Eight top schools and colleges sent as many pupils to Oxford or Cambridge over three years as three-quarters (2,900) of all schools and colleges across the UK, according to new analysis of UCAS data published by the Sutton Trust today.

Access to Advantage analyses university acceptance rates for the 2015-2017 cohorts by school type and region to give a clearer picture of how access to university varies. It finds that the eight schools and colleges with the highest number of Oxbridge acceptances has 1,310 between them over a three-year period, while 2,894 with two or fewer acceptances sent just 1,220 pupils to Oxford or Cambridge in the same time period.

Focusing on England, the report finds that pupils from independent schools are over twice as a likely to attend a Russell Group university than their peers at comprehensives, with the access gap even greater at Oxbridge (seven times as likely). Those from independent schools who apply to Oxbridge and other Russell Group universities are also more likely to win a place than applicants from comprehensive schools.

Over a third (34%) of applications to Oxbridge come from pupils at independent schools, but a larger proportion (42%) of places go to those students. However, while 32% of applications to Oxbridge are from comprehensively educated students, only 25% of those who gain a place are from these schools. 7% of the general population attended a private school, while 18% of those taking A-levels do.

The analysis also finds big regional differences in the proportion of teenagers who gain a place at Oxbridge. Several parts of the country had two or fewer acceptances to Oxbridge from comprehensive schools in the three years the research looked at, including Halton, Knowsley, Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, Portsmouth, Rochdale, Rutland, Salford, Southampton and Thurrock.

While some of these gaps are driven by differences in A-level results, today’s research also reveals very different progression rates to top universities for schools with similar exam results. Almost a quarter (23%) of students in independent schools in the top fifth of all schools for exam results applied to Oxbridge, but only 11% of students in comprehensives in the same high achieving group of schools did so. Of those who applied to Oxbridge from schools in the top fifth, 35% were successful from independent schools, but only 28% of those applying from comprehensives were accepted.

The report finds that students accepted from all school types to Oxbridge had similar results on average, equivalent to A*A*A at A-level. The Trust is calling for universities to make greater use of contextual data in their admissions process, including reduced grade offers, to recognise the different circumstances faced by applicants.

In addition, the report is recommending that all pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional advisers. To address the regional disparity in university admissions, the Trust is recommending that university access agreements should focus on marginalised geographical areas that are underrepresented.

The Sutton Trust runs summer schools to give Year 12 students from less-privileged backgrounds the opportunity to experience life at university. Between 2006 and 2016, 13,119 young people took part in a Sutton Trust summer school. Recent analysis found that compared to their classmates with similar grades and backgrounds, these students were more likely to apply to and accept an offer from a top university.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:

“If we are to ensure that all young people, regardless of their background, have a fair chance of getting in to our top universities, we need to address the patchwork of higher education guidance and support. All young people, regardless of what area they grow up in, or what school they go to, should have access to high quality personal guidance that allows them to make the best informed choices about their future.

“The admissions process also needs to change. We have made the case for giving poorer students a break through contextual admissions, but we also need universities to make it clear what grades these students need to access courses.”


  • The full report is available at this link.
  • The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 200 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  • A list of apply centres (e.g. schools, colleges or other institutions through which students make their applications) with recorded HE applications in the three cycles covered in this report were provided by UCAS and matched by the Sutton Trust to publicly available data from the Department for Education, to determine school type for schools in England. This information was subsequently provided to UCAS, who calculated overall applications and acceptances, and A level point scores over the three cycles, which they provided rounded to the nearest five. Apply centres were matched to Local Educational Authorities (LEAs) by UCAS.
  • The headline figure refers to schools and colleges across the whole of the UK, but the remainder of the analysis refers to England only.

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