Oxbridge Bias?

(45 Posts)
Amber2 Sat 26-Jan-13 20:33:52

I see Dr. Seldon is in the news again....A levels are yet a few years off for my DS but wondered if anyone is actually seriously considering switching DCs to state at sixth form for reason of said perceived Oxbridge bias against private candidates vs state (all things being equal in terms of grades) ..and whether anyone really thinks there is truly (positive) discrimination


happygardening Sun 27-Jan-13 08:59:00

I've been hearing this for quite a number of years now. I personally am not overly worried. The interesting thing is that the top handful getting 30+% into Oxbridge seem to be increasing their number slightly year on year. Secondly if this is true ( I take everything Seldon say with a generous pinch of salt remember he has to justify the numbers from Wellington going to Oxbridge) the tragedy will be that very bright able children from independent school are and will more so look abroad I am unconvinced that UK PLC can afford this brain drain.

LaVolcan Sun 27-Jan-13 09:14:10

I'm out of date now - but don't the forms ask where you took your exams/where you were at school?

Presumably admissions officers haven't lost the ability to read that this applicant was educated privately to age 16.

meditrina Sun 27-Jan-13 09:17:59

Oxbridge is always a bit of a toss up, and every year excellently qualified pupils, from both state and independent sector, are turned down.

I'd leave DCs in a school where they are flourishing. Then again, I see education as a journey, not a set of transactions in pursuit of any particular outcome.

Charmingbaker Sun 27-Jan-13 09:28:43

All this thread proves is that the elite will find a way to manipulate the system in their favour against the genuinely disadvantaged.

happygardening Sun 27-Jan-13 09:28:54

A very valid point meditrina we have an "outstanding" state school on our doorstep who identify potential Oxbridge candidates in yr11 and give them loads of help and have an above national average success rate. If this was my sole interest I wouldn't be crippling myself with school fees. AS you said education is a journey and IMO top independent schools are offering so much more than results.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Sun 27-Jan-13 09:30:54

I don't imagine many would leave the private sector based on this: it's just the Torygraph trying to whip up a bit of resentment in middle England by suggesting that the hardest thing to be these days is middle class and wealthy...

happygardening Sun 27-Jan-13 09:39:44

I've just grappled with the Wellington website as irritating as the the head himself! They seem slightly cagey about how many they actually send to Oxbridge in fact no actual %'s are mentioned at all. As I said earlier he has to justify to parents and governors his numbers.

happygardening Sun 27-Jan-13 09:49:44

Accoding to the Tatler good schools guide 2013 (again should be taken with a pinch of salt) Wellington only sent 8% to Oxbridge last year but it has a CE pass rate requirement of 65% same as Etons (30% into Oxbridge) and I believe slightly higher than Tonbridges (25% into Oxbridge) no wonder he feels a need to make excuses for justify his figures in the Telegraph.

goinggetstough Sun 27-Jan-13 10:53:22

HG it does seem strange that they only sent 8%.I am not pro AS either. However, it is important to remember with regard to the CE pass mark, that is usually regarded as a minimum pass mark. Eton expects all the higher CE papers to be taken, does Wellington? Plus W says an average of 65% and that you can apply if you have a special skills even if you don't make the 65% pass mark. So that might account for the difference between CE marks and Oxbridge acceptance rates.

loveyouradvice Sun 27-Jan-13 10:57:30

Two thoughts to throw in....

1. The fact that state school educated kids stlil outperform private school kids by the time they take their Oxbridge degree suggests that they havent yet gone far enough in selecting more from state sector - after all, they aim to spot potential not achievement to date....

2. My understanding is that you have to have been state educated for the last 5 years for it to count and that this is declared on the form, etc... so switching for A levels seems rather foolish....

Interesting debate that will run and run.....

goinggetstough Sun 27-Jan-13 12:04:54

loveyouradvice your first point is not true, at least not at Cambridge as the link shows:
Nor is an argument for lower offers for certain categories of schools supported by the performance of students once here. It is also crucial to stress that at Cambridge students from the maintained sector do not out-perform equally qualified students from independent schools. Both our own research3, and the research most frequently cited by the advocates of lower offers4, confirms this: “differences in achievement by school type largely disappear for students with 30 A level points.” 30 points was the UCAS tariff for AAA at that time (it is now 360 points). This is vitally important, as successful Cambridge applicants typically achieve over 400 points from three A-levels and other qualifications.

I believe that all applicants should be looked at as individuals and that no blanket method of admissions should be used regardless of the type of school.

Copthallresident Sun 27-Jan-13 12:34:05

www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/10/how-cambridge-admissions-really-work Some actual coverage of the admissions process as opposed to subjective speculation.

JoanByers Sun 27-Jan-13 12:37:20

Wellington/Seldon are champion bullshitters. As I pointed out on another thread recently, they have a lot of waffle about Ivy League and Oxbridge, but conveniently fail to back this up with any data.

This is the key quote

"Wellington’s Oxbridge entrance performance is rising along with the College’s wider academic improvement – there has never been a better time to aim for Oxbridge from Wellington College."


* Wellington is a very expensive school in an area with a lot of competition, and historically has not attracted the brightest.
* The result is that compared to other schools their Oxbridge stats are very mediocre - because, frankly, they don't attract many Oxbridge-calibre students.

Obviously they are trying to change this, as witnessed by all the bullshit, 65% CE pass marks, and so on, but certainly when the current upper sixth were entering the school, the school wasn't that selective at school.

Other local schools get far more Oxbridge - RGS, Guildford - 25%, Eton College, 30%.

Wellington would have you believe that many of his students are going off to Harvard and Yale, but again doesn't publish any data to support this, instead noting 7% going to US & Canadian universities, which doesn't tell you anything....

As HG says, the very best private schools are maintaining and increasing their Oxbridge stats. Seldon may be frustrated that his well-polished nice-but-dims don't cut the mustard at Oxbridge, but that seems fair enough to me - if the Oxbridge tutors are increasingly seeing through the well-prepped second-rate private school students from schools like Wellington, while continuing to admit the brightest and best from schools like Westminster, then that's as it should be.

Personally speaking I have no doubt that a good private school is the best preparation for a bright child to get into Oxbridge, and again the best private schools do show this, with Oxbridge numbers far, far higher than any state school.

Everything else is bluster and bullshit.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Sun 27-Jan-13 12:50:28

Personally speaking I have no doubt that a good private school is the best preparation for a bright child to get into Oxbridge, and again the best private schools do show this, with Oxbridge numbers far, far higher than any state school.

Those would be the best private schools which don't select academically, right? Because otherwise your point is.... well... bluster and bullshit.

JoanByers Sun 27-Jan-13 12:56:14

The most selective state schools get ~15% into Oxbridge. That's king of the hill, top of the heap.

The most selective private schools get ~50% into Oxbridge.

The most selective state schools are hugely oversubscribed, and can adjust their admissions test to select the best and brightest. They are also, obviously, free of charge.

The most selective private schools cost £15k/year and more, and are not as oversubscribed as the most selective state schools, yet, get 3x more into Oxbridge than super-selective state schools.

newgirl Sun 27-Jan-13 13:05:21

Joan that's a pause for thought

My dd yr 6 will prob get a place at a good local state school. We like it, some lovely kids go there. 1-2 get Oxbridge each year. As a back up applied to local academic private school. With no tutoring or practice she's been shortlisted for a scholarship. We can't afford it really my work is sporadic but all this talk and news has freaked me out and now I'm thinking should we do all we can to send her. Sorry for hijack - any advice v welcome.

boomting Sun 27-Jan-13 13:14:33

Absolute bollocks from Seldon, yet again.

Even if Cambridge is still taking more students from the state sector, it's still taking disproportionate numbers of students from the independent sector. At A Level 18% of students are educated privately, and Cambridge is taking 37% of its students from the private sector.

UCAS forms ask for all schools where you studied from age 11.

Next we'll be hearing complaints that universities are offering outreach schemes to kids who live on council estates and go to schools in special measures rather than the nice middle class kids that Anthony Seldon teaches.

And entirely anecdotally - I went to a private school from 11-18. A lot of pupils were withdrawn and sent to state schools at 16. Those who remained have, on average, gone to better universities than those who moved to the state sector.

happygardening Sun 27-Jan-13 13:30:48

going using Tatler 2013 again Bryanston CE minimum 50% only in core subjects and no pre testing at 11 unlike Wellington apparrently sends 10%!

JoanByers Sun 27-Jan-13 15:07:38

Bryanston is in darkest Dorset, I expect it has a different catchment/less competition than Wellington. Some private schools are 'comprehensive', and some seem to only take a certain segment of the market.

Copthallresident Sun 27-Jan-13 15:14:19

Bryanston may be in deepest darkest Dorset but it sends a bus up stopping in Richmond and Central London at term end and at exeat weekends, fares quite well in competition with London day schools for those parents who don't want the London day school culture.

timidviper Sun 27-Jan-13 15:19:35

There is also the point that Oxbridge is not the be all and end all.

In my DCs years the selection process was not predictable, some candidates who you would think were the obvious choices were not made offers where some less obvious, though still extremely capable, candidates were (e.g. head boy who got 6As at A level in the days before A*, DofE Gold, 1st team rugby and cricket so genuine all-rounder was turned down while another friend, still a lovely boy, 4As, debating team and generally quieter, possibly less rounded got in).
The pupils who were not accepted at Oxbridge all went on to good unis and are doing very well, going to Oxbridge is not a guarantee that your child will outperform others in the long run.

happygardening Sun 27-Jan-13 15:19:56

Not saying Bryanston is a better school although I happen to know its catchment is very wide it is despite it location very popular with London parents. What I am just suggesting that Seldons article is all about him and Wellington rather than necessarily a reflection of every independent school in the UK. In fact as you pointed out Joan the current numbers rather contradict his article.

Copthallresident Sun 27-Jan-13 15:40:48

timidviper You have to unhook the parental perceptions of "Oxbridge" from the actual reality, that it isn't the best for all subjects, or even in terms of it's international academic reputation (UCL outperforms Oxford in terms of international academic peer reviews, albeit mainly a western peer group) and that it is easier to get in for some subjects, and colleges, even if the subjective nature of the interview process couldn't account for some of the best candidates failing to get in. However the brand remains strong and Seddon is undoubtedly under a great deal of pressure to have better Oxbridge success rates.

Mutteroo Sun 27-Jan-13 15:53:06

One reason why DS decided to swap back into the state system was because he had read about this. Fortunately we have an outstanding sixth form college on our doorstep with a long history of getting kids into good universities. DS may not be looking at Oxbridge but he felt he had a better chance of a university place by moving. I must add that there were other reasons why he moved, however had this been the only reason, he would have had our blessing.

Copthallresident Sun 27-Jan-13 16:23:24

Mutteroo Do you and your son think admissions tutors can't see that a pupil has attended a private school to GCSE? If you read the link I posted you will also see that they do not distinguish between whether good schools are state or private, they are looking to level the playing field for those who are disadvantaged by attending poor schools. So unless you are your son are going to transfer to a poor school, and perhaps on the way get some more flags of disadvantage, divorce and have him brought up by a single parent living in poverty? put him into care? then you can't engineer the system to your advantage.

LondonMother Sun 27-Jan-13 18:03:28

Boomting, you say 'Even if Cambridge is still taking more students from the state sector, it's still taking disproportionate numbers of students from the independent sector. At A Level 18% of students are educated privately, and Cambridge is taking 37% of its students from the private sector. '

That's not the whole story, though, is it? 18% of A level students in private schools, fine - but what percentage of the A level students who get 3As or A*AA are in private schools? My guess is that percentage is a lot higher than 18% - maybe heading for 37%? - because the independent schools are more academically selective. A lot of the A level results in comprehensives and sixth form colleges are going to be a long, long way below the level that the top Russell Group universities are looking for. Nothing wrong with that, not everybody can get those results - but the top universities are looking for the most academically able and they aren't going to find the same proportion of those in a comprehensive school as they will in an academically selective school.

Amber2 Sun 27-Jan-13 18:26:19

LondonMother's point is valid...but it would be interesting to have the data to compare level of offers being made to state school candidates vs private school candidates for same courses to see if latter are being set a higher bar simply because they are perceived as having had an advantage of private school, smaller classes etc. Or perhaps further social engineering is being looked at such as not just state but type of state (eg candidates from those with lower RG figures may get a lower offer).

On Wellington, as it became more and more selective in recent years I suspect the current sixth form are not as selective an intake as current first years and the school will say that that will feed through to better results as those pupils progress up the school to sixth form. I wondered if the IB also resulted in less Oxbridge offers given Wellington and AS are so keen on IB. I agree for a 30k a year school the data it gives on Oxbridge and Ivy League are obfuscated on the website whereas other schools like MCS make it very clear how many are going each year by Oxbridge college and subject. I also agree with Happy Gardening that W's website is irritating ....having said that, despite the 8% Oxbridge figure which does seem low, and that W has both detractors and fans in equal measure, it is a heavily oversubscribed with something like a 7:1 ratio of applicants to places I hear, so able to be pretty selective I would say.

Amber2 Sun 27-Jan-13 18:35:40

I agree, JoanByers, that the most superselective privates like Westminster are significantly ahead of the most superselective grammars/state otherwise why a super selective state school and heavily oversubscribed school like Tiffin or Reading Grammar, not get anything close to the approx 50% Oxbridge success rate of Westminster ...or the 30% Oxbridge success of MCS. (I know there's Hills Road Sixth Form College of course, but that seems to stand out on its own and superselects based on GCSE results)

JoanByers Sun 27-Jan-13 18:48:36

Hills Road does not send anywhere close to 50% to Oxbridge, AIR.

According to this they sent 204 in 3 years, which is 68 per year:

However according to this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hills_Road_Sixth_Form_College

they have 2000 full time students, so that's closer to to 5% of the roll (considering that a sixth form is two years, compared with 5 years for a (much, much smaller) school such as Westminster) than 50%.

The most successful state schools are as I recall certain state grammar schools.

gelo Mon 28-Jan-13 00:18:55

because universities are judged on percentage they take from state schools then given two equal candidates they will choose the state educated one (and those figures are based on the school last attended, so transferring to state for sixth form would be enough, even though the universities are aware of the education prior to sixth form). There may additionally be a bit of a positive bias towards state educated pupils according to some research.

Copthallresident Mon 28-Jan-13 06:10:58

gelo This post is based on what? Or is it more subjective speculation. The link I posted actually described the process. Universities have agreed targets for widening access as a condition for imposing the full amount of fees but so far these have not been publicised. In fact most universities already had strategies for widening access in place, including their own targets, but these are very much focused on poor schools with poor academic performance / a track record of few pupils progressing to elite universities. From the link I posted The university has also agreed with the Office for Fair Access – an official watchdog set up when the Blair government brought in top-up fees – to increase the share of students from neighbourhoods where few people have gone to university. This article describes how a straight focus on state v private by the OFA is being challenged to ensure that it focuses on contextual information that suggests disadvantage (poor schools, poverty etc.) www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9770472/State-school-quotas-for-universities-face-axe-following-protests.html

These are the pupils that research (and experience) suggests will outperform their private school counterparts, not hard to see they must be highly motivated to have overcome disadvantage, and the fact this continues to be the case suggests there is room to further widen access. Strategies for widening access are most definitely not focused on private school pupils not confidant of getting into a good uni from a private school, slipping across into outstanding state schools / colleges for sixth form to gain some perceived advantage. For many universities in any case their targets actually specify a pupil should have been in state education for 5 years to qualify.

However that many admissions officers may have a bias to state school pupils over and beyond what is justified by contextual data I can well believe. I doubt it levels the playing field though, let alone disadvantages private school pupils. It makes sense that with selective school entry getting more competitive and universities being more successful in attracting the bright from disadvantaged backgrounds that the brightest and most motivated private school pupils from schools like Westminster will continue to be successful in even greater numbers but the less motivated and less bright from private schools will find it more difficult to get in.

happygardening Mon 28-Jan-13 08:35:09

Im all in favour of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds getting into Oxbridge on lower grades, a similar thing has been done by one of the London medical school with mature students from disadvantaged back grounds and I understand when it works it is a great success.
But I agree with Copthall the top universities when the push comes to the shove are going to want the brightest and that pupils from the likes of Westminster and others which being enormously oversubscribed can therefore afford to be even more picky will continue to keep sending a high %.

gelo Mon 28-Jan-13 09:33:19

copthall, your telegraph article describes considering whether a candidate was state or privately educated measure as needing to be reviewed - has it even been? Every year that is the figure that is reported in the press for oxbridge, usually with some degree of outrage that it has fallen short of their target figure (also often reported), so that is definitely the figure they have thus far been measured against, even if it's going to change soon.

For example: 2012 admissions:
"According to Cambridge, 63.3 per cent of British students admitted in 2012/13 are from state schools, compared with 58 per cent last year.
All universities are now expected to set targets to increase admissions among pupils from state schools or poor backgrounds in returning for charging up to £9,000 in fees. Cambridge’s state school target stands at between 61 and 63 per cent."
(from here)

Or 2010 admissions:
"The proportion of students from state schools offered places in 2010 was 59.3%, 0.8 percentage points up on 2009, according to the university.

But it was still below the 2008 figure and the university's 60-61% target."
(from here)
(Or this article.)

Also, research into admissions at Oxford university herehas shown bias towards state school applicants at the interview stage for marginal candidates as well as contextual stuff being used in shortlisting (this bias is justified in terms of later performance). The guardian artical is interesting, and shows how each candidate is inividually considered, but the oxford research shows how an individual speaking up for a candidate at such meetings can have a big impact on how opinions sway - unfortunately the presence of a journo may make a significant difference to when and how such individuals speak out. Even if it is an accurate relection it really doesn't show that there is or isn't a bias towards state educated pupils, it does that there is a good attempt to consider the whole picture for each candidate, not how succesful that is.

One quote from the Oxford research from a similar meeting shows how the state/private figures are on the minds of the selectors: "The selector remarked that, ‘as an added bonus,’ this applicant would count towards the subject’s state school intake because the student had changed from a private school to a state grammar school for the sixth form"

Amber2 Mon 28-Jan-13 10:20:25

IMO, it makes no sense to apply a crude state vs private positive bias towards the former, even taking five years of state into account - it should depend on the partcular state school and perhaps social circumstances - a pupil getting high A levels from a comp in a deprived inner city should be distinguished from one at a selective state grammar school or a state school where many of the parents may be drawn from homes worth one miilion or more. I could understand why one would take into account some mitigating circumstances also based on deprived childhood etc. and perhaps these things should come with some sort of supported special statement. But I don't see why a middle class child from Tiffin or Reading Grammar should be given any advantage in terms Oxbridge offers to a like child from Abingdon or Wellington, and if its true that the quota is simply state vs private then that is wrong.

gelo Mon 28-Jan-13 10:26:12

It makes no sense Amber, and I'm sure admissions bods try to admit the truly disadvantaged over the others, but while the headline metric in the press remains state v private, that measure will influence things a little. It's a good thing if there is going to be a move away from that.

Annelongditton Mon 28-Jan-13 10:37:02

It all very well comparing the Oxbridge numbers of Westminster with the super selective grammar schools like Tiffin Boys but you also need to compare the A level results.

At Westminster 53% of A level entries were A* that compares to 29% at Tiffin. Overall A*/A at Westminster were 86% compared to 68% at Tiffin.

They are both good schools and candidates will be compared on a like for like basis.

Copthallresident Mon 28-Jan-13 12:26:49

gelo As I said in my post I don't doubt there is some unconscious bias, academics tend to be lefty liberals wink as well as having the pressure of targets, but above all they also want the brightest most motivated pupils, who will succeed best on the course. Pupils and parents seeking to play the system by transferring to the state system at sixth form might well find themselves on the receiving end of an unconscious bias that suspected they had tried to play the system. At my own uni the system is similar to the Cambridge one, in that it is the contextual information; poorly performing schools, poverty, carers, illness, disability and SpLDs that really determines whether a candidate is shown any (formal) bias. Likewise the widening access strategy is focused on poorly performing schools who would not normally encourage their pupils to apply, mentoring schemes to provide positive role models, and neighbourhoods where few go to university. It is that culture rather than one of obsessing over targets that prevails in universities, and it can only be a matter of time before the OFA catch up. This is an interesting article on the Oxford situation www.cherwell.org/news/college/2012/10/12/oxford-denies-antiprivate-school-bias

In those circumstances it would be pretty silly to advise that there is definite advantage in switching to a state sixth in terms of university admissions, Oxbridge in particular. Some of DDs peers did switch to state for sixth form, though for reasons of choice of course, and no longer being able to pay fees. There was no obvious difference in the unis they were successful in applying to. The only instance where one might have thought that an Oxbridge place had been won that might not have been (and how can you know) they didn't get the A* anyway. I would add our local sixth form colleges are outstanding and have successful Oxbridge schemes and yet those pupils felt that without a doubt they had not had the same level of support in both the admission process and their academic studies that they would have had in their private school. Middle class parents should be reassured they are still paying for advantage.

In any case Mr Seddon is being disingenuous in pandering to parental and Telegraph prejudices, there have always been very bright straight A students who didn't get into Oxbridge and went elsewhere and got Firsts, even back when I was a teenager, in Victorian times according to my DDs. Now it is far more competitive, and TBH courses are more challenging too, especially given the number of very bright overseas students who apply, and it is as hard to get into some elite universities as it was to get into Oxbridge then. Doubtless Mr Seddon's very bright students get into the UCLs and Durhams etc. and are happy and thrive there.

gelo Mon 28-Jan-13 13:12:12

copthall, I think I said given two equal candidates universities would choose the state one and I stand by that. that's not a major advantage except in the event of a tie for the last available place and is probably outweighed by the lower chance of an A* from a state school anyway as your anecdote suggests. Oxford takes the brightest and best of course, but then they agonise for ages over which of the marginal candidates to give the remaining places to. It's not at all easy, they try to be fair and pick the best and expend a great amount of time and energy in doing so, but actually they often just don't know who the best are for those places. One don suggested recently they might get the same amount of accuracy by drawing straws at this point. Given that amount of uncertainty I'd be surprised if there wasn't a bias (conscious or not) towards picking candidates that boosted their target figures.

LittleFrieda Mon 28-Jan-13 13:24:46

My son switched from indepenendent school to state sixth form in September. I have no idea how he's getting on. grin

Sympathique Mon 28-Jan-13 13:36:31

Around here there seems to be at least a perception that privately educated oxbridge candidates get less or no margin for error at interviews compared to state applicants: one minor muff up and you're in the pool. Given what's said about preparation for interviews at private and state schools that doesn't seem unreasonable.

Anecdotally, I've known quite a few parents switch their kids (yes, parents' decision...) at sixth form for the reason given by the OP. Can't remember one of their kids getting into oxbridge. However, they may have been switched because parents were already concerned about their chances.

JoanByers Thu 31-Jan-13 13:55:33

Just looking at this:


I have a feeling that this super-selective state grammar school is the most, or one of the most, successful state school in terms of % of getting children into Oxbridge, with 25 from 140 last year (18%).

However then reading this:


you find that they admit 180 in Y7, on the basis that they will kick 40 of those out after Y11 (nearly a quarter of the year), and then with the remaining 140, they give them a shortlist of the A Levels they are allowed to sit.

In this context 18% doesn't look very impressive.

happygardening Thu 31-Jan-13 14:04:39

Joan I think you poking a hornets nest!!

JoanByers Thu 31-Jan-13 14:37:52

Not at all, I was just slightly shocked at how autocratic and unreasonable the school seems to be.

Only 14 sat further maths A Level last year, which seemed low, but then that was a big increase on the 9 that sat it the previous 3 years!

Also one or two doing Chinese or Japanese A Level each year, which they don't teach, hmm......

boomting Wed 06-Feb-13 00:49:25

Joan it's fairly common for pupils who speak another language at home to take GCSEs and A Levels in that language. Universities tend to discount native language A Levels from their offers, but it can help to prove to employers that they have appropriate fluency.

London you're correct of course.

Amber I have seen figures that suggest Oxford / Cambridge admit near-identical proportions of those who apply from state and private schools. Not about to dig out the figures at 1am though...

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