently’ with an idea…. rising to the challenge of not being sure about something, grappling with new and difficult ideas.  This is what the very best universities want in their students and this is what our IB programme offers to our sixth formers. 

Here at St. Paul’s our pupils are lucky to already have such a ‘leg up’ in life – with great teachers, supportive and aspirational people at home and at school to help them to achieve their dreams, whether that is at home or overseas, at university or at work. They are innately aspirational and many of our pupils succeed in securing amazing offers from universities globally.  We are very proud of them and as we start to see this year’s U6th coming into school this week with their offers secured, we congratulate them and hope that when they go to university next year they are able to learn alongside inspiring young people, from whom they can learn even more, from all walks of life. 

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