Oxford plans IQ tests on pupils

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The Independent Online
OXFORD UNIVERSITY is considering using high-powered IQ tests to spot potential in students from state schools.

A report from a university working party chaired by Dr Colin Lucas, the vice- chancellor, published today, looks at ways of encouraging more state school pupils to apply to the university.

It says that state school pupils are deterred from applying to Oxford by the interview process and the need to obtain high A-level grades.

They are most reluctant to apply because of Oxford's social "image", says the report.

But the teachers of unsuccessful applicants mostly blame the "unfairness" of the Oxford interview. Critics have accused interviewers of a confrontational style, making no allowance for state school pupils unused to high levels of intellectual challenge.

While Dr Lucas's group recommends that interviews should stay, it proposes that the university should look at other ways of identifying sixth- formers' academic potential, perhaps by the kind of IQ test used for leading American universities. There should be forms of testing "which aim to test core intellectual skills that cannot be easily taught and which show strong correlations with future academic achievement", the report says.

Two months ago, The Independent revealed that Peter Lampl, a millionaire businessman, had written to ministers proposing a new American-style ability test to revolutionise university entrance and open up "Oxbridge" to disadvantaged groups.

The Oxford group received evidence that interviews favoured "the articulate and confident and those specially prepared". Colleges told the inquiry that there was less evidence of coaching for interviews in state schools than in independent schools, and many said state school students sometimes did not have the general knowledge that interviewers required.

The report proposes a printed guide to interviews and more training for interviewers to ensure greater consistency.

"There are potentially very good students at schools which aren't able to offer so many subjects at a higher level and who may not look so good on paper or at interview," said a spokesman for the university. Other tests might give them "the opportunity to shine".

Oxford abandoned its entrance exam three years ago as part of a campaign to attract more state school students. But the report shows that the acceptance rate for those years is 45 per cent for independent schools and 37 per cent for state schools. The proportion from non-selective state schools is far lower.

The report says: "Lack of confidence, anxieties about selection procedures and concern about non-vocational syllabuses seem to be more keenly felt by women than by men."

Dr Lucas said: "We recognise that much has been done, but we are not complacent and plan to redouble our efforts to continue our drive to widen access here."

The working party considered but turned down a proposal for quotas of state and independent school pupils. They said such a system would be unfair and could lower standards in "an internationally excellent institution".