It’s long been suspected that the race to secure an offer from Oxbridge isn’t a fair one, but few could predict exactly how much the odds are against you if you don’t attend a fee-paying school.
Pupils from independent schools are seven times more likely to attend Oxbridge
A recent study published by the Sutton Trust has shed a strong light on the issue. It reveals that, over a period of three years, eight top schools and colleges sent as many pupils to Oxbridge as three quarters of all schools and colleges, and pupils from independent schools are seven times more likely to attend Oxbridge than their peers at comprehensives.
Unfortunately, these trends prevail beyond Oxbridge. Students from independent schools are twice as likely to take a place at a Russell Group institution, and this gap has increased steadily from 2008 to the present day.
The main obstacle facing comprehensives
It’s likely that the main obstacle facing comprehensive schools and colleges is access to funding, time and resources. Total school spending per pupil fell by 7% between 2009-10 and 2017-18, and those aged 16-18 – crucial years when it comes to university applications – have been hit the hardest, facing budget cuts of 21% per student. The result is fewer teachers, fewer teaching assistants and larger pupil-to-teacher ratios.
How to level the playing field
Although there’s little comprehensives can do to overcome a lack of funding, the report does point to things that can be done to help level out the playing field.
Firstly, it suggests that students should be encouraged to consider good universities further from home. This is because the proportion of applicants from state schools who gain a place at Oxbridge seems to differ substantially by region; around 1.5% of applicants from the South East, South West, London and East of England went to Oxbridge, but only around half as many from the North and Midlands, despite having strong grades.
Grades aren't everything
Interestingly, although grades do of course play a key role when it comes to university admissions, they’re certainly not the only factor. In fact, when the report looked at the top fifth of all schools for exam results, almost a quarter of students in independent schools applied to Oxbridge; by comparison, around a tenth of students in comprehensives did so, despite being from the same group of schools academically.
If academic achievement isn’t the only thing holding comprehensive schools back, what else is? The answer is probably linked to the report’s second recommendation: that students should have more access to guidance, information and support from an earlier age. Unfortunately, since the government shifted the responsibility (and financial burden) for providing careers guidance from local authorities to schools back in 2011, more than a third of schools have dropped careers education in the early years of secondary education.
Careers guidance, however, can have a substantial impact on whether or not a student even considers applying to Oxbridge. From an early age, guidance could help a student to pursue academic enrichment activities, secure relevant work experience and choose their GCSE subjects wisely. Later on, it could help a student to make informed A-level choices (with advice on the ‘facilitating subjects’ favoured by Russell Group universities), debunk commonly-held myths about Oxbridge (such as “you need to know Latin”, “everyone has to wear gowns all the time” or “it’s just for posh people”), and tackle Oxbridge’s particularly challenging application and interview process.
How Unifrog can help
So, the report asks schools to encourage students to pursue good universities further away from home and deliver guidance to them from an earlier age. But where to start?
You’re not on your own. At the centre of Unifrog’s mission is a desire to help students from all walks of life achieve their full potential. Many of our tools and resources are designed with this sole purpose in mind, and here are the ones we think could be particularly useful for getting your students to Oxbridge:
Guidance teaching resources on the Resources library
- Facilitating subjects: A new resource to highlight facilitating subjects and how choosing them at A-level can assist university applications, including those to Russell Group universities
- Diamond 9 – Oxbridge: An activity to help students reflect on and rank different factors of university according to what is most important to them
- Oxbridge – funding in depth: Students are asked to estimate what it would cost to study at Oxbridge or Cambridge. The session highlights researching bursaries and grants that might be available.
- Oxbridge – your ideal college: Helps students to understand how the collegiate system at Oxbridge works and to find out which one would suit them best.
We have more than 15 guides available on the Know-how library to help students understand Oxbridge and navigate the application process. Of particular use to younger students are:
- Oxbridge mythbusters
- What’s different about Oxbridge?
- Is an Oxbridge degree right for you?
- Navigating Oxbridge’s attitude to extracurricular activities
- Three reasons to choose a Facilitating Subject at A-Level
The Oxbridge tool
Our Oxbridge tool is specifically designed to help students choose their perfect Oxbridge degree. It outlines the main differences between Oxbridge and Cambridge, highlights the benefits of each college, and allows students to filter their results by factors such as ‘female only’, ‘formal dinners’, and ‘no gowns’. They can then rank their results using anything from the percentage of state school students to the application success rate.
Studying away from home
One of the biggest obstacles facing students who want to study away from home is finance. Studying at a local university means you can potentially live at home, saving a fortune on accommodation fees, and even studying close to home means cheaper train fares when visiting family.
We can help with this too. Wherever a student wants to study – whether it be in the UK, US, Canada, Europe, Asia or Australia – we’ve created Know-how guides to help them plan financially and apply for scholarships, bursaries and loans.
Each of these resources is designed to help your students make informed decisions and prepare successful applications for aspirational universities. If you’re a teacher at an existing partner school, you can get expert guidance on how to maximise these resources and the rest of the platform by calling 020 3372 5991 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re a teacher at a non-partner school, get in touch today for a no-obligation demonstration so you can see our award-winning programme in action.