Trinity College, bastion of the establishment, denies class bias

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The Independent Online

Not since it awarded Prince Charles a place with just a B and a C grade at A-level has there been such a furore over admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge. But this week the historic college found itself embroiled in a row reminiscent of the case of the Tyneside teenager Laura Spence which sparked a national debate about admissions in 2000.

The comprehensive schoolgirl's rejection by Oxford was condemned by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as shameful. However, it emerged this week that four state sixth formers with some of the most outstanding A-level results in the country had been rejected by Trinity.

Candice Clarke, 19, said she was "devastated" at being rejected by Trinity for a place to read medicine, despite getting five A grades at A-level. She grew up on a council estate, combined her studies with caring for her sick grandmother as both of her parents are disabled, and will be the first in her family to go to university.

Oliver Hambrey, 18, a pupil at a Worcestershire comprehensive school, scored six A grades but was rejected for the Trinity maths course. He condemned Trinity dons' aggressive interview technique, which he said made a mockery of the college's attempts at inclusiveness.

David Watkins, a student at South East Essex sixth-form college, was also turned down by Trinity, despite coming away with six As at A-level and two more at AS-level.

Esther Son, from St Crispin's school in Wokingham, Berkshire, was also rejected despite six As at A-level.

Ms Clarke, who is now going to Newcastle University, said: "Even before the interview I was made to feel out of place. I was sitting next to a boy from Eton who ... didn't want much to do with me. I seemed to have the wrong accent."

The college, which was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, has struggled to shake off its elitist reputation and persuade more bright pupils from humble backgrounds that they could feel at home there.

The college - Cambridge's largest and alma mater of Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Byron and Lord Tennyson - is one of the most socially exclusive in Cambridge. Only 54 per cent of last year's applicants to Trinity came from state schools. But the college's interview process skewed these figures even further. Only 44 per cent of successful candidates came from state schools - the second lowest proportion at Cambridge. .

Perhaps Trinity feels vindicated by the distinction of its alumni. It has educated prime ministers including Earl Grey, Lord Melbourne, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi.

The college is firmly part of the British establishment. The post of master of Trinity is a Crown appointment, decided by Downing Street. The current master, Professor Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize-winning economist, was chosen by Tony Blair in 1998. He is due to leave for Harvard in January.

Trinity denied yesterday that it discriminates against state school students. This year, 783 students applied for 201 places at the college.

Ms Clarke said: "They're the sort of people who eat smoked salmon, while I eat Pot Noodles. They are just really snobby and don't want me because I am working class."