Leading Article: Oxbridge survey is no surprise

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The Independent Online

The recent Sutton Trust research on admissions to Oxford and Cambridge makes for uncomfortable reading. It shows that an élite group of 100 schools, most of which are independent, consistently send high proportions of their pupils to the two universities. Is this a surprise? The answer is, probably not. These schools are academically selective, the pupils and staff are focused and confident, and it would be surprising if they didn't get a lot of places at the best universities.

Moreover, as our article on pages 4 and 5 shows, the students in these schools compete with and spark off one another. Instead of concentrating on their success, we should look at how state comprehensive schools can improve what they offer to able boys and girls in their classrooms.

We should also look at the methodology the Sutton Trust uses to draw up its league tables. These are based on the percentage of sixth-formers getting into Oxford, Cambridge and other leading universities. Critics claim, justifiably, that this methodology is bound to produce the results it does.

Independent schools such as Westminster, St Paul's Girls and Winchester are highly selective, as are state schools such as the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, and Colchester Royal Grammar School. These establishments do not take students seeking vocational qualifications as well as the academic students who will get stellar A-levels. They only admit the latter. So, outstanding state sixth-form colleges such as Hills Road in Cambridge and Peter Symonds in Winchester, which take a wide ability range, are nowhere in the Sutton Trust tables. They are good at getting their academically able students into Oxbridge and other top universities, but don't do well in the Sutton Trust's eyes because they don't have high percentages of sixth-formers going to those universities.

The Sutton Trust would claim that it is justified in producing such surveys to show the world how inequitable it is that some schools get more students into Oxbridge and the top universities than would be expected if you were simply looking at A-level results. It has a point. But we need now to concentrate on improving the opportunities of those who don't have well-heeled and well-informed parents.

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