Looking for the helpful Cambridge admissions tutor who posted a while age..

(358 Posts)
seeker Mon 20-May-13 22:16:18

......if you're around, could I ask a couple of questions, please?

PiratePanda Mon 20-May-13 22:22:38

There are loads of people around who have done Cambridge admissions/have been or are Cam admissions tutors. Anyone in particular, and what's your question? Your post is a bit, errr, opaque.

seeker Mon 20-May-13 22:38:41

Sorry,ni don't mean to be opaque! It was just there was a specific poster, but I can't remember her name.

My questions are on behalf of my dd. Basically, she understands that it's not really worth applying to Oxford if you don't have all As or a*s atGCSE, but Cambridge says that they don't attach so much significance to GCSEs. However, in practice, do most applicants have As and A*s anyway, and are your chances of getting in without them pretty thin?

And the second question- which college in your opinion would you apply to to read philosophy?

Mendi Mon 20-May-13 22:47:46

Seeker, I am not an admissions tutor but I did go to Cambridge. IMO it is not a question of choosing a particular college as being better or worse at a particular subject. The course material is the same at all colleges and it's just a question of who you have as your Director of Studies and how well you get on with them. The tutorial teaching style is quite intense if you don't get on with your DoS.

College choice also has a major impact on your chances of getting in and the social life you have when you are there. It's a question of finding the right environment for your DD.

If you are concerned about your DD's GCSE grades (and I would say these will matter - they certainly did years ago when I was applying and it hasn't got any less competitive, quite the reverse), then you should box clever with college choice. The big name colleges may carry lots of kudos but your DD has a huge advantage in being female: she can apply to one of the all-female colleges and statistically will have a far higher chance of getting in. Once actually there, being in an all-girl college does not affect your social life negatively - everyone does loads outside college anyway.

Your DDs sixth form college or school should be able to advise you on colleges too and may well have good relationships with some.

Good luck to your DD. It's a stressful time.

WouldBeHarrietVane Mon 20-May-13 22:49:04

I think you may be thinking of this recent thread which has lots of useful info:


I taught in the RG and went to Oxbridge myself and I wouldn't encourage my dd to apply unless I thought she was excellent with really high predictions, because it's fierce competition to get in and the pressure once in can be quite unrelenting. I would also be honest with her upfront and tell her she needs not to count on it and not to take it as a personal rejection if she doesn't make it.

That said, if she really is excellent I would encourage her to go for it whatever her GCSE grades smile

About colleges, she needs to look at:

1) somewhere that has Philosophy fellows/dons based in college so the subject is prioritised.
2) 'big name' Philosophy fellows/dons based in college will mean excellent teaching but also stiffer competition for places
3) what kind of atmosphere does she want? Read the college info online and talk to current students - go to college open days to get a feel. They are all very different and I think feeling you are a good fit is important.

junebeetle Mon 20-May-13 23:03:20

They are supposed to value high A level UMS over GCSEs, but I expect most strong applicants have both. The thing is, she will never know unless she tries, and it's only one choice out of 5, so if it's what she wants why not give it a go? Even if the odds aren't that great, a small chance may be better than no chance. If there are any mitigating factors for the GCSEs (eg/ illness, some sort of family disruption or if they were good in the context of her school) then I think there is a mechanism to get that factored in.

seeker Mon 20-May-13 23:07:48

Thank you all. She wasn't eventhinking about Oxbridge -she used to have vague fantasies, but thought her GCSEs ruled her out. Then she bumped into her head teacher today, who asked her what her plans were, then threw cambridge into the mix. So I thought I'd see what I could find out. I suppose it's got to be worth a punt....( no pun intended!)

WouldBeHarrietVane Mon 20-May-13 23:08:27

How bad are her GCSEs?

junebeetle Mon 20-May-13 23:12:48

I know of one cambridge offer holder this year from a good comprehensive, no mitigating factors and just one A* gcse but mostly very high AS UMS. I think it's quite rare though.

seeker Mon 20-May-13 23:13:09

Not bad at all objectively- only in the context of her school! 2A*s, 5As and 3Bs. But she's predicted 3A*s and an A for AS. She's rather come into her own in the 6th form.

WouldBeHarrietVane Mon 20-May-13 23:17:37

I wouldn't be worried about those, personally. Obviously not amazing, but not grades that would rule her out, I wouldn't have thought.

Gruntfuttocks Mon 20-May-13 23:26:27

How 'involved' in her subject is she? Does she choose to spend free time reading / investigating further? Is she doing any extra courses? Can she talk about it for hours? Is she genuinely passionate about it? These are the sorts of questions you need to ask yourself and her. Much more likely to be successful if the answers are yes. Cambridge are very good at sussing people out and are well aware of the 'late developers' who take off in sixth form. Don't despair over poor GCSEs but do be realistic.

Yellowtip Tue 21-May-13 08:22:08

One thing about Cambridge over Oxford seeker is that they are far, far more likely to interview. She will need excellent AS results in her top three subjects and excellent written work to submit. But the fact of being really very likely to get an interview is a big bonus for someone who really has come into their own.

seeker Tue 21-May-13 08:24:56

Thank you.

She knows it's an outside chance, obviously, but she's just gathering information from every available source at the moment, so she's ready to think about it properly once AS levels are over.

Well, she certainly never shuts up about the subject- we have had to classify philosophy as "work" and therefore not suitable for dinner table conversation.........

themottledcat Tue 21-May-13 08:59:37

It was BoffinMum who was the admissions tutor.

Although agree with Yellowtip on other thread re. not realistic info being imparted, as far as all the successful Oxbridge candidates at my DCs' grammar school over the years are concerned....no-one has got in with less than top grades at A2 (even one with extenuating circumstances.....).

Also, out of interest, can you get an A* at AS level? Thought it was only at A2 but am ready to be corrected!! (Have vested interest as DS in Yr12 too....but older DC pre-date the A* at A levels).

Yellowtip Tue 21-May-13 09:20:56

I suppose she could view it as a good incentivising thing to do to distract her from her ASs smile

The CU website is by far the best place to go, honestly.

Another thing about the Cambridge process is that it's less centralised than Oxford (although in Oxford that varies between subjects). And therefore college choice matters more. That's probably worth focussing on for a late blossomer.

It is only one choice though. I always tell mine they should waste a choice at the top, not the bottom.

Fuckwittery Tue 21-May-13 09:25:46

I got into Cambridge with 2 Bs at GSCE (rest As and A*s)
This was 1999, don't know how much has changed.

I had some difficult home circumstances and think I got a good reference from my school as a result, was predicted As at A-level.

If your DD's school supports her application that might really help.

alreadytaken Tue 21-May-13 09:40:34

I have nothing to do with Cambridge admissions, but did have a child go through it this year. You might need to pm BoffinMum to get her advice, sometimes people get fed up of accusations and stop giving advice.

Cambridge publish some useful information here www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/statistics/ and here www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/philosophy/index.php#Entry-Requirements One of these shows what written work colleges ask for.

Visit as many colleges as you can get around and read the websites carefully to identify colleges she might like. It's always possible to take a gap year and apply after A levels if she does really well, although my impression is that grades needed are higher than the normal offers. They expect applicants to exceed their offers.

There was a good article in one of the papers about what to think about before applying - things like short terms and the type of place you want to live. I think I posted a link once....

You don't need to decide before having the AS results. There's no harm in taking a good hard look at the colleges before then, it's a bit late afterwards.

Although she could apply to female colleges they don't always take from people who apply to them, they take quite a few from the pool. Some colleges seem to be good at placing their applicants elsewhere, but again just my impression.

alreadytaken Tue 21-May-13 09:45:56

College open day information - register now but look at where to visit once her exams are over www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/events/opendays/cambridge/

Yellowtip Tue 21-May-13 09:51:33

My advice would be that AAB a A2 will not get you a place at Cambridge alreadytaken without extraordinary mitigating circumstances.

I also think that it's worth bearing in mind that some people wear their credentials on their sleeves on MN and others don't. So if advice seems sound, don't automatically dismiss it because the giver hasn't declared their presidency of an Oxford college (for example).

Yellowtip Tue 21-May-13 09:52:34

AAB at A2.

I did philosophy at Cambridge, I think it's a brilliant course. At the time, and I don't know if this has changed, it was the only university in the country offering the chance to study philosophy for three years without combining it with other subjects. You can really learn a lot of philosophy that way, and get to grips with what the point of the subject is.

On colleges, it's a small subject, so only a few people from each college doing it. My college didn't have any philosophy dons at all, but they found me a good director of studies elsewhere.

Slipshodsibyl Tue 21-May-13 13:22:01

Alreadytaken has linked to open day info. They are on 4th and 5 th July with some colleges also offering open days on 3rd. If you cant't make these there are further opportunities to visit Colleges in the early Autumn. You may email tutors directly with questions which would be a good idea. Post A Level applicants in Arts/humanities tend to need 2 A* in order to have a fighting chance. I think about 14 % of successful post A2 applicants have one A*. Science candidates tend to have more A* than Arts/humanities. Exam results at A Level are key but there are always exceptions and anomalies. They are looking for intellectual progression so although those GCSE results would be very much in the lower reaches for successful applicants, really good AS results would help mitigate. The average offer holder has around 95 % in the top three subjects - it says that online.

Still best to email a few of the current tutors though, preferably subject tutors.

PiratePanda Tue 21-May-13 22:35:21

GCSEs do still matter, but nowhere near as much as UMS scores for AS levels. TBH it's rare to see candidates without at least 11 A*/As at GCSE because the standard is SO high. Buf if the Bs are in irrelevant subjects for your DD's chosen course then they will be ignored, as it is recognised that very few people are equally good at both arts/humanities and sciences.

As for college choice, if she's unsure about her chances I would either gor a women's college or for a smaller less well known college (e.g. Corpus rather than King's)

Lexagon Tue 21-May-13 22:59:27

I got an offer from Cambridge with a B and a C at GCSE (in core subjects, although not related to my degree, the rest a mix of A*s and As), and my offer was AAAB. This was recent - so it's not impossible (although I know it's relatively unusual.)
I would really advise against picking a college by playing the numbers game, and instead just pick one you can imagine yourself living in for three years smile

Yellowtip Tue 21-May-13 23:03:37

But Lexagon did you attend a high achieving school and if you did, did you have mitigating circumstances?

Those applying from a grammar should be aware that the bar is set relatively higher, which is as it should be.

Lexagon Tue 21-May-13 23:25:09

Just an average comprehensive - no mitigating circumstances. As I said, I know it's a bit of an anomaly.

PiratePanda Tue 21-May-13 23:28:23

We did make someone an EE offer once, and not that long ago. But it was very unusual.

seeker Wed 22-May-13 06:07:02

Thank you all. She's probably going to give it a go. As it says on the website "the only certain thing about admission to Cambridge is that if you don't apply you won't get a place", or words to that effect. And as dd says, if she gets an interview, if nothing else, it'll be an interesting experience!

PiratePanda Wed 22-May-13 07:25:10

Good on your DD! Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.

WouldBeHarrietVane Wed 22-May-13 07:53:34

The message to give is that being good enough to be encouraged by school to apply is in itself an achievement. Hope for the best, but appreciate the low chances. If she gets in they will be lucky to have her, but if not then she will have a great time elsewhere.

alreadytaken Wed 22-May-13 08:11:29

the interviews at Cambridge are an interesting process but if she found herself in the winter pool it can be quite stressful, although that matters less now there are no January exams. Her GSCEs are rather on the low side so she'll need stellar AS results, a good school reference and perhaps something in the summer that demonstrates commitment to the course. I'd suggest thinking about what can go in the personal statement but not taking a final decision until you see the AS results. The Student Room website has a personal statement library that can be helpful.

Yellowtip Wed 22-May-13 08:23:30

I know of an EE offer for Philosophy, five years ago. But the A Levels aren't the weak link, it seems to be only the GCSEs. The need for excellent ASs has already been mentioned. Personally I'd avoid looking at any other personal statement like the plague - just go to it fresh.

PiratePanda Wed 22-May-13 08:33:19

Second Yellowtip re personal statements; they are generally used to draw discussion points and interview questions out of, so they really do need to be individual. If you say Jane Eyre is your favourite book, woe betide you if that's not true, because ten to one you'll be asked all sorts of deep questions about it.

Other than that, the personal statement will never tip the balance. It's AS results that really count.

niminypiminy Wed 22-May-13 09:08:31

- just throwing this into the ring -

If your DD is really interested in Philosophy perhaps she should look at St Andrews or UCL, which are rated the top philosophy depts Britain for their research. There is a world outside Oxbridge -- and bits of that world are better than Oxbridge.

leeloo1 Wed 22-May-13 09:15:45

I haven't read the whole thread, but used to work in admissions in Cambridge. When I was there, pretty much everyone got an interview, as the tutors like to get a 'feel' for the candidate - how passionate about their subject they are and what reading around the subject etc they've done - which is less easy to blag in real life than in the application form!

There was also an interview test for Philosophy with a couple of essay type questions. So it gives your daughter a chance to impress there.

Its worth calling a few colleges and seeing what they say - I'd second the advice to apply to a women's college, although they will take candidates from the intercollege 'pool' rather than take a weak applicant.

WouldBeHarrietVane Wed 22-May-13 09:16:29

Niminy, those are both fab unis where any student would be lucky to have a place.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Wed 22-May-13 09:26:37

I think she'd be really lucky to get in with those GCSEs. DN is probably going to apply, not Philosophy but similar. She got 11 A* at GCSE and is on track for similar at A level. She thinks you need 80% A* at GCSE to be considered and she was also told they are not looking for As (everybody gets those) but the actual marks. Anything below a certain mark isn't good enough apparently. They also told her they aren't interested in whether you have DoE etc. They are looking for the best of the best in her subject. She plays sport at international level and was hoping that would help her, but I don't think it will.

niminypiminy Wed 22-May-13 09:31:53

A friend of mine is an admissions tutor for a Cambridge college. She says DoEAward and extra-curricular gubbins carries no weight at all at her college.

wordfactory Wed 22-May-13 09:43:32

I think Oxford and Cambridge aren't remotely interested in DofE or playing cricket for your first team!

But these things are often in the PS, because other universities may well be interested.

Students have to hedge their bets.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Wed 22-May-13 10:34:29

I also wonder whether a student who isn't as academically able as the majority would be happy trying to keep up with the rest for three years. It's tough being the least smartest person in the room.

I say this from experience


alreadytaken Wed 22-May-13 11:32:26

perhaps I am being too subtle. Until the AS results are in its impossible to say what chance she has of admission. A student who has come into their own in the sixth form may not struggle at university. Peers who peaked early may find they are bypassed. Best not to be too committed to an application in case the AS results suggest it would be a waste. However if they are great she'll need to be ready for interview. The summer holidays are a good time to do things that would help.

Cambridge have said they aren't terribly interested in DofE or other extracurriculars, it may even be on the website somewhere. Sport at international level is a mixed blessing - shows some useful characteristics but may distract from study. They do want people interested in the subject. If your academic career hasn't been perfect then you need to pay a bit more attention to other ways to look like a great candidate. Reading other personal statements can suggest things you may not have considered/ give you an idea of the competition.

kalidasa Thu 23-May-13 08:09:37

She would (realistically) be a the lower end of the GCSE range for successful applicants, especially if she comes from a very good/selective school; but if her predictions are good and she is very keen on the subject she should certainly give it a go. Some colleges run essay competitions and things like that which would be a good thing to do to show enthusiasm. (Not sure what exists in philosophy specifically.)

I have interviewed for both Oxford and Cambridge in the recent past (though I'm not working at either now) and personally I always found the relentless procession of GCSE A*s a bit wearying. GCSEs are not very difficult and mostly what those grades demonstrate are hard work, good teaching and a willingness to play the game. All useful attributes but not the be-all and end-all. Also academics do realise that a lot of applicants mature and become more focused in the lower sixth as they find the work more interesting at that stage - certainly I would be more interested in stellar A predictions with good-but-not-fantastic GCSEs rather than the other way around.

The main thing she should do is to be reading around as widely as she can in her subject and also - v. important for philosophy - practicing talking about it, so she gets some experience in articulating her ideas and having them challenged. She needs to be able to respond to criticisms/comments intelligently and be able to regroup and move the argument forward.

Extracurricular stuff is irrelevant unless it is related to her subject.

kalidasa Thu 23-May-13 08:17:03

One other thing - the info on the cambridge website (linked above) is excellent these days, but do be aware that the applications/admissions graph can be a bit misleading. E.g. Fitzwilliam this year had 6 applicants for philosophy and admitted 4 but that doesn't mean you have a 2/3 chance of getting in to that college. It is likely that several of those they accepted applied initially to other colleges and they picked them up from second interviews or the pool.

Finally, when you're looking at stats for a particular college, make sure you look back over several years. A single college in a single subject is dealing with very small numbers so they can vary a lot year by year.

seeker Thu 23-May-13 10:08:39

Thank you all again!

She is very realistic. But she still thinks it's worth a try. Her head teacher, who is also, fortuitously, her philosophy teacher will, I am sure, writ her a very strong letter of support, so that'll help a bit. Shame about the extra curriculars- she's got good and interesting ones, but they might help her somewhere else!

Can't believe it was only 5 minutes ago I was mopping puréed sweet potato from the floor round her high chair!

wordfactory Thu 23-May-13 10:28:25

seeker I think getting into Oxbridge (and a couple of other highly selective unis) is a bit of a lottery. Some really great students don't get a place...because there aren't enough places for all the great students!

As long as young people accept this and are prepared to giev it a go, because why the hell not, then I think they should.

I do feel sad though, when some pupils really set their heart on it. It's never wise to stake ones happiness on somehting one has relatively little control over.

seeker Thu 23-May-13 10:32:08

Absolutely. Dd has a friend who has his heart set on Oxford- and he will be heartbroken if h doesn't get in. But there are sooooooooo many bright 18 year olds and soooooooo few places at Oxford........

wordfactory Thu 23-May-13 11:17:07

I think also some parents set their hearts on it.

The students can be quite pragmatic because they know they'll have a great time elsewhere. Young people are good at thinking short term wink...

But some parents are devestated for their DC when they don't get in. I know a few who really really pushed their DC to take a gap year and apply again, when the DC themselves were more than happy to pop off to Warwick or Bristol or wherever...

seeker Thu 23-May-13 11:30:53

Agree again. It is very easy to get over excited if you have a clever/talented child.

WouldBeHarrietVane Thu 23-May-13 12:22:00

Also to forget how many others also have bright children.

Yellowtip Thu 23-May-13 12:36:28

word parents have no business to set their hearts on it, it's not their life.

wordfactory Thu 23-May-13 12:40:44

That's true yellow but you know how some parnets are. Particularly middle class ones wink.

To be fair I do think it all stems from a good place. These parents love their DC and want the very best for them. But they can't keep it in perspective!

I also find that some parents can be very delusional about their DC's talents. Yes, we're all hard wired to find the wonderfulness of our own DC, but it should be balanced with a good dose of realism, I think. Especially by the time our DC are teens.

But thishappens in all areas, not just academia. You wanna spend some time at the sports sidelines to hear real delusion! And don't get me started on the stage mammas!

cornflakegirl Thu 23-May-13 13:34:08

I studied Philosophy at Emmanuel College. Derek Matravers is the Philosophy Fellow, and he was really good when I was there. He never taught me though - in lectures or in supervisions (tutorials) because I didn't take his subject (Aesthetics), so I don't think that picking a college based on the Fellows is necessarily the way forward. Emmanuel is a fantastic college though (we have ducks!) and they interview everyone who has a realistic chance of getting a place.

I would completely agree with JustGive about struggling academically though. I'd always been easily the cleverest at my comprehensive, and while I loved Cambridge because I met people like me, I did find it really hard being the bottom of the class there.

alreadytaken Thu 23-May-13 14:07:58

I think seeker said her daughter's results at GSCE weren't brilliant in the context of the school so she's probably used to not being seen as the brightest one around. She may need something confidence boosting to encourage her before interview. I know nothing about philosophy but maybe something like this would get her talking about it? www.debatechamber.com/summerschools/philosophy-summer-school/

The open university lists a summer school course but the link is broken. Student comment part way down here css2.open.ac.uk/resschools/StudentExperience.aspx

Even is she decided not to apply this sort of thing might interest other universities.

Her philosophy teacher might know of something, although searching the Student Room and mumsnet might give you more ideas smile

cornflakegirl Thu 23-May-13 15:12:41

already - yeah, that part may not apply, but while I loved my time at Cambridge and don't regret it at all, I did wonder whether I might have done better academically if I wasn't always playing catch up.

alreadytaken Thu 23-May-13 16:16:48

cornflakegirl it is difficult to know, when your teenager expresses interest in applying, whether they will be playing catch up or if they will thrive on the style of teaching. We thought long and hard about whether we should encourage or discourage an application, about teaching styles, about how our teen responded when they weren't the brightest one around, about how they might handle rejection and if the type of place would suit them. Of course our views would have little impact anyway smile but we tried to get our teen to see beyond the hype and think about those things themselves.

Even if you would had done better academically elsewhere academic success isn't everything in life.

seeker Fri 24-May-13 09:16:33

She is predicted to get very good A levels, and she is a good student- I don't think she would be "playing catch up" too much. And even if she was- you can't always be top of the class, can you? Somebody has to be bottom!

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 24-May-13 09:23:22

Yellow, Word- wise words. I am constantly amazed by the level of interfering some parents think is appropriate. Perhaps I am just the most lax mother ever. Word - IIRC your DD is in a show at the moment, yes? The level of theatre/dance mums you must be encountering must be extreme. It's bad enough here with DD2s limited activities.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 10:43:03

I'd always far rather be with a peer group of people cleverer than myself than be some little queen bee in a duller pond. I've never understood the attraction in that. None of the DC do either thankfully or they wouldn't be in the places they are now. The company of interesting people (where the same proportion are likely to be nice as in the less interesting crowd) is a huge bonus in life.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 10:45:41

Also, lots of brilliant people don't think they are. It's normally the stupid ones who do.

cornflakegirl Fri 24-May-13 11:01:11

Yellowtip - that's not really the choice on offer though. I'm sure I wouldn't have been easily top of the class if I'd gone to one of the many excellent universities that aren't Oxford or Cambridge.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 11:30:43

Well then cornflake if you take alreadytaken's approach, you'd have had to consider going significantly down the pecking order of universities in order to be sure to feel good about yourself.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Fri 24-May-13 13:07:53

I'd love to be Queen Bee anywhere! Dull pond or in the company of the elite. It's never happened yet; it must be a great feeling grin

In all seriousness though, it is a struggle for some people who are used to being considered 'bright' to then find themselves struggling. I know you may find this odd Yellowtip but I found it hard to adjust from the surroundings of a northern comprehensive school to the architecturally and historically breathtaking buildings I found myself studying in.

junebeetle Fri 24-May-13 13:08:18

it's a bit of an assumption that brilliant, clever people are also the interesting ones though isn't it? I'm sure it's never as clear cut as that.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Fri 24-May-13 13:11:55

I so hope that's true junebeetle wink

alreadytaken Fri 24-May-13 13:13:52

That isn't what I said, yellowtip. In another leading university with longer terms and different teaching styles cornflake might have done better or worse academically. I'm certainly aware of students who have been rejected from Oxbridge and obtained or are on track for first class degrees at other leading universities while their friends who secured a place do not get the coveted first. Cornflake probably compares herself to peers who were of similar standard at school and wonders who got the better result.

If Oxbridge dented cornflake's confidence that can influence academic results and may have far more impact in later life. Academic success counts for little after the first few years in most occupations, confidence continues to be important.

I am sure the contacts made at Oxford will be of use to you throughout your life but interesting people can be found everywhere. If you wish to consider the proportion that are "nice" it does depend on your definition or nice. It is arguable that the proportion is lower at Oxbridge than elsewhere.

It's difficult for seeker's daughter, or for seeker, to know how the girl will do at university where so many other factors become important but it would be wrong to assume that she will be bottom of the class. She may be inspired to overtake the others. As she has done better in the sixth form than at GSCE it suggests she is the type to be inspired/work harder rather than having her confidence dented.

seeker Fri 24-May-13 13:21:14

It is also important to remember that getting a couple of Bs at GCSE is not an indicator of being thick- even if the Mumsnet constituency would so indicate!

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 13:28:06

Oxford and Cambridge Firsts are almost universally acknowledged to be harder won than other Firsts alreadytaken. Ditto their 2.1s. They're harder currency.

I only stuck in the bit about 'nice' people so that I didn't get a flood of complaints about how being clever doesn't make you nice da de da. You claim it's arguable that Oxford and Cambridge arguably have less nice people attending them overall and I'd claim that that would be an utterly pointless argument to try to sustain.

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 24-May-13 13:30:02

Am I the only person who thinks this is all incredibly previous? No harm in sussing out options of course, but surely it's as wise to wait for AS results. Predictions != grades achieved. Especially this year.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 13:37:18

There are five year olds being shown around Oxford quads as we speak Russians.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 13:41:29

To be fair Bs in the context of Y11 exams in a decent grammar is a bit average seeker, sorry. But obviously her predictions are excellent and the AS results should be able to indicate the likelihood of her making those grades.

cornflakegirl Fri 24-May-13 13:46:30

already - agree 100% again

seeker - I don't think anyone is suggesting your dd is thick - and her results clearly indicate otherwise. Just that, while you fully encourage her in her Oxbridge application (assuming AS grades are as expected), remember that Oxbridge isn't the be all and end all, or even the best place for everyone to fulfil their academic potential. (But it is fantastic and I would absolutely encourage my kids to apply if they had a chance of getting in.)

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 13:53:17

No Bs don't make you thick. But very few people I encountered at Oxbridge in the mid 90s had more than one B at GCSE even then.

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 24-May-13 14:05:50

Well that's just mad. And those parents should be ashamed.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:06:04

alreadytaken all four of mine are more confident, not less confident, through being at Oxford. So how does that work?

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:11:24

Also I think you make a mistake in the idea of 'coveted' Firsts. By no means everyone covets a First.

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 14:16:29

Oxford and Cambridge firsts are almost universally acknowledged to be harder won

Nope. I'm an academic and I've never heard anyone say this. That is pure snobbery. There are plenty of people outside Oxbridge who are brighter than many people inside Oxbridge. That goes for both students and faculty.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:25:35

It's not snobbery at all niminy. An Oxford or Cambridge degree is more highly valued in the outside world because of its rigour, not because it was achieved in a pretty Tudor quad. It's inverted snobbery to deny it. Expected obviously, but that's what it is.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 14:25:47

Miminy, I have taught in an RG Uni and I can tell you people got firsts there who would not have done at my Oxbridge Uni. My phd supervisor and another lecturer there (both Oxford grads, one a former Oxford tutor) acknowledged that.

wordfactory Fri 24-May-13 14:25:52

yellow when I htink of certain students who arrived in October, having always been seen as very clever at school, some of them really did take a knock or three to their confidence.

Some young people have been built up rather high by their parents and schools!

One of the reasons I love selective education. You don't get an inflated sense of your abilities.

russians you're completely right about the world of performing arts. You would not believe how cocky som eof the parents and Dc were when they arrived for rehearsals. They quickly catch on though wink.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:30:19

Well clearly mine have all had the confidence knocked out of them by me, so there was only one way to go smile

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 14:33:53

Oh and just remembered that one of my colleagues at the RG Uni was also teaching at a newish Uni. She admitted to me that when she marked at the newish Uni she was giving 2:1 for work she would have given a 2:2 at the RG Uni shock

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 14:35:18

I'm sorry, but I have seen work by Cambridge undergraduates and I did not think it was better than work I have seen elsewhere. Oxbridge degrees are valued because of their exclusivity not because of their rigour -- or rather, because exclusivity is mistaken for rigour. I have interviewed people who have got first class degrees and PhDs from Oxbridge and been mightily unimpressed (though not in all cases).

wordfactory Fri 24-May-13 14:36:27

nim I teach at Oxbridge and also elswhere.

I can assure you that there is a difference in rigour!

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 14:37:16

Harriet: when I worked at a new Uni we marked a lot harder than when I taught in the RG. In fact I was told never to give a third class grade when I arrived in the RG -- despite the fact that the work was no better than work I'd been giving thirds to in the new university.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 24-May-13 14:38:12

Equivalency of degree classes is a big question, and one which I am quite vocal about whenever I get chance in meetings! Mind you, that is, after all, why we have external examiners and moderated samples of work I suppose.

Equivalent or not, I would say it's true that a desmond from Cambridge will help you out in some fields more than a first from almost anywhere else.

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 14:40:54

Also, my experience of marking at Oxbridge is that they mark within a very narrow band, with almost everyone achieving between 57 - 67 for everything. Elsewhere you probably have a wider range of achievement. But from what I have seen, I have seen more brilliant work outside Oxbridge. But then, I'm only an academic with twenty years teaching in universities, most of them in permanent positions, behind me.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:41:14

Well I think a fair few senior academics would argue with you on that one niminy and a lot of people in the commercial and professional worlds too. All degrees are not equal. Where would you draw the line? Is a Cambridge 2.1 equal to a 2.1 in the same subject from, say, UWE? Or Oxford Brookes? Presumably any distinction is 'snobbery'? So all degrees are equally valid? What nonsense.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 14:41:24

Miminy interesting. Would be lovely to get all the Uni names into the chat so we could compare, but I know we don't want to out ourselves.

The 'new' Uni where the colleague lectures actually said to her 'our students don't get 2:2s' which she felt was avert strong steer that she was not to mark with her proper RG rigour hat on hmm

I taught a student myself who had a degree from a generally poorly perceived new Uni and had received a 2:1. I can honestly say he would have got a low 2:2 if that at our Uni.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:43:20

I think the marking varies notably between disciplines niminy.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 14:43:56

'A very' not avert blush

I want to be totally clear though that there were some very talented students at my RG Uni who were better than some of those I studied with at Oxbridge.

But the standard at Oxbridge was overall higher.

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 14:48:05

The external examiner system is there to achieve equivalency. Whether it always does is another question (a difficult and complex one, in my view, because there is so much variation in the sector). But while I think there is variation, it isn't standard across all subjects and institutions. And in my view, it is wrong to regard Oxbridge degrees as automatically intellectually better across the board -- they're certainly not in my subject.

People in the commercial and professional worlds can be sheep just as much as anyone else, I fear. And they are certainly not qualified to judge the intellectual quality and integrity of first class degrees from different universities.

wordfactory Fri 24-May-13 14:48:43

You see the reason I don't buy that nim is that the consistent quality of candidate is much higher at Oxbridge (or any other highly selective university) than it is at a new university.

Sure, you will always find some very very able ones in the later. Students who could easily have held their own somehwere more selective.

However, you will also find a good number of students who would never have got into a more selective university in a month of Sundays.

Now if they both send out about the same proportion of seconds and firsts, then they simply can't be equivalent!

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 14:54:54

It certainly is part of the Oxbridge myth that only the brightest and the best will hold their own there -- that's something I'm sick of hearing from people I know at Oxbridge. When I think of some of the students I have known -- say the single parent with 3 children living in inner London, living in a tower block where she was afraid every time she went out of her front door, who could only do her reading at night because she was working and looking after her children, and who'd overcome a lifetime of educational disadvantage and undiagnosed dyslexia to study, and who literally shook with excitement at being allowed to study -- well, I wonder how well the pampered poppets at Oxbridge would cope with that.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:56:30

The consistent quality of candidate is also higher than at Durham, UCL, Bristol word and the workload is greater and the hoops through which students have to jump are greater because they don't get away with a couple of essays a term. Of course there are clever students elsewhere. Those two places aren't everyone's cup of tea and there aren't enough places for all those whose cup of tea it is. But this idea that all degrees are equal given a very clear pecking order of universities in terms of entry standards just doesn't stack up. It sounds nice and egalitarian but it doesn't stack up.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 14:59:30

Miminy I think you will find that all unis, including the one you teach at now, have an intake which does not reflect the true composition of our society. This is due to the barriers and hurdles that affect children and their academic attainment before they even get to secondary school.

My Oxbridge college was actually more egalitarian in attitude than the RG Uni where I taught.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 14:59:57

Wow you're very anti Oxbridge niminy. That's extremely rude and ignorant too, to label the generality of Oxbridge students 'pampered poppets'. It suggests you know very few current Oxbridge students, or at least not a decent cross representation.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 15:04:38

I thought that too yellow. Fwiw I got in from a bog standard comp and proud of it smile

wordfactory Fri 24-May-13 15:08:37

nim I think you're talking out of your arse!

I was brought up somehwere not unlike you describe. I went to one of the worst schools in the country. And just for the LOLs I have dyslexia!!!

I am sure I am far less of a pampered poppet than you!!!!!

seeker Fri 24-May-13 15:15:29

Am I the only person who thinks this is all incredibly previous? No harm in sussing out options of course, but surely it's as wise to wait for AS results. Predictions != grades achieved. Especially this year."

Not if you want to book open days. Many are booked up already. Or if you want to amuse yourself by exploring all your options, and gathering all the information you possibly can.

wordfactory Fri 24-May-13 15:23:01


I think, the open days are in July. Which is before the results are out, no?

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 24-May-13 17:04:54

'Pampered poppet'? I very very wish. sad

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 18:27:12

I apologise for getting heated, and allowing myself to be angry.

I've lived in Cambridge for quite a long time, so I do know quite a lot of people who were students there -- including my own husband. I also encounter students in the city centre all the time. When I said that students here are pampered, I meant the lives of luxury they live here compared to students at many other universities, including the one that I teach at where the majority of students are working full time and studying in the evening.

It takes great grit and determination to see a degree through under those circumstances, and it hacks me off to hear constantly about how only the creme de la creme would be able to cope with the pressure at Oxbridge -- when plenty of students in the world beyond cope with extreme levels of pressure and achieve amazing things.

I'm sure the standard of students is uniformly high at Oxbridge. Most of them have come there having been intensively educated with the aim of getting them there. And I'm sure they get a good education. Whether they get the best education, whether Oxbridge has a monopoly on brilliance, that's open to question.

It does seem to me that it reproduces all the inequalities of selective education where intake basically equals output, and those who are lucky enough to get in are given a wealth of resources and experience quite unavailable elsewhere.

And there's a world outside Oxbridge, with some amazing people in it. It's really frustrating to see that denigrated because people are obsessed with Oxbridge being the best.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 19:34:44

Nim thanks for your post. I do understand your feelings in a way. If I'm completely honest, I didn't really fit in at Cambridge and I remember feeling very intimidated by the old Etonians and thinking they didn't know they were born. I totally agree as well that there are very clever people outside Oxbridge.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 21:09:55

niminy I think you should be less angry because I think you're falling for a stereotype. New universities do not have a monopoly of disadvantage. Off the top of my head I can think of one current student who was the one who discovered his father's body, the father having committed suicide very violently, one student whose parents have both died very recently of cancer, several students with bipolar parents which has triggered seriously dysfunctional relationships, a student with a severely autistic brother, a student whose father died of cancer in his first year, many many students struggling with depression or eating disorders or the aftermath and at least five students who come from a background of long term and serious DV. The list could go on and on. Of all those students only two are affluent, the rest are not. You do such students a disservice by labelling them 'pampered poppets' since the reality couldn't be further from the truth.

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 21:12:33

I agree that crème de la crème is an idiotic term. Bloody annoying.

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 24-May-13 21:25:00

She says it so beautifully though. smile Hence nobody has ever used the term except in irony since.

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 21:29:57

You have both misunderstood me, I think. I originally took issue with the idea that firsts from Oxbridge are harder earned than from other places. I haven't expressed myself very well, but what I was wanting to say was not that there are not disadvantaged students there, but that students at Oxbridge have a comparatively easy ride.

The facilities they enjoy are extraordinary, they have (for the most part) subsidised housing near to where they study, their directors of studies are on tap with pastoral support. They may indeed have personal problems (I know that many do). They may have to work hard (I also know that many don't). But they do not have to do this while living in the sort of circumstances that many students at other universities have to. They do not, for example, have to work full time and go to classes in the evening, and juggle their work with the legitimate demands of their family and employer, manage their commute and (until recent changes) pay all their fees upfront, as students do in the university (which, I would like to stress, is not a new university) where I work.

I do know whereof I speak. I really do. But, as I said in my last post, I shouldn't have got cross, and written intemperately. And I wouldn't want to say that somebody who wants to go to Oxbridge shouldn't go there. I'm merely trying to say that there are other places out there, some better than Oxbridge. In the case of a person who wants to study philosophy, those would be St Andrews and UCL.

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 21:32:43

(To add to my second paragraph: someone who gets any kind of degree under those circumstances has my deepest admiration; those who get a first do so because they are brilliant, and determined, and hard working. Their firsts are not more easily earned than those at Oxbridge.)

Yellowtip Fri 24-May-13 21:55:36

niminy yours views are clearly coloured by a minority of students whose circumstances are out of the norm.

Comparing young students of the normal age group recently out of school and single, then I think you'd find it hard to prove that Oxford and Cambridge have more pampered poppets than Bristol, Durham, Exeter or St. Andrews (alphabetical not poppet order).

Also, I used the term hard won in terms of intellectual merit, not difficulty of individual circumstance, obviously.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 22:00:58

Nim I think it's also true to say that students at Oxbridge in some subjects have less staff contact time than other unis. So they have to work very hard, off their own bat, to do the essays. certainly in my time at Oxbridge student mental health problems were not uncommon. In my college I knew at least 2 students who left because they couldn't take the (very largely self-imposed) pressure.

I take my hat off to people struggling to study against adverse circumstances. But that doesn't lessen the genuine academic achievements of the many excellent students who study at Oxford and Cambridge.

niminypiminy Fri 24-May-13 23:08:01

Harriet: can that really be true? AFAIK Oxford and Cambridge hang onto the supervision system, which is incredibly expensive to run, because it give the student more contact time. One one-hour supervision per fortnight per paper on a one-to-basis does not add up to less contact time than one and a half or two hours per week per course shared with up to 25 other students (seminar sizes varying enormously between institutions, subjects and individual modules). Certainly there is more time in class in the second case, but there is a great deal less individual attention. Also we should remember that the supervision system is financed by subcontracting a great deal if it to poorly paid graduate students. You may go to a college with a famous name, but that is no guarantee that you'll ever be taught by them -- or that you'll be taught by them for a paper that covers their field of expertise.

I am still sceptical about the standards at Oxbridge being so much higher than anywhere else, partly because I believe in value added. Having an intake full of AAA students may mean simply that nothing much happens to them in the course of their degree, intellectually speaking. They go in able to get good exam results, they get more good exam results, and then they leave again.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 23:13:04

I think the value add is the work students do themselves, because of the great lectures, the academic atmosphere, the challenge of writing lists of essays, the libraries, the bright fellow students to soar with.

As to the contact time, in my subject I got only one hour contact time per week for short terms - say 28 hours per academic year. Most one to one, sometimes one to two. No seminars/tutorials and went to around 3 lectures per week. At the RG Uni where I taught they had several seminars a term in each subject in small groups, more lectures and feedback from essays in one to one tutorials twice a term in each module. So quite a lot of input.

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 23:13:27

Lots not lists - this phone hmm

WouldBeHarrietVane Fri 24-May-13 23:13:45

Omg and spar not soar as well confused

seeker Fri 24-May-13 23:52:22

St Andrews? Hmm-don't get me started!

Greythorne Fri 24-May-13 23:53:07

what's wrong with St Andrews?

seeker Sat 25-May-13 00:11:09

Too small, too posh, too isolated, too inward looking. You can't do your shopping in Willie Lows or buy a poke of chips or a fudge doughnut without bumping into the person you owe an essay to. Still not sure whether the second part of the twentieth century happened or whether it was a figment of someone's imagination...

WouldBeHarrietVane Sat 25-May-13 07:52:07

Seeker you should find the atmosphere of some Oxbridge colleges very recognisable then!!

seeker Sat 25-May-13 08:26:08

True. But both Oxord and Cambridge have railway stations and you can be in London in an hour. And both have populations of rather more than 18,000!
The entire town of St Andrews has the atmosphere of an Oxbridge college.
[mindful of any literal minded readers- I exaggerate for comic effect]

WouldBeHarrietVane Sat 25-May-13 08:50:07

IME - don't know if things are different now, no one went to London much during term (maybe once if that)? And tbh in some colleges incl mine people rarely socialised outside. Again, don't know if true now. Tbh I think you would feel a spark of recognition of the atmosphere!! I lived close to Durham for a while and that felt like a little campus smile

seeker Sat 25-May-13 08:56:43

I know you're right- but at least you theoretically could could get out if you wanted to! Once the nights draw in in St Andrews.....[shudder] In my day the last bus back was something like 5.00.

seeker Sat 25-May-13 08:57:48

Even Harriet felt the need to escape.....

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 09:08:38

niminy 'value added' is a flawed measure. It's the same with highly selective schools. The higher the entry level the less scope for the seemingly much more impressive value added displayed by other institutions.

My DC must be incredibly fortunate then. Each one of them has been taught individually by academics who are very definitely leaders in the field (I have to take the medic's word for this; the other subjects I'm certain about). And only the History one has had to go to other colleges much. As it happens her college tutor is also the authority on her special subject, so that worked. Speaking as a mother here (so better placed than anyone to detect value added) I see enormous value added intellectually which has to do with far more than simply growing up.

WouldBeHarrietVane Sat 25-May-13 09:12:32

True! Maybe in a mixed college she would have stayed smile

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 09:13:46

Last bus back from where seeker? grin.

Durham is small but not as small as St. A. Much more accessible to bright lights if you feel that way inclined though not a lot do, or not often. It's cosy enough and pretty for sure but doesn't in any way resemble Oxford or Cambridge.

seeker Sat 25-May-13 09:16:14

Women in Balliol??????? The very idea!

seeker Sat 25-May-13 09:18:09

Edinburgh if you were lucky. Dundee if you weren't.grin

mummytime Sat 25-May-13 09:38:04

When I was at Oxford * lots* of people popped down to London during term. The trains were a pain for getting back which is why The Oxford Tube did so well.

Cambridge seemed much more distant, but there were lots of people on my train when I went back there on a Sunday (I only worked in Cambridge).

St. Andrews seemed far posher, but I only saw the students on a train as I was going to Aberdeen.

Oxford and Cambridge offer a very intense experience which is why they look after their students, and ban term time working.

UptheChimney Sat 25-May-13 09:39:20

But these things are often in the PS, because other universities may well be interested

Former Admissions tutor at two RG universities ( not Oxbridge). I now generally focus on research and PG teaching, but still do my bit interviewing applicants. In my field we interview everyone likely to be offered a place.

Seriously, we're not really that interested in extra-curriculars, unless they are related to the degree you want to read. At the level of achievement we expect at GCSE and A levels, I'd take for granted that applicants have good extra-curriculars, as otherwise they'd not fit the profile of interesting, over-achievers that we look for.

It's a pattern, I think: high achievement is rarely limited to just one area of your life.

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 09:45:45

UptheChimney one extremely competitive university recently, I'm sure accidentally, circulated the minutes of its Admissions Committtee which said that they were actively seeking very high achievers in sports and the arts. It made interesting reading....

princessnumber2 Sat 25-May-13 09:52:26

Just found this and can't resist adding my two penneth.

I went to a very bog standard northern comp where extra curricular activities were non existent. My parents left school at 14 and were clueless about academia so I had no advice from them. I got all As at GCSE and applied to Cambridge after getting AAA at A level. I originally applied to a decent RG uni and was all set to go but when I got my results I changed my mind about my subject and decided to give Cambridge a go.

There was an admissions test for my subject for which I did no prep at all. Hadn't even seen a practice paper. No prep for interview either. I had left home at 17 and was working in London so just took a day off work for the interview.

I found the interviews (subject and general admissions tutor) quite enjoyable. It felt like a chat. Maybe they gave me a break because of my background but in hindsight I think I probably came across as very independent (and in no way pampered!).

My dh went to the same college but went to private school, did practice tests, interview coaching, had graduate parents etc. I have no idea how I got in really but I am so glad I did.

It was very tough academically. I got a 2.1 (1sts in some exams). Have since done other degrees and post grad at other good unis and found it easier to get 1sts there than my Cambridge 2.1. Not because I was an experienced student but because the workload was lighter and the standard required for good marks not as high.

Socially I found Cambridge very intense and weird at first. People from posh schools slotted straight into the drinking societies and boat clubs and at first I thought I'd made a big mistake. However the standards are so high, supervisions so intense, the competition so fierce as everyone is very bright, that i think it fundamentally changed the way i think and work. Sure this might have happened elsewhere but, having studied elsewhere, I'm not so sure. I also made great lifelong friends, met my dh and have found it has opened doors for me for my whole life.

That said I did have a pretty big psychological wobble in my final year due to the academic pressure. I appreciate that other students face massive pressures in other ways but anyone thinking of Cambridge should be aware that it can feel like an academic pressure cooker at times.

I would advise your daughter to give an application a go if she's interested. It sounds like you'd be a good person to catch her if she doesn't get in.

princessnumber2 Sat 25-May-13 09:59:03

Sorry that was a bit of a dissertation...

alreadytaken Sat 25-May-13 10:19:40

niminy you're obviously right. Even Oxford and Cambridge select their postgraduates/ staff from outside their own university at times. It is also true that certain employers obsess about Oxbridge degrees. Some London law firms apparently make Suits look realistic although there aren't a lot of employers who are so stupid.

The protected nature of life at Oxbridge is one of the benefits of going there. Students do have good facilities, low rents and good bursaries. I don't know if they actually get better or worse teaching but those who are leading authorities in their field aren't necessarily also good at transmitting that information to others.

As UCL has all the costs of living in London seekers child might need to consider if the extra costs of a London university would be worth it. Unless she could live at home it would be a lot more expensive to study there than Cambridge. Are there other universities to consider?

As seeker said it is too late to think about this when AS results are in. College choice would have to be rushed. Seeker you can visit in both July and September, there are open days in September too. College choice may be important.

alreadytaken may I ask why is college choice important?

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 12:32:41

On what particular point and in what way is niminy 'obviously right', alreadytaken? On the point that all degrees are equal I would say that niminy was obviously wrong.

Of course not all leading authorities make good teachers but many do. And many less authoritative academics are mediocre at communicating too. I'd rather have an expert who was flaky at teaching than a middling academic who was a flaky teacher. Just because you're not a recognised expert doesn't make you a good teacher per se.

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 12:35:06

If you simply mean that niminy is 'obviously right' that there are bright people beyond the confines of Oxford and Cambridge well then yes I agree that that is a very obvious point.

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 12:39:14

alreadytaken why now the disparagement of London law firms? smile As employers, London law firms are 'stupid'? Really? confused. Could you share your experience please?

niminypiminy Sat 25-May-13 13:52:32

This is my final post on this. If you want experts in the field of philosophy to teach you, don't go to Cambridge. The top departments for philosophy are elsewhere.

mummytime Sat 25-May-13 13:53:57

College is important as it can influence who you have your Tutorials with, as well as influencing accommodation and other factors. For example I would recommend my old college for anyone, as it can provide accommodation for all students (which saves you money as you don't have to pay rent for the vacations). Also how much opportunity students get to meet/mix with "world experts" can vary with college.

On teaching, I know that new lecturers at Oxford are being "strongly advised" to under take training, and obtain a qualification in teaching.

RussiansOnTheSpree Sat 25-May-13 14:05:05

Only a few months ago, Seeker's DD wanted to be a theatre practioner. If this is still a possible interest for her beyond her degree, then I honestly can't think of a better place to go than Cambridge. Several people I knew while I was there are properly properly famous, or, properly successful (not always the same people ;) ) in a variety of performing arts, writing directing etc. There are massive opportunities for people there in that sort of field. If I thought for one moment that my DD1 was likely to get the requisite GCSE grades I'd probably advise her to consider it too, if only because the eclectic mix of opportunities there will better reflect her own eclectic interests and talents than a very focussed conservatoire course. But she isn't going to get the grades, so it's moo. (Yes we have been watching friends. Again. Send help. )

duchesse Sat 25-May-13 14:12:27

I was at Cambridge in the same year as a now very famous actor and a variety of extremely high-profile meeja types. We were supposed to be studying law but they spent most of their time hanging around footlights and various drama societies.

DH allegedly did maths but spent most of his time singing and playing his viola.

You get the idea- it's possible at Cambridge (as long as you choose a sensible subjects without too many lectures and practicals (ie not medicine or Nat Sci) to do a lot of your chosen hobby as well as study for your degree.

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 14:12:48

Russians despite the grade deflation last year 50% of the cohort got at least 5A* (A*, not A*/ A) and your DD is clearly towards the top of the pile. I think you're going to get a pleasant surprise on results day.

Prozacbear Sat 25-May-13 14:14:29

Read through most of this thread and wanted to add my penny; which is a bit live princessnumber2's penny.

I graduated from Cambridge in 2009. I'd suggest, OP, that if your daughter has a space to use up on her UCAS form, she goes for it. Reasons why:

Coming from a grammar school (a small out of the way one), not having grown up in the UK and being a "person of colour", I went to one of the smallest, oddest and most traditional Cambridge colleges. Mixed sex, but most of the fellows had been there for over 30 years, and there were indeed many people from schools that cost more than my mother makes in a year. I found that shocking, and actually segregated myself initially because I was nervous of those people. Now,my closest friends are those people, who turned out to be great people.

I wouldn't call it a pampered environment ... there's money, but to be honest not much to spend it on during term time apart from Jack Wills and Cindies nightclub ... I never felt poor and never missed out. They work you hard. We did 4 essays a week. I talk to friends from school who did my subject who did 2 a term; I could have hung myself. But it was worth it - as an enthusiast about my subject I wanted to learn as much as I could - if your DD is the same, then why shouldn't she consider Cambridge? The tutorial system, by the way, isn't (in my experience and that of my friends) a system of spoon-feeding. You bring your essay, your tutor rips it (and you) apart a bit and makes you think - there's no room for laziness there.

So, if you think your daughter wants to be in a collegiate environment and that the tutorial system will support her learning style, I wouldn't worry about her GCSE's. Mine were about the same, but I had a C in there.

Just don't let her visit the Pitt Club. wine...

Prozacbear Sat 25-May-13 14:18:35

p.s. read through a couple more - yes, unless you do NatSci or Medicine you have time to do lots of other things - theater, music, sport, mooching in the bar. And if your DD wants to work in theater, the ADC is amazing and there are lots of opportunities to work on and backstage. Corpus playroom is also a great venue and The Shop (if it still exists, I think it does) is a student-owned and run creative space where they put on amateur theater etc.

If you do NatSci or Medicine you have time to ... row.

UptheChimney Sat 25-May-13 15:50:43

Of course not all leading authorities make good teachers but many do. And many less authoritative academics are mediocre at communicating too. I'd rather have an expert who was flaky at teaching than a middling academic who was a flaky teacher. Just because you're not a recognised expert doesn't make you a good teacher per se

Thank you for saying this, Yellowtip.

I do so get sick of the "wisdom" of top research professor=crap teacher. University is as ich, if not more, about learning, rather than teaching, and who better to enable and facilitate learning than a top researcher in the subject you're studying?

alreadytaken Sat 25-May-13 16:38:07

secretswirrels (hope I got that right) although the colleges make efforts to ensure that candidates get the same chance of admission wherever they apply the process depends on people. If you have a brilliant academic record the chance of admission probably is the same at any college but if you don't it may just depend on the person interviewing you. Therefore it makes sense to try and choose who that is. If you do get in then colleges offer slightly different things and you need to be sure you'll like living there.

UpTheChimney Generally the assumption seems to be that top research professsor = great teacher. Enabling and facilitating learning is a skill. If you are preoccupied with your research efforts it's perhaps not one that you work to develop. Of course you may possess those skills anyway but the assumption that you must have them is just that, an assumption.

Yellowtip Sat 25-May-13 22:18:33

alreadytaken I disagree with you on this as on so many other things (intercalated degrees excepted, on which I doff my cap at you as the unparalleled MN expert).

It seems to me that the received stereotype is rather that of the brilliant but socially awkward and crumbly don barely able physically to climb down the stairs from his set in his ivory tower to eat at high table, let alone mentally engage with his students. I believe the reality to be somewhat different, with just very clever dons of both sexes and all ages deeply interested in their students as much as their subjects and well able to pass it all on.

Do you claim different? And your evidence is?

RussiansOnTheSpree Sat 25-May-13 22:41:56

The 'teaching" that I received at Cambridge was mainly superb. However, it was a very different kettle of fish from the teaching I have been required to deliver on MBA courses, and the teaching DH delivers as a RG academic (to admittedly much much much bigger tutorial groups). It is entirely possible that the majority of people at non Oxbridge universities wouldn't like the way 'teaching' is done at Oxford and Cambridge. That doesn't mean that the teaching is bad though, just that it's a case of horses for courses. There are so many different ways to teach....I've taught (at post graduate level) all over Europe (also in the US, and Latin America) and the differences in what is considered 'good' are sometimes quite extreme. For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not holding myself out as a great teacher, I think I'm Skrot at it, to be honest. But I do have extremely wide ranging experience grin sad

funnyperson Mon 27-May-13 09:42:10

seeker It is good to aim high. Esp if the AS grades square up.

If the AS grades do square up you will need to reassure your child that
a)It is a wonderful place
b)It is easier to do well and have a good time there, given the same brain, because of less travelling and the higher staff/student ratio. It is also cheaper.
c)There are a lot of people there from ordinary households.
d)The interview process is nerve wracking and so worth preparing for by lots of reading and discussing issues with family and friends this summer. It is this preparation which will ensure he/she doesn't dry up on the day.

If grades are excellent and he/she doesn't get in, I think a gap yah is a good idea personally.

If the AS grades don't square up, don't apply.

fatandlumpy Tue 28-May-13 16:18:49

Hmmm. Dad left school at 15 to join the Army. Mum (from SE Asia), born into poverty, left school at 11 to go to work. Me - ex Army brat with a peripatetic childhood, but somehow good at passing exams and doing big sums with minimal effort, but acquired huge attitude problem because that's what my hormones made me do... OK. Therefore - not exactly trad Oxbridge material... (apart from social engineers at Kings perhaps?!)

Somehow got into St Andrews (pre Wills!) - had no clue where it was and was surprised to find out it was on the coast... (no joke!). Drank my way through the 4 years attempting 'a science'

Applied for an industrial PhD, not fully realising that it was actually at Cambridge (again - no joke. Got bollocked for it in one interview where I asked if I HAD to join a College as I didn't want to...>facepalm<). I think I was accepted on the basis of 'scientific curiosity'. Theirs not mine.

After gaining PhD, serving a tenure as a College Fellow and generally pretending to supervise a 2nd year subject to both NatSci and MVST (medics and vets) for the last 12 years...

What I can say this...

1) St Andrews had way posher people than Cambridge.
2) College choice is important
3) Only a total arse would take a personal statement more seriously than actual grades (or performance at interview)
4) Interview is actually more important than grades for MANY Dos's I know... case in point... v. famous young actress. Applied to do an arts subject at very trad Cambridge College, one which required a short exam sat during the interview. She basically failed it but was considered for a place as her interview (apparently) was fantastic! The truth was that the crustyies that interviewed her did not know who she was....
5) Some of us can tell which students have had the pushy parents (even in 2nd year)... These are the ones which tend to 'not do as well' as the others. Tip - back off from your children. Let them decide. I've dealt with too many messes caused by parents 'living through' their children. I've even had parents corner me directly during open days etc. Not good. Always felt sorry for the kids.
6) The bit about NatSCi/MVST and rowing is true.

I teach at most of the Colleges - feel free to pm - I'll give you an honest opinion - but I WILL NOT ADVISE ON HOW TO GET YOUR KID INTO CAMBRIDGE.

Apply - hopefully she'll make interview and then if she's good enough (or impresses enough - sometimes they mean the same thing!) she'll get in and have a great time smile

Apologies for the thesis.

funnyperson Wed 29-May-13 19:15:48

seeker I just wanted to share my thoughts on the pursuit of excellence with you: If you have a DC who is fortunate enough to have been born with a good brain, then there is the choice to pursue excellence or stay above average. Top Universities such as Oxford Cambridge LSE UCL enable a young student to develop the skills and mindset to pursue excellence in studies and in extracurricular activities. As to social networks these will be present at all universities.
My DD and DS are fortunate enough to have secured places. It would have been harder to pursue excellence at other places without being called nerdy and without sacrificing those extracurricular pastimes which also make life worth living. Look at the auditoria of Magdalen College Cambridge or Magdalene College Oxford. Fantastic as the theatre music and dance which the students fill them with. Or the Holywell of Wadham. Then think that your child will be researching and writing multiple essays per week and getting timely feedback and you will see that this education is matchless. Likewise, for example, Architecture at the Bartlett/UCL, or History and Economics of Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies or Physics at Imperial. A student comes out with a very different and much extended brain and mindset capable of the pursuit of excellence. If the DC want this, then working for it will not be a burden to them, but a series of challenges and opportunities and rewards.

telsa Fri 31-May-13 19:49:12

For sure Cambridge is not the place for philosophy. Unless you want mind numbingly boring Anglo stuff. Essex, Sussex, Warwick, Heythrop much much more interesting, if you want the Continental tradition (ie not stuffy old logic, but Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Adorno etc etc)

Hmm. I had to read Nietzsche and Schopenhaur during my Cambridge degree and I wasn't even studying philosophy.

I sincerely doubt that Cambridge is as terrible as all that.

Anyway, sorry, just wanted to say I am a true example of what fatand warns about the children of pushy parents coasting their degrees.

WouldBeHarrietVane Sat 01-Jun-13 06:15:14

My friend read philosophy at Cambridge in the 90s and also read both those philosophers LRD - I remember her reading bits out smile

My best mate did philosophy. She had a whale of a time. But then, she also had grades some seem to feel wouldn't get you in!

(I love your name btw! grin)

telsa Mon 03-Jun-13 23:07:26

It is that bad. It is all logic, philosophy of mathematics and analytic philosophy (Wittgenstein's legacy). The only light in the darkness is Raymond Geuss.

LittleFrieda Fri 07-Jun-13 12:14:04

Given the GCSE grades, it's a bit peculiar to be fretting over whether or not to apply to an elite university at ths stage.

seeker - don't take this the wrong way but iirc your daughter was predicted much better GCSE grades than she achieved, your son was a dead cert for grammar school , ... might it be wiser to use those experiences to better manage your children's expectations by waiting for the AS results?

wordfactory Fri 07-Jun-13 17:12:14

That's a little harsh Littlefrieda.

seekers daughter may have approached her AS levels very differently to her GCSEs.

IIRC she was doing ahell of a lot of toher stuff (including a lot of socialising) during her GCSEs. At the time both she and seeker felt it had been worth it. She may now take another view and have calmed her extra currics and her socialising right down. She may be putting all her efforts into her AS levels in a way she didn't before.

Kids grow up a lot between year 11 and sixth form grin.

seeker Fri 07-Jun-13 17:17:24

LittleFrieda, read this that I posted earlier "Thank you all. She wasn't eventhinking about Oxbridge -she used to have vague fantasies, but thought her GCSEs ruled her out. Then she bumped into her head teacher today, who asked her what her plans were, then threw cambridge into the mix. So I thought I'd see what I could find out. I suppose it's got to be worth a punt....( no pun intended!)" then just bugger off. Thank you.

wordfactory Fri 07-Jun-13 18:47:29

Kids change.
If they didn't we'd all be fucked, wouldn't we?
It takes some longer to knuckle down. It takes some longer to work out what they want to do.

Some positively flourish in sixth form.

seeker Fri 07-Jun-13 18:52:02

Thank you, word.

Some people seem to take a positive delight in being petty and mean spirited. Sad, really.

wordfactory Fri 07-Jun-13 18:58:12

Well here's the thing.

However much we all disagree about politics etc...kids are kids innit?

And actually, I do think a lot of DC have a rethink about studies in sixth form. Once you get rid of all the subjects you're 100% in love with, life can seem much lighter.

And I think in many ways it's a shame that GCSEs are now given so much credence. I think deep down we all know that if your DD got a B in art or physics or whatever at 15/16 it probably says very little about her ability to do a degree in philosophy at 18/19/21...

But it is what it is...

seeker Fri 07-Jun-13 19:02:40

I don't think I realised quite how important GCSE results can be- and that anything less than an A in some circumstances are not good enough. Sad, isn't it, that the personal statement seems to be getting less important- I wonder if admissions tutors are seeing more and more cookie cutter applicants?

wordfactory Fri 07-Jun-13 19:16:25

But if you and she had known seeker, would she have done anything differently?

By all accounts she enjoyed her extra stuff. There's always a trade off. if she'd have aimed for straight A*s, she'd have had to live like your brother's daughter, no?

I recall you saying the kid had barely left the house for a year!

CatherineofMumbles Fri 07-Jun-13 19:30:28

Was recently in a school, Ofsted 'outstanding' fantastic staff, and talking to one of the HODs. The DC are told - here is your profile, based on what you achieved at GCSE, modelled on what you are likely to achieve in UCAS points. I was shock but maybe they will blossom at AS... But it is cold hard stats, and apparently refined with each cohort.
As a teacher, okay, fine will work with that and obv do my best with the DC.
As a parent, I was shocked, but is a wake-up call, and although my own DC are still pre-GCSE, have suddenly woken up to the fact that, ok, actually, GCSEs really matter....

Slipshodsibyl Sat 08-Jun-13 09:07:30

Yes, there is little room for irregularity. I don't think it is good and leads to an unhealthy focus on grades.

If A child does well at AS, the school reference can explain less convincing GCSEs. The problem is that there is a large number of applicants with near perfect scores. The universities at the very top are inundated anyway and can choose who they like. The numbers they take for each subject Aren't large and they are choosing from an international pool. That is the reality.

UptheChimney Sat 08-Jun-13 09:31:44

And I think in many ways it's a shame that GCSEs are now given so much credence. I think deep down we all know that if your DD got a B in art or physics or whatever at 15/16 it probably says very little about her ability to do a degree in philosophy at 18/19/21

I can understand how individual parents feel that, but as Admissions tutors, we deal with large cohorts, year on year. And achieved results at GCSE are actually reasonably good predictors of likely ability and success at university, at cohort level.

UptheChimney Sat 08-Jun-13 09:36:41

The other thing to say is that we all get where we need to be, but not necessarily by the route we thought we'd take.

I know it's a cliche, but things really do work out -- as long as children are engaged and supported.

funnyperson Sat 08-Jun-13 17:25:53

GCSE results are given some sort of score when deciding on admissions at pretty much every university, sometimes by computer. eg Durham and Lse you have to have at least 6 a star at gcse or computer will say no, and the PS and As grades wont even get looked at.
Oxford they get ranked according to how well they did in the entrance test and gcse scores come into play when deciding who to give an offer to, I think, but humans decide, but the competition is fierce and a lot of children at even heartsink schools will have done a lot better wont they?.
I reckon if the AS module scores are below 90% this summer, then forget Cambridge, whatever the head teacher says.

funnyperson Sat 08-Jun-13 17:27:17

GCSE results are given some sort of score when deciding on admissions at pretty much every university, sometimes by computer. eg Durham and Lse you have to have at least 6 a star at gcse or computer will say no, and the PS and As grades wont even get looked at.
Oxford they get ranked according to how well they did in the entrance test and gcse scores come into play when deciding who to give an offer to, I think, but humans decide, but the competition is fierce and a lot of children at even heartsink schools will have done a lot better wont they?.
I reckon if the AS module scores are below 90% this summer, then forget Cambridge, whatever the head teacher says.

Bonsoir Sat 08-Jun-13 19:43:30

"I wonder if admissions tutors are seeing more and more cookie cutter applicants?"

The big issue with PSs is that they have become a genre, and some applicants receive a great deals of training and help with their PSs (including several years of suitable past times and appropriate reading with which to fill it). PSs are often tutored for.

creamteas Sun 09-Jun-13 08:17:30

GCSE results are given some sort of score when deciding on admissions at pretty much every university

What is your evidence for such a statement? I work as an admissions tutor and this is not the case for my university and many others I know. Yes we look at them, but applications are not 'scored'

And a strong set of AS grades, relevant to the degree subject, are often more important an GCSEs.

The other important thing to remember is you don't have to apply for uni before your A levels. So a student who is on an upwards trajectory can be better off waiting until afterwards. Post-A level applications are fantastic from an admissions point of view, because there is no uncertainty.

Although you can of course go into adjustment, this doesn't leave a lot of time to really think through where you want to go.

Although I couldn't say this in public, I don't think any applicant should apply through clearing (whether because of better or worse grades), much better to take a year out and think about your options.

WouldBeHarrietVane Sun 09-Jun-13 09:15:29

Bonsoir the cookie cutter thing may be true in the independent sector but it's not true in much of the state sector - I helped some local dc so them and they had had zero input or guidance from either school or parents sad

WouldBeHarrietVane Sun 09-Jun-13 09:16:08

I was told by an admissions tutor from an RG Uni last year that they don't even read the PS any more.

UptheChimney Sun 09-Jun-13 09:33:27

Well, in departments I've worked in (all top ten universities) that's simply not true.

Slipshodsibyl Sun 09-Jun-13 09:36:00

I am glad to hear that Upthechimney.

UptheChimney Sun 09-Jun-13 09:37:14

* I work as an admissions tutor and this is not the case for my university and many others I know. Yes we look at them, but applications are not 'scored*

Although I won't see any application in my department if the applicant doesn't ave certain subjects at certain levels at GCSE. For example, a C in Maths, a language, and English. The application just stops at the University Admissions office, they don't send them through to us.

That's pretty standard, I think.

Bonsoir Sun 09-Jun-13 10:39:35

WouldBeHarrietVane - the cookie cutter thing isn't my opinion. My experience is that, on the contrary, candidates are coached/tutored to stand out from the crowd from an early stage.

creamteas Sun 09-Jun-13 15:55:08

All the personal statements get read were I work, but probably not in the way people imagine.

We read them mainly to look for:

1) disabilities not otherwise disclosed
2) explanations of things that might have lowered AS grades
3) if appropriate, why an apparent switch on direction (eg science A levels to social science degree).

That's about it.

After doing admissions for years, I can confidently say that there are pretty much no original ways to say why this particular degree subject is being applied for grin. Also in in my area, drama productions, DofE and work experience are pretty irrelevant, and make no difference to the chances of being admitted.

We are really interested in AS grades (including UMS marks) and A level predictions. You also have to have C grade Maths and English GCSE.

funnyperson Sun 09-Jun-13 22:10:51

upthechimney and creamteas thats what I mean, the applications get filtered before the admissions tutors (and helpers) get to see them. In some universities the filtering is done by computer.

Yellowtip Sun 09-Jun-13 23:10:47

creamteas you've often said that you do a social science but what sort of uni are you in? 'Elite'? Other RG? Plate glass? Because as you'll know what works for one discipline in one uni won't necessarily work even for the same discipline in another.

NewFerry Mon 10-Jun-13 08:28:43

Re the GCSE/Admissions debate, we went to the Engineering open day at Bristol last Autumn.
The Professor told a stunned audience that admissions are scored as follows:
50% based on best GCSEs (8/9 cant remember)
40% on Predicted A2 grades
5% personal statement
5% teachers reference
Achieved AS grades - a big fat zero shock

There were a lot of very angry mutterings in the audience. As has been previously said, at GCSE many students are taking subjects they have less interest or aptitude in (and often the school has dictated 8/9 of the subjects)
Then you move onto A-level study, you work hard in subjects you enjoy, you achieve 4 A grades in your AS exams, and Bristol completely ignores them.

UptheChimney Mon 10-Jun-13 08:39:35

I must say, in my field (not engineering) we don't tend to note AS grades achieved. GCSEs, predicted A2 grades, personal statement, and teachers' references are all used. But then we interview and also use other on the site selection procedures. If you are offered a place with us, you know we really think you will thrive.

LittleFrieda Mon 10-Jun-13 08:49:19

The predicted grades take AS performance into account.

They are always trying to strike a balance between encouraging the most able to apply and discouraging everyone from applying.

Cambridge ask for the applicant's UMS mark in the SAQ. Some universities don't. But if you have excellent AS results, your reference will mention them (and it will be reflected in the predicted grades). Aand thre is space on the UCAS form to input AS results. It seems clear to me that anyone not revealing their AS results on their UCAS form did not get AAAA.

Ha at seeker being so rude.

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 08:57:23

I can see sense in ignoring AS grades, I suppose- because A2 predictions will be based on them.

I still think that a lot of emphasis on GCSE results is problematic- do admissions tutors take into account the school candidates were at when they took them?

Bonsoir Mon 10-Jun-13 09:24:30

The point about GCSEs is that they demonstrate a candidate's ability to grasp a range of academic subjects to a minimum standard (not a very high one, at that). The English system is an anomaly by international standards in that specialisation starts at 16 - most high school leaving diplomas test the full range of subjects, as a "full hand" of academic GCSEs do.

Personally I don't like the idea of people being allowed to proceed into the world if they haven't got a basic grasp of sciences and humanities. It would seem that universities agree with that position.

lapucelle Mon 10-Jun-13 09:40:53

Of course admissions tutors take into account schools and socio-economic background (I certainly look up schools and in some cases I look up the home address to get an idea of where the student lives). But if you have, at a Cambridge college, 20 applicants for 4 places and 19 of them have straight A* at GCSE and one of them has 2A*, the rest As and Bs, it is going to be very difficult for that last candidate to be in with a shot unless they come from a very deprived background and did spectactularly well at AS.

I think people should check directly with universities and courses of interest what the policies are for admission. In my field I have never heard of automatic rejection for candidates with less than 6A* at GCSE (even though most entrants at RG would have such grades); I have not seen a scoring system of the type mentioned above and personal statements carry almost no weight. All applications which meet the bare minimum requirements are examined by an academic (even when they look clearly well below the level which will be accepted). I have never seen a successful applicant to Cambridge with GCSE grades such as those of OP's DD. But all of my experience is for Maths/Physics so a completely different subject area, and probably completely irrelevant for OP.

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 10:00:05

I'm glad that schools are looked at- is that universal? It would seem very unfair to expect all As and A*s at GCSE without giving some consideration to the school/background of the candidate.

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 10:08:24

seeker of course the school attended is part of the equation, which brings us back to the point I made at the start: your DD's GCSEs will be looked at in the context of the high achieving grammar she attends, so are (I'm afraid) the worse for that. I assume that those grades would put her somewhere in the bottom quartile at her school? I agree absolutely that some kids blossom extraordinarily in the sixth form but coming from the school she does, with the grades you mentioned,your DD does face quite a challenge on the university front.

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 10:13:36

seeker you may think an emphasis on GCSEs is problematic but the reality is that they're thought by many universities to be the best predictor of success at university level.

NewFerry that's just the Bristol formula though.

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 10:17:04

seeker in many universities the GCSE grades will be adjusted for school by computer right at the start of the process. I think for grammars 12A* becomes 10.5A*, something like that.

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 11:06:34

Thank you, yellowtip. I was rather hoping that this thread had become a little broader than a discussion of my daughter! She and I are well aware that in this particlar context her many advantages will, perhaps ironically, not help her!

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 11:23:47

I thought the thread was specifically about your daughter seeker confused].

In the university context her advantages will probably still put her in a more advantageous position than someone from a really difficult background who has attended a poor performing school, even after the adjustments are done. That's just how it is, unfortunately.

I myself think it possible that if she truly has got an exceptional talent at Philosophy then she might stand more chance of an offer from Cambridge than from the Durhams and UCLs of the university world, where they don't do additional tests or interviews and where those grades might well be quite a barrier to getting through a initial first trawl. I'd say it's that second tier of universities where she may faces most problems. Although grades required for Philosophy at those unis don't tend to be as harsh as for some of the more in demand courses, so that will help.

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 11:24:37

Or rather confused.

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 11:25:56

Dreadful typing - ignore!

UptheChimney Mon 10-Jun-13 11:27:45

I still think that a lot of emphasis on GCSE results is problematic- do admissions tutors take into account the school candidates were at when they took them?

Why are they problematic? They give a good idea of the way an applicant to a university course has achieved so far in his/her education; they offer an indication of achievement across a wide range of subjects, rather than 3 narrowed down 'best' subjects; they indicate ability to focus at an age-appropriate level; and they indicate comparative standing in a cohort across England.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 11:33:10

Universities that place an emphasis on GCSE results do so because they have found, over time, that this is a good way of predicting who will do well on their courses. There are some universities that don't place such a heavy emphasis on GCSEs for all or some of their courses. This is because they reckon either they have found better predictors of future suitability/success or because their MO or the MO of a particular course or courses makes GCSE performance irrelevant for whatever reason.

Seeker I think in your DD's case if she has her heart set on Cambridge, she might be best advised to apply post A level. Stellar A level results and a storming interview will place her in a much much better position than she might be otherwise, given her GCSE results.

NewFerry Mon 10-Jun-13 11:39:11

Sadly they do not indicate whether they were achieved in a highly set Grammar, a small class at any independent, or in a large mixed group in a comprehensive.

Surely it's at A-level with generally smaller classes, and a similar ability range that a student's academic worth begins to shine through - as can be demonstrated by their AS results.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 11:48:47

I think they can be problematic in as much that some schools are much better at achieving top grades than others.

Some schools are far better at helping the middle cohort achieve a decent slew of GCSEs, and the more able are less well served.

However, it's not the place of universities to try to right every wrong, is it?

NewFerry Mon 10-Jun-13 12:03:31

Not sure how expecting universities to look at AS results achieved by students is expecting them to "right every wrong"

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 12:06:37

Thank you, yellowtip. I was rather hoping that this thread had become a little broader than a discussion of my daughter! She and I are well aware that in this particlar context her many advantages will, perhaps ironically, not help her!

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 12:14:49

Oops! Don't know how that happened- sorry!

I suppose my thinking is, if you use my dd as an example- she had every opportunity to have "stellar" GCSE results- so it is entirely fair that, if GCSE results are a yardstick, she should find herself at a disadvantage. There are a lot of 16 year olds who would have had to battle much harder to do even as well as she did, never mind the 12 A*s we're talking about. So if they are going to be weeds out at the first sift it does seem a bit unfair.

Thank you everyone for your advice, by the way- I am passing it on! Dd has an interview with her head teacher later in the week- it will be interesting to see what emerges from that.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 12:15:35

Quick question seeker if you and your DD had known then what you know now, would you/she have done anyhting different?

junebeetle Mon 10-Jun-13 12:18:53

I'm coming around to the opinion that GCSE results are more important than I'd previously assumed too, but there are definitely still dc about that do get oxbridge offers in spite of poor ones and without mitigating circumstances, so it's not impossible. I think some words in the personal statement and/or school reference about increased maturity and newly discovered work ethic (or whatever the improved results are attributed to) would be a good idea. I reckon it's better to say something about it than try and brush the poor GCSEs under the carpet and hope no one notices.

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 12:19:31

Like what, word?

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 12:20:08

I've always heard they look at GCSE results, especially if everyone has 97 A*s

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 12:20:33

97A*s at A level I mean

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 12:23:36

Well hully IIRC, the young person in question was very busy with extra currics. Plus she had an active social life.

I wonder if she had her time again, if she'd knuckle down more. Do less EC stuff. Or did she think it was a fair trade off.

WouldBeHarrietVane Mon 10-Jun-13 12:24:10

Word, are you asking if seeker wishes she had tutored her dd for GCSEs, got her to do different subjects or put her in a different school?

junebeetle Mon 10-Jun-13 12:24:45

And as for applying post A level, it would probably be sensible to do both, since if the A2s aren't up to scratch and she decides not to try a second time then she doesn't waste a year, and if they are she's been through the process once already and hopefully learned from it. There's also the chance she gets in on the first attempt too.

WouldBeHarrietVane Mon 10-Jun-13 12:24:47

Oh, I didn't realise seeker had said she hadn't works very hard - sorry ignore my questions.

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 12:24:50


RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 12:28:03

Surely though, Seeker - you did know then what you know now - at least in terms of GCSEs. You must have known that especially coming from a decent Grammar school, under the old paradigm, kids were expected to get hatloads of A*s and As. There have been countless threads on oxbridge on MN in the last 4 years and you have been on many of them.

Do all the kids at your DD's school have interviews with the Head about uni applications? I have no idea what goes on at my DD1's school so maybe they do that there too (although to date DD1 has only spoken to the Head once in all her time at the school. It's possible the high fliers have had more contact). In my day, though, I don't remember ever speaking to the head nun about anything, ever. I think I was once told off for zooming down a corridor but I didn't say anything in that encounter. The hench nuns, yes I talked to them. But never the head. Uni application stuff was dealt with by the careers teacher and subject staff where relevant.

Kids these days seem to get so much input about everything. It does worry me, for my own kids, coming from a background of DIY, that's my instinctive response. But I fear that it may be placing them at a terrible disadvantage.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 12:29:04

Oh I'm not saying she didn't work hard! I don't have a clue about that.

I just recall that she was very committed to lots of EC stuff. Which at the time of the results, both seeker and her DD thought were a fair trade off.

I just wondered if either had known that GCSEs were such a bit factor if she would have reigned them in at all.

Interestingly, I wonder if my DD's HT has read this thread grin. On Friday we got an email from her and the director of studies banging on about How Very Important GCSEs are and that next year (year 10) is Very Important. And that it is Very Important to balance EC stuff!

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 12:32:03

Seeker - the cousin who got all the A*s and had 'no life' - is she applying for Oxbridge?

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 12:36:22

I wouldn't have done, Word, contrary to popular belief, I am not a particularly pushy parent! I'm not sure whether she would. She was guaranteed a B for Art right from the beginning- a catastrophic first bit of course work made sure of that (partly her fault, partly the teachers). Her B for English was unexpected- she was predicted an A/A*, but it was obvious when she told me about it , and when her teacher got the exam scripts for her and several others back that she had completely screwed up one of her essays. My heart sank when she told me about it on the day!.

I think part of her "problem" is that she didn't think of herself as one of the A* gang- and so, predictably, wasn't. (She thinks of herself very differently now- 6th form suits her, and she is shining academically in a way we never would have believed possible.) She did loads of extra curricular stuff- the drama and the music exams and the like will be useful if she does decide to go down the theatre practice line, the riding exams means she will always be able to earn money as a riding teacher, but some activities were obviously less useful!

I don't know. Hindsight's a wonderful thing. But she is very happy, very grounded and very "sorted" for 17, and that's important, and may stand her in as good a stead in the future as 10 A*s. who knows?

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 12:39:43

Russian, the cousin doesn't want to-she wants to be an architect, and wants to try for the Bartlett, I think. Dad has other ideas.....

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 13:20:07

I'm glad you were the one to ask the question Russians grin. I hate to tell you this seeker but an application to the Bartlett doesn't preclude an application to Cambridge to read Architecture. She might just get offers from both smile

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 13:27:00

Absolutely she might. But she wants to go the the Bartlett. And I think so would I if I wanted to do architecture. I hope she does get offers from both- and from all her other choices too. And that she is allowed to choose the one she wants. Your point was?

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 13:28:21

Incidentally yes Russians everyone at our school gets a one to one interview with a member of the SLT which may or may not be the HT.

seeker DD2 certainly never thought of herself as an A* gangster although a number of her friends very obviously were. And she got 11A* (very surprising indeed, to the extent that when she came at me on results day with an uncomprehending look on her face and said she'd got 11A* I told her not to be daft and to tell me what she'd actually got.....). So I'm unconvinced about the predictability thing.

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 13:29:05

I think the point is a tease about sibling rivalry smile

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 13:30:07

Seeker - if you are not a particularly pushy parent I wonder what that makes me! grin

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 13:36:13

Ah. No, I let my brother do the sibling rivalry all on his own- he's quite capable of it! My niece is a fantastic girl and, frankly, is going to need all the support she can get if she wants to go against his plans for her....

Yellowtip Mon 10-Jun-13 13:46:13

Love it.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 13:55:51

seeker I'm not convinced anyone is buying your 'I'm really relaxed, me' schtick...grin...

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 14:09:13

Here we go- everyone knows me so much better than I know myself.

And there was me thinking we'd moved on and were having an interesting discussion. I was particularly pleased that Russian was talking to me again.I should have known better. All we need is for whateverhercurrentnamethestalker to arrive and oh, what fun we'll all have.

What a shame.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 14:28:25

Seeker I'm happy to engage with you on this subject because you aren't being unreasonable. And I've got huge sympathy with your position, because my DD1 is going to be in exactly the same position as yours, although for sadly less enjoyable reasons. Even in the circumstances in which she has had to do her exams, she will likely do well (in new paradigm terms) in her chosen subjects. She will nt do well in the stuff designed to disadvantage people with her SEN issues. She won't have the grades for top unis even though she is easily capable of doing well in her chosen subjects anywhere. Despite having played the game and won myself when young, I still think, in the light of what I see now, that it's not the best game it could be. So I feel your pain.

But honestly - I wasn't being mean, really, but for you to deny being pushy would be like me denying I'm neurotic. Nobody will buy what we are selling! FWIW I'd rather be pushy than neurotic. I suspect you are doing a better job for your kids than I am for mine.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 15:06:49

Oh seeker stop bveing so melodramatic...

Surely you can see the funny side of it? You start a thread to track down a Cambridge admissions tutor to ask some questions for your DD...

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 15:08:56

but to be fair pore ol seeker gets an awful lot of stick

she is consistent and always calm, fair play to her.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 15:11:36

Oh aye she does.

But if you can't laugh at yourself, I think you're fucked in this life grin...

And for what it's worth, I don't think anyone was criticising seeker for her interest in her DD's academic career. Certainly I wasn't. I'm pushy as fuck. Guilty as charged....

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 15:14:19

But I don't get why it's ironic she's taking an interest...? (sorry to be talking about you seeker) That doesn't conflict with her views on selective education or pushiness as far as I've noticed?

But she isn't being pushy. She's trying to work out what happens if you've got a child you didn't push academically during GCSEs, and you don't regret not pushing her, but now she's doing well academically.

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 15:20:12




wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 15:22:31

Taking an interest involves a parent saying 'really, love? that's great. Why don't you meet with your HT and discuss it?'

Pushy, involves immediate trying to track down an admissions tutor...

Look, I'd do the exact same thing myself grin. I'm so not criticising...

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 15:23:38

Blimey you think that's pushy?

<adjusts view of self quite radically>

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 15:51:14

Hully - actually, she isn't always either (consistent or calm) Because she is human not a robot or a sick puppet. smile

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 15:54:34

Ok, I haven't seen her not be both

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 15:57:54

LRD I don't think this thread is particularly pushy. I think some of her other threads and some of the things she has been happy to say she does (including looking in her children's school books etc, complaining about teachers missing parents evening etc) are. As I said upthread I'm far from convinced that within certain limits pushiness is a bad thing. But my main thing in this thread was her saying she isn't pushy! Because, you know, evidence.

But anyway this has gone way off topic. I'm interested in seekers current dilemma because for various reasons I think my DD will be facing similar problems.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 15:59:18

LRD - all that notwithstanding though, what actually happens in the ideal world is that the young person finds out for themself.

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 16:00:17

But then we are back to definitions of pushiness, all different

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 16:01:09

I'm interested too.

I think the confirmation that GCSEs are so important, not just to Oxbridge, but to many other universities, is well worth noting!

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 16:07:36

Well it's not exactly news though is it.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 16:10:41

To be honest, I don't think I'd clocked that they were as important as they are! I thought the AS level grades would take precedence.

Bonsoir Mon 10-Jun-13 16:40:17

If a child really comes into his/her own during A levels (or whatever final school leaving examination programme he/she is taking), the best thing is to take the exams, get the stellar results and then apply to university, grades in hand.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 16:42:35

Bonsoir - that's what I was suggesting. Not only might it help with Cambridge, or indeed Oxford, it would also help with other high end universities which might also be put off by GCSE anomalies.

Bonsoir Mon 10-Jun-13 16:46:51

Lots of French DC do this. It is quite hard for admissions departments to assess French pupils, as they only have the brevet (end of Y10 and not very substantial) and the two or three bac exams taken at the end of Première to go on by way of official examinations. Cambridge asks for high school transcripts (basically copies of the school reports from the previous two years) but they are very unreliable as some school mark much more leniently than others. So French DC are often better off maxing out on their bac, doing a year of Prépa and applying to English universities during that year.

Bonsoir Mon 10-Jun-13 16:47:19

When French pupils are applying to British universities, of course.

LittleFrieda Mon 10-Jun-13 16:55:14

Bonsoir - Agree.

And if you can't bear to do that, at least wait for the AS results.

seeker - what subjects is your dd doing at AS and will she continue with the same subjects to A2? I seem to remember she was struggling with physics and about to give it up.

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 17:30:02

Seeker Yes Cambridge do allow for school when taking gcse into account: they have a computer programme which does the adjusting tsking data from the Sutton trust.

Its true, this business about extra currics vs working hard to get excellent rather than just good academic results is a lifelong conflict actually. For the very brainy and organised of course there is no issue as it is easy enough to get loads of As at gcse and do lots of extracurrics. I do feel organisation is the key, and this is where lots of schools and children and families fall down.
For the not so brainy (and with due respect there needs to be a very very good reason in my opinion why a student gets a B in English gcse and she/family/school still thinks she can get to Cambridge: there is something very strange going on here) there are the issues of a) teaching b) family circs c) being a late developer d) organisation organisation organisation. Filing. Having the exam spec, having the correct syllabus and access to marking schemes, putting in the extra for coursework, filling in the self assessment to the best of ones ability, little things to help the brain translate knowledge into marks.

The Bartlett is all about the portfolio and as I recall wants loads of gcses at A star. I believe there is a student exhibition there 22nd-27th June and your daughter might want to visit to see if she might be capable of the stuff they produce. It is very very intensive there, and personality has to be robust to take the tutor criticism which is merciless. It is, however, outstanding, and she could talk to the tutora at the exhibition and find out what they look for at gcse.

Anyway good luck. In my mind I havent resolved the extracurric vs hard work issue. I was a nerd with no imagination wo hated parties so it was easy to me. But I want my own children to laugh more. So naturally though they are more brainy they dont do as well. Genius is 99% perspiration etc.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 17:37:15

funny I know someone who got an exhibition to Trinity, in maths, who had a C for English GCSE. I'm just sayin'. And there are SEN conditions which might be more of a handicap at GCSE level than at either A level or degree.

Bonsoir Mon 10-Jun-13 17:38:19

I agree that the extra-curricular vs. hard work issue is difficult to resolve: there is undoubtedly a conflict of interest for all but the extremely talented. My take is that I am letting DD do as much enrichment as possible at primary level (when she has time) and hoping that she can cut back (if necessary) in secondary, while still having strong enough bases to pick up on stuff later on.

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 17:41:55

I should mention that of course if one loves ones area of study the hard work doesn't seem like hard work at all but is fun and interesting, but those doing loads of gcse and barely skimming the surface of 1-12 subjects can't be expected to realise this. Also for the brainy children the issue is not how to fit it all in but that they want to do more and more cos they soak it up like a sponge.

Another, probably irrelevant point I wish to make is regarding the ethnic minorities of colour. The Ivy league and Oxbridge, especially in the humanities, but also in other subjects, are convinced that any student of colour with excellent academic results has been a)pushed by parents, is b)narrow minded and intense and c) has no leadership qualities or vision and d)will not contribute to college life. For these students I would like to suggest that extra currics should demonstrate the (true) antithesis.

Sorry for the long post, I am ill at home and have nothing better to do than pontificate on other peoples lives. I must go and do something useful: I do hope it works out well for your child.

seeker Mon 10-Jun-13 17:42:10

Once again, thank you all.
I do wish I could resist the need to defend myself- but I can't. If I need information I go to the most expert person I can easily find, either in RL or online. I have used mumsnet to find out the best way to make meringues, to treat mud fever in horses, to wash a silk and wool dress. So if I want to find out about university admissions it only seemed sensible to ask the person on here who had shown expertise. Particularly as dd was off school for 3 weeks, so wouldn't be able to talk to th appropriate person at school. But if it amuses people to think that makes me "pushy", then so be it. It is a bit tedious, though. I will remember never to ask a similar question again, though.

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 17:45:18

oh don't be daft

rise above, float on


I always go to the source too, tis only sensible.

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 17:48:20

seeker of course it is alright to ask. Make your own judgement about what bits of miscellaneous advice to take forward. I dont think you are pushy, and hey would it matter very much if you were? Better to be called pushy and make an effort for one's precious children than to take a back seat and be all cool an uninterested and live with the forever guilt of not having done enough when it mattered. And of course it matters.

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 17:53:07

My lovely DD tells me how nice it is that I am interested. Though I think she says that cos she is lovely. DS grumps like mad and says he wants to run away when I mention anything remotely connected to academe. Children are different. I think university application is a bonding and a growing away lovely time actually because choices do have to be made and they are the first important personal choices, shaped by achievement, and family, and personal desires and aspirations, so there is lots of discussion and finding out and so forth.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 17:54:22

seeker you are being very very daft!

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 17:57:03

funny I find my DC's acadmic careers really interesting. And I approach the prospect of where they will go to university and what theyw ill study with oodles of excitement.

No one here has said seeker should not have asked the question.
No one here has said seeker should not be this involved.

She's just having a huge sense of humour failure grin...

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 17:58:59

I'm neither cool nor uninterested. But I know what it's like to have your mother die before you've even left university. And I know that had my mother brought me up to reply on her for everything rather than take control of my own life, then I'd have been even more up shtako creek than I was when she died because I'd have been not only sadder than I can put into words even all these years later, but also COMPLETELY UNEQUIPPED to go forth and forge a life for myself.

And actually, funny, however much poking around I had done in my DD1's school bag, it wouldn't have stopped her breaking her hand or being assaulted. So, actually, the things that tend to make everything go tits up can't be foreseen and forestalled anyway.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 18:02:34

Actually word, I did, I said that her DD should have (and she will get this even if nobody else does) 'run and found out'. And I strongly believe that's the way it should have happened, actually, but I would never have said anything if she hadn't posted 'I'm not a pushy parent'.

However now I know I'm cool and interesting I will withdraw from this, as there seems little point in continuing and, I've never been called either cool or interesting before so I want to savour the moment. I'm normally the person with the incredibly cool friends, not the actual cool person!

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 18:08:52

Ah. I didn't spot that!


No one (except one poster) has said seeker shouldn't have asked the question.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 18:19:46

Word - I was just asked a question about the maths exams on the GCSE thread, and I had absolutely NO IDEA. sad All that business about Having the exam spec, having the correct syllabus and access to marking schemes - nope. And I'm reasonably sure DD1 doesn't actually know which bits of the 4 separate papers go to make up which element of the double award either (because I asked her, yesterday, and she had nothing useful to tell me except that I was foolish to call it a rest cure). I'm fairly confident they plonk some maths in front of her, she does it (or, if it's a 'measure this line' question (ie one requiring skills she has never and will never possess), she doesn't do it) and that's that.

And I am not saying my way is the best way, but I am saying its not the worst way you can be either. And when bad stuff happens, as it has done, it becomes evident that being a micro parent wouldn't have helped anyway.

wordfactory Mon 10-Jun-13 18:25:03

Russians yes indeed there are things that we all know we can't help our DC with. And I bet there are lots of things that we only think we can, when the reality is we're just mithering at the edges.

When DD pulled out of school to do this show, I thought I'd keep it all under control for her vis a vis her academic work and other EC stuff. But I was fooling myself to be honest.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 10-Jun-13 18:28:21

Word - she's only Y9. She will be fine. smile

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 18:40:22

Russian it sounds like you need a <hug>. I'm sorry about your mum.
You are right about crises. You are right about independence. Of course you are. Its what life is all about, steering between academe and extra currics, independence and supporting, coping with crises and protecting from harm. Which one of us can put our hands up and say we get it right all the time? And even if we get it right some of the time: how will that help any other individual or family?

There are common aspects of success which can be repeated. Like that odd daily fail story about CEO's asking their mums before taking important life decisions
Of course it made me wonder what the ones did who didn't have a mum alive to ask. At what point does it become a disadvantage or an advantage not to have a mum. For myself the point of it being an advantage not to have a mum or a dad still hasn't arrived.

Do you ever get that sense of knowing when a child is going to do well in exams or when they are going to do badly? Its all in the preparation. I thought seeker posted as part of the family preparing for her child's university application. Thats OK: I did the same at her stage. School says the child writes their own personal statement. This is true. So true. All the prep in the world by family cannot alter that. But it doesn't mean the family should prepare, its a mental process.

Slipshodsibyl Mon 10-Jun-13 18:50:33

Russians I think Funny means the school will provide exam specs and sample marking schemes (but generally more for A Level) And will show children how their papers will be marked/ what buzz words or phrases they need etc.

I think few of us would know much about these, unless one felt the exam teaching was very lacking and one was keen, or if one felt fed up of the sight of bundles of crumpled paper floating round the kitchen table and was overCome by an urge to file.

LittleFrieda Mon 10-Jun-13 19:10:16

I wouldn't bother with a cambridge open day as you get a good look when/if you are called to interview.

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 19:20:52

Yes, true, the school- not parents!

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 19:22:55

I did used to encourage them to do/complete the filing termly though at the end of term: I would get enough empty folders and plastics from Tesco (cheapest place): that kind of thing.

LittleFrieda Mon 10-Jun-13 19:29:57

Lots of successful Oxbridge applicants neither work hard nor fill their days with stuff.

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 20:07:21

So true. It is very worrying for the mums. <tongue in cheek>

UptheChimney Mon 10-Jun-13 20:47:47

The Ivy league and Oxbridge, especially in the humanities, but also in other subjects, are convinced that any student of colour with excellent academic results has been a)pushed by parents, is b)narrow minded and intense and c) has no leadership qualities or vision and d)will not contribute to college life

Well, I'm neither Oxbridge nor the US Ivy League, just RG, but this is a stereotype of universities & humanities academics' views I have never ever encountered.

funnyperson Mon 10-Jun-13 21:27:44
PiratePanda Tue 11-Jun-13 07:11:56

I don't know if you've noticed, but the US and the UK are not the same.

funnyperson Tue 11-Jun-13 08:23:14

Yes true, thank goodness, though not dissimilar and many of the same trends appear in UK stats. I posted the link to give the detail on the stereotype which had never been encountered by upthechimney. I always feel embarrassed posting detail because it confirms levels of prejudice which are shocking but for some reason it makes me feel guilty and as if I am inciting discord.

funnyperson Tue 11-Jun-13 08:24:05

Though in fact of course the evidence is always ignored so I shouldn't worry really.

LittleFrieda Tue 11-Jun-13 10:37:45

A friend of my son's was devastated 3 years ago when he missed his firm and conditional offers and ended up at a relatively undesirable uni, via clearing. He was with us last Sunday for lunch and conditional upon attaining a first (which is pretty much certain), he has a place to study postgraduate economics at Cambridge. He said the pain of having under performed at A level was a real driving force in making him work hard over the past three years.

We gain beneficial experience by feeling the consequences of not having worked hard enough/placing our attention elsewhere etc. HAving a helicopter mum who seeks to steal a march against the competition and mitigate against the adverse consequences of each and every hiccough and bad decision is dispiriting and massively unhelpful.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 13:55:40

Funnyperson - the link you posted does not mention Oxbridge and the evidence for the claim you are making relates only to admission to Harvard and Yale. In fact the article explicitly states that:
'An admissions system based on non-academic factors often amounting to institutionalized venality would seem strange or even unthinkable among the top universities of most other advanced nations in Europe or Asia.' So the author is drawing a clear distinction between Ivy League admissions and admissions in other universities and other countries.

The claim he is making - that admissions practices were deliberately distorted originally to exclude high-achieving Jewish students - is a fascinating one which I had not encountered before. And he makes the allegation that the same practices are arising today in relation to Asian Americans. That requires a bit more unpicking. Because this relies on first accepting the premise that a very large number of places are being allocated to non-Asian American students (presumably white American students) purely on the basis of privilege and not academic merit and whilst he cites a wealth of data to support the claim that elite universities are not recruiting students whose ability profile matches that of the ability profile of America's ethnic minorities (i.e. whites are over-represented compared to how they do on a range of other indicators of ability) his evidence for systemic bias within admissions is mainly anecdotal and his causal explanation, that the universities don't want Asian students, is a little obscure (why not - he himself admits there is no financial case for discriminating against Asian students, the underlying causes must be multifactorial). Nevertheless it is a very interesting article.

But it is prima facie implausible to suggest that it simply transfers across to the UK.

There is a significant problem with ensuring parity of access for all minority ethnic groups but in this country students from non-White British backgrounds are over-represented in higher education and this trend has been going upwards for many years and looks set to continue to rise. See here.

The trend is not so pronounced but still evident when you look at Oxbridge. See here and here. You''ll note the representation of figures in these sources is obviously for PR purposes. There is a significant problem of measurement and comparison here when we try to define what is a student (f/t v p/t) and who belongs to an ethnic minority and if there is no data available whether we just assume the student is White British. And as I say we know that uptake of different courses is very patchy and maybe there are specific access issues which specific disciplines need to address.

Nevertheless the data available does not support a claim that universities generally or Oxbridge specifically are systematically trying to engineer Asian students out of places at their institutions.

I am involved in university admissions and seriously we just do not think about it that deeply. We are over-subscribed and we want to ensure that out of the 1500 applications we get for 200 places we get the smartest 200. That is all. That may mean that certain students are placed at a practical disadvantage in accessing the uni. I think that is a deep hard problem which a single university department probably doesn't hold the keys to and the article you linked to is right to highlight that university education has become a critical if not determinative route to securing privilege in our society. So if our admissions procedures routinely exclude specific social groups from access then universities will play an increasingly anti-progressive role in society. We should be self-critical and sensitive to the criticisms people make of us.

But the idea that we read applications from students from Black British backgrounds and think 'She's a high achiever, very suspicious, unless I can see a Gold DoE on the PS that's a no' - I think I can state categorically that probably isn't happening and it certainly isn't happening in my dept.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 14:01:48

Penelope why are you surprised about the claims in relation to the exclusion of Jewish applicants?

Bonsoir Tue 11-Jun-13 14:10:10

funnyperson - that was an interesting article about the US. The US college application process is wildly different to the British one - in particular, the focus on grades and academic aptitude/motivation for a particular subject to the exclusion of almost everything else is massively important in the UK.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 14:11:25

I'm not surprised by anti-semitism obviously. I hadn't encountered the theory that the introduction of the idea of the well-rounded candidate was invented by Harvard and Yale so they could keep out Jewish students who otherwise massively outperformed WASPs on standardised admissions tests. I haven't read the book he cites so don't feel well-informed enough to evaluate the claim but it is an interesting idea.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 14:15:47

It's certainly interesting and exactly mirrors what was going on in the ancient universities of Europe at the same time.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 14:30:43

Really? The time period is 1925-1945 which is when Germany passed the Nuremberg laws. Which was certainly one way to keep Jewish people out of university, but strikes me as vastly less subtle than changing your criteria for what you look for in a student so you can covertly discriminate against them.

I think it is safe to say Jewish people in Europe faced far worse problems than merely unfair university admissions practices at that time.

Balls I've just mentioned the Nazis and lost the argument.

Bonsoir Tue 11-Jun-13 14:50:06

Lots of Jewish refugee academics ended up in English universities.

Anyway, thanks to that article we now know that Jews are massively over-represented in US élite universities. That is also, by the way, the case in France where Jews are massively over-represented in Grandes Ecoles. I have forwarded the article to my (Jewish) DP who has done admissions interviews at his alma mater Grande Ecole for over 20 years...

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 14:54:00

I haven't read the book either but doesn't the article say the changes were introduced in the 1926/7 or thereabouts?

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 15:17:49

I've now nipped back to the article and it says that the new admissions format kicked in in 1926, so almost a decade before the Nuremberg Laws. My father's great uncle was rector of one of the old European universities at exactly that time. He had no truck with attempts to keep Jewish students out, but I know he had quite a fight on his hands.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 15:17:50

I got the impression the changes were progressive Yellowtip but fair point.

I was only making the point that in much of Europe things were bad and getting worse - and that in some European countries the discriminatory practices were the opposite of sophisticated. So hardly equivalent...

And in the UK I imagine admission practices were completely non-transparent so we had the reverse issue. I've no idea what raw numbers of admissions for Jewish students were at that time, but the reality was that until relatively recently privilege very obviously did buy you a place at the best universities (and perhaps it still does but you have to be way sneakier about it if so). The under and over-representation of ethnic groups in HE has only become a cause for concern in the last 3 decades or so. So although we can proudly saw we did not exclude Jewish students from Oxbridge at that time, just as anyone can enter the Ritz hotel, it might not have signified much in practice.

Bonsoir Tue 11-Jun-13 15:20:55

Being Jewish did not preclude being privileged in England in the 20th century.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 15:20:55

Bonsoir it wouldn't surprise me at all if students with Jewish backgrounds, or partly Jewish backgrounds, weren't also 'over-represented' at Oxford and Cambridge. Please note the inverted commas. Heavily represented may be a better term.

Bonsoir Tue 11-Jun-13 15:24:02

Given that we are talking about overrepresentations in the 300 and 400 percents and more I am not sure "heavily" expresses the reality.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 15:29:34

I think with reference to Oxford and Cambridge, 'heavy' representation will do. Also, there's only over representation if the representation fails to correlate with academic merit.

UptheChimney Tue 11-Jun-13 15:30:45

* I posted the link to give the detail on the stereotype which had never been encountered by upthechimney*

Well, I read the article: it seems to come from a very particular point of view, and discusses a very particular admissions system: the US Ivies. And it invokes systems which were put in place as blatantly anti-semitic -- and I would add, although the wrter doesn't mention this, anti-women.

It's quite well known that the main way of admitting on academic qualifications, in the US -- SATS -- were doctored because "too many" women were obtaining places over men in the 1920s to 1960s.

The same thing happened here in the UK with the 11+. "Too many" girls were achieving places over boys, and so they made the cut off for girls higher than that for boys.

That's why I implode when I read stuff about "Schooling failing our boys" nowadays. We are almost getting to a level playing field gender-wise, but not quite there yet, and still male privilege is protected ... but that's another thread.

But funnyperson I really can't see how the article you link to is relevant for the UK debate over universities admissions (but as I've just come from being the professor on display at a big admissions event, my brain is now a bit addled).

UptheChimney Tue 11-Jun-13 15:33:46

That may mean that certain students are placed at a practical disadvantage in accessing the uni. I think that is a deep hard problem which a single university department probably doesn't hold the keys to

Nor a single university, nor indeed the entire HE system. Educational disadvantage via socio-economic disadvantage starts early, that's why SureStart was such a brilliant programme.

And the reverse: economic means to purchase educational advantage starts early.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 15:34:57

And now boys are now doing better at the multiple choice 11+ tests UptheChimney but will you mind if the tests are calibrated back? smile

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 15:56:25

"Being Jewish did not preclude being privileged in England in the 20th century"

Of course it didn't, but if the system was set up to (misguidedly rather than overtly) favour financial privilege not just attainment then Oxford and Cambridge did not need to come up with some kind of systematic strategy to exclude Jewish students with high levels of attainment. If your admissions process is non-transparent and you don't want Jewish students you just don't admit them and don't say why. I'm not suggesting this happened obviously (my gut feeling is it probably didn't but I have absolutely no empirical data to support that claim, just a general sense that academics then and now were more ornery than that) - only the observable trend in the US won't map to the UK for the same period. Which I think we certainly agree on.

In the US it is suggested they had to admit Jewish students with high attainments so had to move the goalposts to keep them out. There was no equivalent problem at least at Cambridge where the very idea of introducing an entrance exam had been pretty controversial in the early 1920s although it was eventually agreed upon in 1924 to reduce the number of students graduating with a 'Pass' degree. In other words at that point the idea that students be a) selected and b) selected on merit were still pretty new to university education. We were not using tests to keep people out. The main thing which determined getting in was being able to afford it.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 16:02:59

"Nor a single university, nor indeed the entire HE system. Educational disadvantage via socio-economic disadvantage starts early,"

Yes I agree. But since I work in law not early years the only bit I can practically do anything about is thinking sincerely and conscientiously about how we contribute at our end of the chain.

UptheChimney Tue 11-Jun-13 16:07:50

Yes, PenelopePipPop I hope all of us in HE also try to think about our decisions -- I know my department & colleagues do so all the time. But we are also under a lot of pressure to take the best & brightest, even though we know that the best & brightest are often that way in part because they may also be from affluent & stable backgrounds.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 16:28:49

Yup, though WP has made a big difference for us. Not enough - no level playing field - but especially since the introduction of the A* offer it is the only way we can make it possible for students in some schools which are unlikely to ever predict A* to get an offer.

I think where we can make a difference is in emphasising that the processes may seem complex and intransparent (because frankly they are) but there is less discretion and therefore less scope for arbitrariness in the system than students typically realise and therefore students from all backgrounds have everything to gain by applying. Which is why, like you, I was a bit amazed at the suggestion that we might be systematically discriminating against students of colour on the basis of a belief that they have only gained their grades because their parents pushed them. Aside from the fact it probably ain't true even if I did believe that I'd still think 'Come away in'.

UptheChimney Tue 11-Jun-13 16:39:48

Yes, so would I!

My only concern about any pupil being pushed by parents is that it just doesn't work at university.

And if an applicant gets a place by parental pushing, then that student is likely to fall apart sometime during his/her degree. I've seen it happen too many times (well, seeing it happen once is one too many times).

OK, back to REF documentation ...

UptheChimney Tue 11-Jun-13 16:44:08

One more thing re UK vs US academic admissions system. In the US, it's handled largely by non-academics. Here in the UK, we -- that is teaching staff -- are all involved. Even us apparently no-good-at-teaching-because-we-do-research research professors ....

Bonsoir Tue 11-Jun-13 17:18:45

A friend of ours, who is a Professor of Mathematics at Imperial and has taught undergraduates at Columbia and has also taught at super-prestigious French grandes écoles told us recently that the Imperial UGs were much the most clever. Maybe the British selection process is the best at selecting the brightest.

LittleFrieda Tue 11-Jun-13 17:40:54

What is WP?

wordfactory Tue 11-Jun-13 17:53:48

upthechimney one of things that comes up time and time again in the widening access prog I'm part of, is that the profs do want to access the brightest and the best whatever backgorund they come from.

However, though it may be an uncomfortable fact, many of those brightest and best will also be privileged.

LittleFrieda Tue 11-Jun-13 18:32:37

Ah, widening participation.

The GCSE A* requirements at many universities is the death knell for widening participation surely? My eldest son is a third year medic and his cohort are scarily privileged in many different ways.

wordfactory Tue 11-Jun-13 18:36:47

Well offers can and are contextualised so an A* offer may be made to an applicant from a high perfroming school and a lower offer made to an applicant from a low achieving school.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 18:42:21

I think the A Level A* requirement could add a clang or two Frieda. Where is your DS? Is it a particularly rah uni? I don't especially get the sense that DS1's peers are privileged across the board (first year), they seem a pretty good mix.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 18:44:02

Frieda was referring to the GCSE calculation word, not the offer at A2.

wordfactory Tue 11-Jun-13 18:47:04

Ah, my mistake.

Poof...it's all a bit of a conundrum, isn't it?

I mean you want applicants from a wide range of backgrounds. Of course you do. But you have to hold fast on academic rigour.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 19:13:55

As far as I can tell it is insoluble. At the mo we have a high offer (A*AA) which reduces the number of applicants across the board and should mean we are selecting from within a narrow band of high-achievers. But to address the fact that a student from a low income family who achieves AAA at a comp in Rotherham which rarely sends anyone to a RG Uni looks very different to a student achieving A*AA at Westminster we also have a WP programme which means we can make lower offers to level the playing field - which looks like discretion but is in fact pretty limited because we can only make very slightly lower offers to students in very narrowly defined categories. And this is very intransparent because students do not know before they apply how the discretion will be exercised. And different unis vary in how they exercise their discretion too. I know some that are more flexible than us.

The alternative would be to lower our standard offer and attract more applications across the board and then select within them. But this would involve the exercise of considerable discretion, greater intransparency and probably upset the independent school heads who are already mistrustful of WP even more (I'm not worried about their opinion but if they get upset then it upsets the media, worries students and parents and all contributes to the impression that the process is arbitrary when it simply isn't).

Bonsoir Tue 11-Jun-13 20:24:44

It also upsets candidates who very much exceed standard offers when they get rejected.

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 21:25:18

And isn't it pretty much what Oxford has been doing for quite some while now PPP, with no obvious ill effects and possibly some advantage?

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 21:31:12

Bonsoir in the olden days the standard offer was EE which almost all offerees would have exceeded except for the exceptionally laid back and neat. Some form of additional test is universal for all courses at Oxford and Cambridge again now so I can't see really see why the upset of disappointed applicants is material. Surely all it does is reinforce the fact that there's more to it at that level than A Level grades?

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 21:39:21

Which option is what Oxford does?

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 21:43:54

Keeping the standard offer low(ish) relative to the ability of its offerees, as you must well know PPP.

PenelopePipPop Tue 11-Jun-13 22:07:28

Not in my discipline (law) where the standard offer remains AAA and they use the same admissions test as us - but since unis which use this admission test can decide for themselves what level they want students to attain on it (i.e. what the notional 'pass' mark is) we are back in scenario A. In practice they probably fall in the group of unis which exercise more discretion than us but not masses.

And since Oxford regularly gets hammered for failing to admit enough students from minority ethnic groups, or state schools or whatever I'm not sure the 'no ill effects' statement is accurate either. I am sure they get the brightest and best students. I am pretty impressed with the students we get too. Getting bright students is not hard. Getting bright students to apply and get accepted from every sector of society is hard. I don't think anyone at Oxford is complacent about that.

One thing that I think helps is communicating that the process is transparent and if you have good grades and perform well in admissions tests you'll get a place, that you won't be at a disadvantage because you lack work experience in chambers or chose Business Studies A Level. I think this because these are the kinds of queries I field most frequently in the UCAS filling in form period. Any process that introduces more discretion into the admissions process therefore gives the wrong impression and discourages applications - especially from schools which rarely send students to certain unis and where people may lack the confidence to send the admissions tutor a quick e-mail (I realise I keep referring to Russell Group on this thread like it is badge of honour, I don't actually think that, it is just a convenient shorthand).

But conversely without discretion we can't apply common sense to impressive applicants from seriously disadvantaged backgrounds - which there may be more scope for doing at Oxford.

Which is, as I say, an insoluble conundrum.

I'm not sure about the 'must well know' point either. I don't work at Oxford and have never studied there (did go to t'other place - perhaps that accounts for my deficiencies). I had to check out their standard offer online. If you aren't applying yourself why would you know?

Yellowtip Tue 11-Jun-13 22:48:34

I'm not applying to Cambridge at the moment either PPP nor likely to be applying in the immediate future, but I happen to know what your standard offer for Law is.

A* offers as standard throw up obvious problems. Start ramping up the A*'s required as standard and you create even more problems.

LittleFrieda Tue 11-Jun-13 23:31:39

I don't know why universities don't ask for AA*A from independent school applicants, A*A*A from super selective school applicants, A*AA from grammars, comps and academies in certain wealthy postcodes and ABB from everyone else, perhaps even BBB for those receiving FSMs. It would sort out quite a lot of what's wrong with our education system. grin

The GCSE A* requirement is a disaster for WA. Now DS2 is at a comp, I see the culture is completely different from his old highly selective fee paying school which nannied them through GCSEs. There is zero hand holding at the comp and far too many exams sat early with little or no communication home. I reckon the same student attaining 10 A* grades at the fee paying school would struggle to achieve 1 A* at the comp UNLESS there is a fully invested parent hovering.

LittleFrieda Tue 11-Jun-13 23:33:55

A* A* A* from independent school applicants.

Bonsoir Wed 12-Jun-13 06:59:56

Maybe the solution is to outlaw the nannying,*LittleFrieda*?

WouldBeHarrietVane Wed 12-Jun-13 08:06:23

I agree Frieda!

wordfactory Wed 12-Jun-13 08:45:54

Well littlefrieda that certainly puts paid to the much proffered MN classic that 'a bright child will do well anywhere' wink...

But here's the thing...

A*s at GCSE aren't that hard to achieve. And a highly selective univeristy should be able to expect their students to have a good hand of them, particularly in pertinent subjects. It shows a host of abilities they will need to thrive at undergrad level.

Without a good hand of A*s (and I don't mean a perfect 10), I can't see how admissions tutors can make a good estimate of ability, talent and liklihood to thrive.

They can't drop their base level expectations to somehow shoehorn in applicants from really crap schools.

wordfactory Wed 12-Jun-13 08:48:30

As for making offers static based on where the applicant went to school...I don't think that's necessarily a good thing.

Admissions tutors want a certain degree of flexibility.

They want the people they feel will best thrive!

LittleFrieda Wed 12-Jun-13 09:21:56

Word factory - I don't think that's true about GCSEs. Why don't admissions tutors ask for their MidYis score as well as their GCSE grades, AS grades acheived (with UMS) and predicted grades? Lots of bright and exceptionally bright pupils underperform at GCSE.

Have any uni admissions departments ever analysed performance in degree against MidYis scores? I suspect it will be closer correlation than GCSE results. Cambridge certainly seem to think AS results are a better indicator than GCSE results.

Bonsoir Wed 12-Jun-13 09:44:49

The interest of GCSEs lies also in the comparability of candidates. Better candidates for good universities usually take the full range of academic subjects and so are easy to compare against one anothee whereas spécialisation thereafter makes direct comparison harder.

LittleFrieda Wed 12-Jun-13 10:16:58

Bonsoir - GCSE subjects also vary enormously. Is a business studies GCSE equal currency to an English Literature IGCSE?

I would advise an exceptionally bright child to sit only Maths, English Language and a modern language GCSEs and be a conscientious objector to the rest. If you acheived A* in those three exams and high AS results and predicted grades in subjects suitable for the university course, I don't think a top university would discriminate against you.

gazzalw Wed 12-Jun-13 10:21:37

For what it's worth and I'm talking a few decades ago, I know someone who was in Division 2 in Maths/French at a grammar school. A diligent child but never regarded by peers as one of the 'bright ones'. She did get some As in her O Levels and the rest were Bs but certainly she didn't get 14 O Levels as the brightest cohort did. She managed to get into Oxford to read English (so a tall order!) no problems...

Slipshodsibyl Wed 12-Jun-13 10:27:14

Word! A* is quite hard to get! Last year it was 3.4% in Eng Lang, 5.8 in Maths, 10.7 in French and the same in History. Double award Science 5.7.

These are bumped up inLatin (33.7). Add maths (18.5) and separate Sciences (physics 19 and Chem 20) but it is the highest in the cohort who take these.

My own three have had a run of A* at GCSE/IGCSE at a selective school and young relatives have had 8 or 9 at a nice but unremarkable rural comp. I know it can be done in both sectors but it isn't that easy, really.

gazzalw Wed 12-Jun-13 10:28:18

The thing is that it's not entirely about academic rigour, though is it? We have family friends where the Mum was most put out that her DS didn't get an offer from Cambridge although his school friend (who according to the friend was nowhere near as clever as her DS) got into Oxford. But we all know examples of this...It seems that the Admissions Tutors are looking for that extra elusive quality which doesn't always appear on a personal statement or actual/predicted grades....

And when you have socialised and known a lot of Oxbridge graduates (as SIL is) they are generally fiercely clever in a way that leaves the rest of us looking positive academic slouches.....

Slipshodsibyl Wed 12-Jun-13 10:34:12

The extra elusive quality (or lack thereof) is sometimes just luck.

gazzalw Wed 12-Jun-13 10:46:02

Well yes it could just translate as 'clickability' with the Admissions Tutor

wordfactory Wed 12-Jun-13 10:49:38

Slip I didn't want to say it was easy to get an A*. But the average is about 7% achieving one, no?

I would expect an applicant to Oxbridge to come wihtin that highest tier.

I'm not saying they need to have a full hand of A*s. I do accept slippage happens on the day (particularly for those students taking lineat IGCSEs and GCSEs) and I also wouldn't worry if a potential physicist got a B in art!

But I do think a decent slwe of A*s would be requisite.

wordfactory Wed 12-Jun-13 10:53:55

gazz with an abundance of applicants, all displaying academic prowess, often the choice of who gets an offer can seem arbitrary.

And although it isn't arbitary, it does often take things into account over which the student has no control.

Some admissions tutors like their students to be highly articulate. Others will work around it. Some will lean towards a student who seems very serious, others will prefer the more serious types.

Admissions tutors afterall are just people.

Slipshodsibyl Wed 12-Jun-13 10:58:19

I agree a good handful is requisite for Oxbridge, though to be one of three in 100 to get A* in English Lang is tough - about 5 get it in Lit. However Oxbridge say they are after the top 3% in broad Ability terms. This isn't very many children.

in reality, top grades are not won in large numbers, easily? That's all I mean.

Slipshodsibyl Wed 12-Jun-13 11:03:41


Well let's hope this Don, talking at the start of the clip, isn't in admissions!

Bonsoir Wed 12-Jun-13 11:51:17

Comparing percentage success rates at A* GCSE isn't very useful, given that practically every teenager takes English Language but very few take French or Latin. One would expect higher percentages of top grades in "elective" GCSEs versus "standard".

Yellowtip Wed 12-Jun-13 12:14:09

Clearly there's a difference between being in the top 3% for a single subject and managing to be in the top few % in each and every subject, or even the majority of subjects, across a spectrum of subjects. Especially when the exams are all taken as linear in a single sitting. The percentages of those achieving that narrow further than the top 3%, which is why not everyone at Oxford and Cambridge achieve it, or there would be empty seats. Of course it doesn't explain those endless stories of the 12A* applicants who were shown the door....

Slipshodsibyl Wed 12-Jun-13 12:27:20

'One would expect higher percentages of top grades in 'elective' GCSEs versus 'standard'

I thought that I pointed that out when I said the highest achieving of the cohort would take subjects like Add Maths and Latin. I was trying to counter an impression that I get (perhaps from other discussions) that strings of A* grades are fairly common among the population and that schools which don't have lots of A* s are failing. Perhaps some are, but in practice, hitting the top grade across a large number of subjects is an achievement that shouldn't be taken as a given.

LittleFrieda Wed 12-Jun-13 12:47:31

Wordfactory - the reasons bright students don't always get A* grades at GCSE are nothing to do with difficulty of the exam.

wordfactory Wed 12-Jun-13 13:20:55

littlefrieda I agree.

And within reason Oxbridge will acommodate/contextualise.

But there comes a point where it is not the universities job to resolve school level/societal failings!

gazzalw Wed 12-Jun-13 13:45:48

When SIL applied to Cambridge, one of the Admissions Tutors (to a college she didn't receive an offer from), remarked upon the tightness of her suit - seriously.......

LittleFrieda Wed 12-Jun-13 14:23:11

Word factory - it is their job if they want the brightest pupils.

wordfactory Wed 12-Jun-13 14:33:17

It isn't you know.

It's their job to find smart people who have the necessary skills/aptitude/persnoality and will thrive. It's their job to find the right match.

Slipshodsibyl Wed 12-Jun-13 15:04:37

Gazzalw, that would not happen now.

gazzalw Thu 13-Jun-13 07:22:22

Yes, I know but shocking nevertheless.... this was in the 80s....

Just to say that all of SIL's female Cambridge friends are a very sparky, feisty, vocal and successful lot (know less about her male cohort), even though they haven't all gone down the traditional City routes. They just have an aura about them which I think they all had when they got offers to go there.

Incidentally, just to show how O Level/GCSE grades have changed. When we did them, even at very, very good grammar schools it was just about unheard of for even the very, very bright pupils to get more than 6/7 As (amongst their clutch of 13/14 O Levels). Twixt me and DW we can only think of one pupil within our peer groups who managed to get all As.

I think the Admissions Tutors know their job and know what that 'elusive quality' is that they are looking for. I'm not sure they often get it wrong, are you?

funnyperson Thu 13-Jun-13 10:40:53

Of course they get it wrong. Frequently, I imagine. There are so many bright sparky applicants that many will be rejected, not because they have anything less than those who are accepted but because the admissions people got it wrong or couldnt take everyone. I don't know where or when you did Olevel or gcse gazza but when I did them in the ark ages it was common to get all A's for the brighter girls and by no means all would get accepted for oxbridge though it was generally thought that if a bit of an effort were made one would get in.
I dont think the Oxford or Cambridge lot are so 'fiercely clever' as all that. I do think they get a very very good education though which helps them make the most of their undergraduate brains so that they are confident enough by the time they come out. In fact I think the education they get at Oxford is really so excellent that any very bright child should be encouraged to make very serious efforts to apply

gazzalw Thu 13-Jun-13 11:50:29

Grammar schools in the 1970s and young people who got into Oxbridge weren't all the highest performing at O or even A Level. As I said upthread someone who was a 'division two' (not someone anyone would have marked as Oxbridge material) pupil managed to get into Oxford to read English....

Farewelltoarms Thu 13-Jun-13 11:59:22

I've only got 6 As in my o levels (other four Bs and Cs) and it was absolutely never a problem in making a successful application to Oxford.
The thing about Oxbridge is everyone knows someone really clever, sometimes the cleverest person in the school, who's been rejected. So those who are accepted go there with raging imposter syndrome, convinced that everyone else must be far cleverer than they are.
I was shocked and relieved by just how normal and not impossibly bright most people were when I arrived. There were some serious plodders.
Applying to specific colleges for specific subjects means it's utterly arbitrary who gets in and this over-emphasis on Oxbridge success is a total nonsense.

UptheChimney Thu 13-Jun-13 13:06:59

Word factory - it is their job if they want the brightest pupils

As wordfactory says, it really is not an academic's individual responsibility, nor that of a Department, or even an entire university, to right the wrongs of British economic divides.

We can do what we can in formal, structural ways, to try to mitigate the effects of economic advantages that start before children even get to school.

Although I do find it interesting that any mention I've made on MN of getting rid of fee paying schools is met with deeply felt outrage and opposition. So there are quite a few people around here who actually do believe in buying advantage.

But that universities should fix all that?

creamteas Thu 13-Jun-13 13:17:19

So there are quite a few people around here who actually do believe in buying advantage

I think people who support buying advantage for their DC is probably a MN majority view. Not me though grin.

Bonsoir Thu 13-Jun-13 13:59:15

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying advantage for your DC, provided it isn't cheating. The more developed the average person in a society is, the better the society works. Buying advantage for your own DC is the best way to give to society as a whole.

creamteas Thu 13-Jun-13 15:38:40

Buying advantage for your own DC is the best way to give to society as a whole

I really don't understand the logic in this. Buying advantage just ensures that the class divide remains in place, and birth continues to be rewarded not merit.

It doesn't develop society at all, it stifles the talent of those without and rewards mediocrity from those with privilege.

Bonsoir Thu 13-Jun-13 15:58:10

No it doesn't, creamteas. Stop looking at it on a micro level and try to understand the macro level.

creamteas Thu 13-Jun-13 16:57:26

I am, the individualized self interest (micro) compounds into a system replicating privilege not merit (macro)

Bonsoir Thu 13-Jun-13 17:04:19

If people have learned things and developed, that is good for them and for society. Whether their parents coughed up or not is immaterial. Education is like vaccination - the more there is of it, the better for all of us.

funnyperson Thu 13-Jun-13 18:00:15

Hmm yes though I am a supporter of free vaccination at the point of delivery, of decreasing inequalities in vaccination uptake, of increasing access to vaccines for hard to reach groups, and maximising vaccination uptake of the population as a whole, so as to increase herd immunity, and ultimately eradicate disease.

creamteas Thu 13-Jun-13 21:12:47

Bonsoir I'm all for increasing education, but I don't think that is what we were discussing.

As far as I could tell, you were arguing for preserving educational inequalities and I was arguing against.

Giving good eduction to a minority and does nothing to increase the level of education all round. So to use your example, vaccinating the elite against all diseases and the rest protected against only half the protection.

funnyperson Thu 13-Jun-13 21:24:35

What you mean, I think, creamteas is that if some of the elite population paid for a five star vaccine programme and the rest of the population would be unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated, diseases would still spread. The unprotected population would not survive. The protected population would also be at risk as they would be more likely to come into contact with disease before completing the vaccination course.

In general it is good for a country to raise levels of education for all.

The downside is that at the top, requirements can become horrendous. For example this year the entry point for Delhi university is above 99% for some subjects.

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