Oxbridge - please can someone explain something to me

(97 Posts)
Onedayinthesun Tue 15-Mar-16 17:46:01

Just to give some context, I have a neighbour who is a shameless bragger about her child, for the past 5 years she has talked incessantly about what her kid is going to do with their life.

Never has actually said little Johnny has accomplished X Y or Z. Always, this is what he is going to do.

Since he has been 12 yrs old I have had to listen about his mothers his aspirations of becoming an
Officer at Sandhurst,
A Doctor
Head of John Lewis (after he got his first Saturday job)
A Vet
A Banker in the City
And a Partner at KPMG

She has told me today that little Johnny will be applying to Oxford to study a degree that has no relevance to the above list of careers - and that given their policy for positive discrimination, as little Johnny, in her words is a "bright young thing"??? and from a middle class family and goes to the local comprehensive then he has a better opportunity of securing a place than those attending the best fee paying schools in the country.

Note. This kid did not get straight A's or A* at GCSE for every subject.

I didn't go to Uni, but run my own successful business so not having a degree has not held me back in life, however I get the distinct impression my neighbour (who places such importance on matters relating to education and social climbing) thinks I'm a total fool to think that Oxford select students for their courses on this basis. She is deluded right?

OP’s posts: |
Mumsieof2 Tue 15-Mar-16 19:15:24

I think it's kids that are from low income families and live in a deprived area and go to the worst schools in the UK that will get flagged up and will recieve special attention. Which I truly believe is right, in opening up fair and equal opportunities for those that are disadvantaged, who may not have the support, facilities, teachers etc to have access and chance to learn at these prestigious universities. Im not sure this kind of gaming the outreach programme (as I think it's called) ie middle class, live in nice area but go to failing school in hope of gaining a better chance of getting into Oxbridge will work in their favour..I don't know it all sounds a bit devious and not genuine trying to outdo the system.

PirateSmile Tue 15-Mar-16 19:17:32

How many A and A* did he get at GCSE and which course is he applying to do?

BertrandRussell Tue 15-Mar-16 19:20:34

He has very little chance of getting in to Oxford without straight As at GCSE anyway.

If he was at a very poor performing school in a very deprived area then there are schemes to level the playing field a bit for very bright kids, but just going to a comprehensive doesn't give him any extra "points"

Mumsieof2 Tue 15-Mar-16 19:31:48

Oops I've re read, he's not going to failing school. Got the context wrong. Well if he deserves a offer he will get one I'm sure Oxbridge will have their ways to measure applicants who they think will suit and thrive there. They have these extra test they have to do to make sure, if he deserves a place he will get one. There's a few hurdles to overcome and satisfy before he gets a offer anyways

boys3 Tue 15-Mar-16 19:44:21

It may well come as a nasty shock to your neighbour that every applicant irrespective of bakground to Oxbridge, and indeed to many other of our top unis, are going to be "bright young things".

Onedayinthesun Tue 15-Mar-16 20:28:15

Quite boys.

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IggertyZiggertyZoom Tue 15-Mar-16 20:34:16

I went to Oxford with 1A*, 7As, 2Bs.
My brother went with 4As, 3Bs and 2Cs.
Little Johnny may get there yet!

BertrandRussell Tue 15-Mar-16 20:35:54

You might make it still, but your brother wouldn't. Things change!

rightsaidfrederickII Tue 15-Mar-16 23:41:15

Johnny's mum is likely to be coming down to earth with a significant bump in the not too distant future.

Yes, Oxford has some very good widening participation programmes (technical term). They are intended to help level the playing field between equally bright students from different backgrounds, but it is not positive discrimination.

They have a contextual data policy, and if a candidate receives a flag, then they are strongly recommended to be invited to interview, because they have done very well in the context of their background. Flags are given for things like attending a school with results below national average. However, it's entirely feasible that little Johnny will not receive any flags - merely attending a comp won't cut it, as there are lots of excellent comps out there www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/decisions/contextual-data?wssl=1

Details on the sort of GCSEs they look for are here www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses/entrance-requirements?wssl=1

As for the hard stats, the privately educated remain over-represented at Oxford. 7% of all pupils and 18% of A Level students are privately educated, but 42.6% of Oxford's undergrads are privately educated. There are lots of reasons for this, many of which are completely outside of Oxford's control (e.g. underperformance of bright pupils at some state schools), and some of which are more qualitative (e.g. private schools tend to be more experienced at preparing students for interviews). State school pupils are statistically less likely to get an offer than their private school counterparts, but a significant part of this is because they disproportionately apply to the most competitive subjects. There are lots of interesting stats at www.ox.ac.uk/media/global/wwwoxacuk/localsites/gazette/documents/statisticalinformation/admissionsstatistics/Admissions_Statistics_2013.pdf I would not seek to put Johnny off applying if he has the grades, but the idea that someone has a better chance of going to Oxford because they went to a comp is wishful thinking on Johnny's mum's part.

Smile sweetly, wish him and his mother Hyacinth Bucket luck, and see what happens! [munches popcorn]

Onedayinthesun Wed 16-Mar-16 05:53:49

grinrightsaid. Very valuable insight thank you!

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Molio Wed 16-Mar-16 08:11:20

So which degree is Johnny going to be applying for? All degrees from Oxford are 'relevant' for most of those jobs (the medical ones aside). He particularly doesn't need to worry too much about degree subject if he's going to Sandhurst.

And since you know his grades at GCSE OP, in that you don't believe them to be good enough, what were they?

I'm sorry to say it but I'm going to dissent and say I really hope Johnny gets a place, although I doubt that will improve neighbourly relations smile

RhodaBull Wed 16-Mar-16 08:51:28

Ds is a comp-educated, all A*s/A boy. He didn't get a place! Neither did anyone else he knows. For his course at his college the two people who got places (out of 40 staying at that college) both went to private schools. And ds says they were very "public schooly" too.

As others have said, if you can raise certain flags you may get more of a chance, but there are thousands of very bright pupils having a go and apart from the few geniuses who apply every year, the admissions tutors are faced with a sea of credible applicants.

Sixweekstowait Wed 16-Mar-16 09:33:09

You'd think the admission tutors should be bright enough to be able to see through the obvious advantages that a good independent school provides and come up with better selection criteria. All the (very good evidence) shows that when A level grades are correlated with class of degree, those with lower A level grades from state schools do better than those with higher grades from independent schools. I know personally both teachers and students from both sectors and the preparation and contacts that the independent sector have that contribute to Oxbridge admission is enormous.

JeanneDeMontbaston Wed 16-Mar-16 10:39:57

Um ... they do, bourd.

Oxbridge admissions has been taking into account school background for years.

Sixweekstowait Wed 16-Mar-16 11:47:59

Jeanne I've read that but not sure how it translates into practice - how does it work in judging the interview performance?

Sixweekstowait Wed 16-Mar-16 11:54:01


Not such a rosy picture though?

whatwouldrondo Wed 16-Mar-16 13:22:26

Well many private school parents think it is harder for a bright pupil to get into Oxbridge from one of the highly selective private schools which were already selecting pretty much only pupils with Oxbridge potential at 11. The fact is that there are a lot of bright pupils from state and private schools trying to get in and no selection process can distinguish ability and potential with total reliability on that scale, especially one that has interviewers who will spend the next three years teaching the candidate, and are subject to all sorts of political pressures, some element of subjectivity is bound to creep in. At the selective private schools there are always a few who are expected to get in and don't and a few surprise successes who were not. Quite a few of DDs peers from both state and private schools that didn't get into Oxbridge have gone on to land firsts on very competitive courses where they were competing with some of the brightest students in the world. So perhaps it is time for some of the Hyacinths parents to take Oxbridge entry for what it is, a bit of a lottery and not the be all and end all, and appreciate there are lots of good courses bursting at the seams with students who would have done well at Oxbridge that they can be equally proud of their DCs attending.

As already highlighted the reasons for the overepresentation of private school pupils are complex and it is simply not possible to isolate what part each factor plays, whether it is lack of aspiration /cultural capital in terms of understanding the process in the state sector, the selectivity of the private sector, subjectivity in the interview process, or educational standards, and of course parental ambition angry but for sure there will be subjectivity in how parents perceive it according to their situation and ambitions for their DCs hmm

This is a useful expose of the process at Cambridge which shows how the contextual flags work, though please don't show it to Hyacinth as she will probably divorce her husband, ditch the family gold in the sea and sign junior up for the worst sink school in the area www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jan/10/how-cambridge-admissions-really-work?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

I hope he gets in as well........

BertrandRussell Wed 16-Mar-16 13:38:00


Apparently Tom Hiddlestone and Benedict Cumberbatch think that people from public school/Oxbridge backgrounds are hugely discriminated against in the acting profession too..................

maydancer Wed 16-Mar-16 13:41:13

many courses at Oxford have an entrance exam and that carries a lot of weight

JeanneDeMontbaston Wed 16-Mar-16 13:43:43

bour, I can't speak for everywhere, but when I have done it, we are given a formula for taking into account the negative effect of a difficult background, a poor school, etc., on grades (actual and predicted), and of course we also think about that during interview.

I have only interviewed a little bit, but in my (very) limited experience it is actually surprisingly obvious when someone has potential but was badly taught, because you're not primarily interested in how much they know or how many long words they can use, you're interested in how they think and respond.

As I say, my experience is very limited, but I have heard the same from people who've been doing it for years, and some of them post on here so might well explain more.

JeanneDeMontbaston Wed 16-Mar-16 13:48:54

Btw, I have a lot of feelings about that Guardian article, but the most basic issue is this: when it talks about the colleges 'failing' to make offers to enough State schooled applicants, I would like to know how many State school pupils applied?

I know universities can (and do) do a lot to try to get students to feel they're entitled to apply and might enjoy being there, but ultimately, if someone doesn't apply you cannot give them a place.

The line about colleges making decisions based on knowing which students might be 'useful' to the college later on suggests Shannon has absolutely no clue how admissions works.

ABetaDad1 Wed 16-Mar-16 14:06:01

My DW came from a comprehensive (ex Grammar school) and our tutor at Oxford took account of that in giving her a place.

That was 35 years ago. There were plenty of comprehensive school children in my college - just not that many applicants as a proportion of all applicants.

The reason comprehensive school children don't get into Oxford in large numbers is complex but mainly down to three factors:

a) lack of parental support and awareness of Oxbridge among lower socioeconomic groups;

b) private schools award scholarships and bursaries to very bright pupils who might otherwise go to a comprehensive so the very best of the brightest children are already pre-selected to go to private school by the scholarship and bursary system.

c) active antipathy by comprehensive school teachers about Oxbridge and a lack of knowledge about how to apply to Oxbridge and what is required to make the grade. My DW was actively discouraged by her teachers so she applied on her own initiative.

Oxbridge can only select from among the candidate who apply. There is no way of 'working the system' though. Being averagely bright and going to a comprehensive school is not enough. It takes from the top 1% of the academic scale and you either are or you aren't in that category.

Molio Wed 16-Mar-16 14:31:37

ABetaDad I'm amazed that you think all the 'very best of the brightest' are already pre-selected by private schools!!!!

Some of the very best and brightest presumably don't actually fancy private school.

That's a very funny comment.

ABetaDad1 Wed 16-Mar-16 15:41:05

Molio - Not all the best and brightest go to private schools of course, but the bursary and scholarships offered by private schools do hoover up many of the brightest and best candidates who might otherwise have done Al levels in a state school. You have to remember that only a very small proportion of people out of the whole population are capable of reaching Oxbridge standard, maybe 1% so it doesn't take many scholarships and bursaries to capture 50% of the brightest and best candidates. It sonly 0.5% of the entire school population and 7% already attend private school.

It doesn't take much effort by private schools to attract candidates from state schools with scholarship and bursaries in 6th form to bump up their A level results and numbers of Oxbridge entrants. Private schools are very switched on to capturing the best state school candidates for 6th form and many parents are keen to take advantage of that who could not otherwise afford private school.

My DS1 is at private day school already. He is forecast to get 11 A* GCSE grades and we went to look at a top boarding school for 6th form. He decided he didn't want that route but the scholarships and bursaries were front and centre considerations for many of the parents attending interviews with us and several were looking to flip their child from a state school.

Its just a mathematical fact. Private schools only need to take a disproportionate share of the brightest and best with scholarships and bursaries and they will inevitably get a disproportionate amount of Oxbridge successes.

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