Oxbridge and State Schools

(209 Posts)
RiversideMum Wed 27-Mar-13 05:49:02

Feeling a bit cross about a presentation DD attended at a local school for all the secondaries in the area. It didn't seem hugely encouraging given that the DCs there had been invited to attend by their schools and therefore had the potential to be applicants. Now in my heart of hearts I'm not sure that DD is Oxbridge material, but for her to come away for the presentation saying "I don't think I would fit in" is somewhat disappointing.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 14:33:07

There's no-one to hid behind in a tutorial or supervision either, so you can't simply arrange yourself in an interested way as you can in, say, a Durham type tutorial or seminar. At the moment DD3 has two essays/ tutorials a week for Law and DS1 has three essays/ tutorials for Medicine on top of all the lectures and practicals which he has to do every day. The eight essays a term which another DD does for History far exceeds the workload at both Durham or UCL, which have longer terms too - that also makes a difference. Exams at the start of each term is different again. You have to really, really like your subject, because there's not much let up outside the long summer vacation and it would be murder working like that if you only had a vague interest in the subject you chose.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 14:34:22

no-one to hide behind is what I meant to type.

GrendelsMum Thu 28-Mar-13 14:47:27

My friends and I agreed recently that because most students are fairly young when they study at Oxford / Cambridge, the work load becomes your idea of normal. Which is both a help and a hindrance in later life.

Welovegrapes Thu 28-Mar-13 14:56:40

Tbh most students who get to oxbridge have already been working similarly hard for a full sweep of a grades at a levels, so it is normalised for them.

scaevola Thu 28-Mar-13 15:05:26

Why didn't your DD think she's fit in?

Academic calibre? Socially?

Or, and this bit is too often overlooked, fitting in to a tutorial system in which the student must be almost entirely self-directed?

mynameisnotmichaelcaine Thu 28-Mar-13 15:11:56

It is hard work. I seemed to have to do the work that my friends at other universities were doing in one term, in a fortnight. It made my PGCE feel like a walk in the park, whilst others were moaning about excessive workload.

Re passion - I know it is a bit of a ugh word, but it is necessary. I was not a genius at school by any stretch, but I LOVED reading. I was sent to the junior school library to choose books from Year 1 as I had read every book in the infant school. I was offered a job in the local library at age 14 because I was in there so much, and had read every book in the teen section. You need that kind of commitment to your subject if you are going to keep up with the workload. You need to be very interested indeed in what you are doing.

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 28-Mar-13 15:17:57

Supervision s are great, though - a far more effective way of educating than a crowded seminar. Supervisions don't make life harder they make it better. I'll give you exams every term though, that must be a nightmare. Luckily Cambridge doesn't do that.

I guess perhaps the guidance that really should be being given is 'this is the workload. If it sounds too heavy to you then maybe this isn't the place for you'. Because I absolutely stand by my view that I wasn't worked horrendously into the ground while I was at Cambridge. It was fine.

RiversideMum they most certainly didn't give us the hard sell, far from it. It was made clear that the top universities select while others recruit.
It was also the workload and tutorial system that others describe that was not going to suit all students.

MTSgroupie Thu 28-Mar-13 17:27:15

My kids currently get about 90 min of homework a night at their private secondary. Often the requirement is to research a topic so that it can be discussed at the next lesson as opposed to the teacher spending lesson time introducing the material for the first time. There is a test almost every week with an end of term test in most subjects. I understand that 6th Form will be even more intense.

Not surprisingly many of the 6th Formers get to Oxbridge and find the place a logical progression from their previous school in terms of work load and pressure.

I mention the above because people often make the comment that Oxbridge is biased towards private schools because of snobbery. Could the 'bias' be because, in their experience, the academically pushy private schools produces students that are use to the Oxbridge way of doing things described in posts upthread?

Before everyone rush to tell me that private is not better by default, please note that I said academically pushy. I accept that many private schools take your money and offer little else apart from nicer facilities and smaller classes.

Apologies for the temporary hijack. As you were smile

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 17:31:20

Yellowtip I can only speak for my uni and department in detail but I would have assumed Durham and UCL would be as if not more demanding but our undergrads do 4 modules per term and would have one or two essays per term for each (depending on course marking structure) counting to their degree plus a tutorial presentation per term. i.e have prepared a presentation on the reading, or one aspect of the reading if shared. There is no hiding behind anyone for anyone in tutorials, I have seen my Professor challenge an overseas student who had clearly done the reading but tried to shirk offering an opinion in a way I felt bordered on culturally insensitive (and certainly provoked some misogynistic remarks on the way out) Not all tutors have the personal qualities to exert their authority to that extent but that is the culture, and most would go around the room asking each for an opinion. Anyone not contributing in tutorials can expect to be summoned by their personal tutor and have it taken into account in the assessment of their final mark if it is borderline. Contact time isn't high, a lecture and tutorial (in groups of around 10) per module per week. An Oxford undergrad faces a relentless workload of an essay a week whereas the essays in our uni tend to stack up for completion by end reading week /first day of following terms but how our students manage their workload is up to them. I think a 2X / 3X comment on workload is a difficult generalisation because I suspect some of our students do 2x or 3x what others do.

That is very different to what I remember from the 70s which is very like described, around 3 essays a term, lectures you didn't have to sign into and tutorials where you could nurse your hangover reading the titles of the books on the shelves whilst the tutor droned on. However I would have really enjoyed the challenge of the undergrad tutorials I now witness, lively and full of engaged students which can often go off on interesting tangents, it is a very healthy learning culture and I am impressed. And I would never have got a 2.1 now based on the amount or standard of work I did then, or with a principle of never getting out of bed before 11am.

Of course DDs Science course is another kettle of fish entirely and she works relentlessly hard with constant testing, with last term around 36 contact hours and many hours of work required on top, particularly if you are aiming for high marks but the nature of the work means you cannot shirk if you are to keep up with understanding it. Students regularly fall and have to redo hurdles, and even years. Her Science peers at Oxbridge do not have an appreciably different workload though a tutorial or lab group of ten would be the closest to personal attention she recieves. I worry about her, as she often ends up sleep deprived but she thrives on it because she loves it but I suppose another issue those contemplating Oxbridge have to think about is not just is it for them but are they for it, in terms of coping?

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 17:47:15

Sorry I forgot to qualify this with comment that all of this is EXCEPT <mounts soap box> the third term. I wonder when in the last thirty years it became not only acceptable but usual for non Oxbridge unis to only run courses for two terms. Now there is often nothing apart from exams but a few revision tutorials in the third term even for my DD, after all the hard unremitting graft crammed into two terms. She is still working hard to revise for exams but in what universe is it alright to have only 6 hours contact time in a term (and that exams ) as is the case for one of her Humanities peers, when students are going to be paying £3000 a term. It must be my Northern Protestant Work Ethic but not in my universe...........

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 17:51:19

MTS by and large the numbers getting offers from Oxford or Cambridge at any one school reflects that school's level of selectivity at the age of 11 or 13. No particular magic there and I'm surprised that anyone these days could honestly believe that 'snobbishness' plays a part.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 18:05:13

Russians I'm sure that the tutorials/ supervisions are far superior as a method of learning, I don't think there can be any doubt, can there? Other universities have simply never had the resources. I think what you said should be the guidance is pretty much the guidance (well it was pretty much the guidance that the guy from Oxford gave to the Y12's a couple of weeks ago). But you may be coming at the concept of workload from a different angle to many, for the reasons you yourself gave. I think it is necessary to give a health warning to students who are thinking of Oxford or Cambridge so that they can take a step back and ask themselves whether that's a set up that they'd really enjoy.

Welovegrapes Thu 28-Mar-13 18:09:28

I think the length of the essays is another issue. I taught at an excellent RG Uni and the essays were much shorter than we wrote for my Oxbridge course.

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 28-Mar-13 18:12:28

yellow I think that basically I agree with you, I just would always suggest framing it in neutral terms - this is what it is (honestly), if you think that sounds like the sort of environment you want to be in, then hooray - rather than in doomladen apocalyptic 'it's really hard, you'll hate it' terms. But honesty is key.

Eeeeeowwwfftz Thu 28-Mar-13 18:47:21

I think I now understand why every single personal statement I have read had the word "passion" in the first paragraph. Not sure what Oxbridge are looking for in the statement but the ones that stand out for me (a) sound like the applicant wrote it themselves instead of copying it out of a book or off a website (b) sound like the applicant actually believe what they've written and (c) demonstrate some kind of ability for deep and critical thinking along with an enthusiasm for learning and being able to deal with ideas that challenge their existing understanding of the subject area. It is wry unlikely that someone who does not do (a) or (b) will somehow pull off (c).

Oh, and other Universites are available. Some of them are even quite good.

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 18:51:22

*Welovegrapes" 2,500 words, are Oxbridge essays longer?

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 19:14:19

Eeeeetc which university do you work at that only has applicants that use that word and nothing but that word in each and every first paragraph of each and every personal statement? I'd be looking for a transfer myself. If only because I assume I'd have no students to teach (having declined them all). Is yours a uni well known for taking Oxbridge rejects? smile

BoffinMum Thu 28-Mar-13 19:33:42

I've taught on fairly identical courses in the same subject at Oxbridge and a 1994 group university. They did the same number of essays and went to the same number of lectures. They got roughly the same number of tutorials as well, but in the 1994 group Uni they were 30 mins in groups of 2, compared to 60 mins in groups of 4-6 at Oxbridge. Our external examiner was from Oxbridge. The main difference was that ours did placements and went in lots of visits during the course, and were taught less often by PhD students. But they didn't get the college experience with gowns and posh dinners, so their social aplomb was not as polished.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 19:58:10

Slightly confused BoffinMum. At your 1994 the tutorials were shorter but with only two students and at Cambridge you had 4 to 6 to a supervision lasting an hour? Neither sounds quite right. In fact a 30 minute tutorial seems odd. But someone with your experience must recognise that there's a little more to it than social aplomb (in fact that's just silly). What is your subject BoffinMum?

VelvetSpoon Thu 28-Mar-13 21:06:36

I don't think an Oxbridge degree is astonishingly hard work tbh - it's more subject dependant; as a law student I had more to do than some other subjects at my college, but compared to others studying the same subject at other universities, I don't thing there was much, if any, difference.

It also depends on what you are aiming to get - everyone I know who got a First put in HUGE amounts of time and effort, not just at exam time but all through the year. I didn't - I found A levels easy and coasted through them, I couldn't be bothered to work hard at Cambridge once I got there and did the minimum, which got me a 2:2.

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 21:53:01

Boffinman A 30 minute tutorial does sound a bit strange, are they in the nature of discussions on progress? Often our tutorials stretch well beyond an hour if the discussion is going that way, subject to timetables, even being adjourned to the bar.........

Eeee and yellowtip I disagree with yellowtip in that I do believe that passion is alive and well and residing in our teens, in fact without being stalkerish I have seen evidence of it in the motivation and achievements of her DCs too and suspect it is a matter of definition, and a willingness to define it thus in a world where the word may have become ubiquitous and devalued. However whilst it crops up from time to time in less polished statements anyone with decent advice will have made wise use of their words demonstrating passion through reading etc. It is an empty word without that?

Yellowtip Fri 29-Mar-13 00:26:32

VelvetSpoon I've seen your own degree from both sides and while I don't think Law requires any more work than an English or History degree I do believe that more is demanded of Oxford (and presumably Cambridge) students than of others such as those at Durham/ Bristol etc. Indeed if that wasn't the case, why would those degrees be valued more highly?

Copthall quite right: it's the word which has become hugely devalued, not the thing and it's merely the word which I really don't like. And yes, mine do like their subjects a lot, mercifully, as does your own DD, clearly (without being stalkerish smile).

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 29-Mar-13 09:15:44

Yellow It's the quality that myself, my close colleagues, and now my kids blush refer to as 'arsedness' or, occasionally if we are being posh, 'possession of a sufficient appropriate quantity and quality of arse'. grin Unfirtunately I doubt that will cut it in personal statements. Passion was always the wrong word to describe how people feel about what they want to study and maybe make their life's work (except possibly when talking aout music art or dance and even then I think it's a real stretch). Most very very committed people have something they love way more than 'their subject' which puts the concept of 'passion' into context. Whether that's a hobby, a football team, a participatory sport.......

Welovegrapes Fri 29-Mar-13 12:28:06

Definitely had a passion for my subject and miss it sad

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