Over four in ten (43%) state secondary school teachers say they would rarely or never advise their bright pupils to apply to Oxbridge. Just one-fifth (21%) said they always advised their bright pupils to apply and a quarter (28%) said they usually did, according to new polling published by the Sutton Trust. The news comes ahead of Saturday’s Oxbridge applications deadline.

A fifth (19%) of those who wouldn’t encourage their students to apply to Oxford or Cambridge said it was because they thought they were unlikely to be successful in their application, while 13% said that they didn’t think they would be happy there. A majority (60%) reported it was because they didn’t advise students on the right university for them.

The survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,607 primary and secondary school teachers, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) through the Teacher Voice Omnibus survey also found that common misconceptions about the proportion of state school students at Oxford and Cambridge extend to teachers too.

Over half (55%) of those polled underestimated the percentage of students from state schools on undergraduate courses at Oxbridge. Just over a fifth (22%) thought that fewer than 20% of students at Oxford and Cambridge come from the state sector whereas the actual figure is around 60% – Oxford recently announced a 59% state intake this year. Only 1% of teachers overestimated the proportion of state school students at the two universities while one in 20 (6%) got the right proportion and 38% said they didn’t know.

There have been increases in the proportion of state school students at both universities in the past two decades, partly due to the increase in outreach and access initiatives, including the Sutton Trust’s Summer Schools. However there is a still a significant access gap that may in part be down to support and advice on offer to pupils at school. In addition to today’s polling, previous research by the Sutton Trust found that teachers’ views on what makes a good personal statement can be very different from those of Russell Group university admissions tutors.

Those from more advantaged educational backgrounds are more likely to receive higher quality support and to be able to draw on more relevant forms of social and cultural capital. To address this gap, the Sutton Trust has run Teacher Summer Schools at Oxford and Cambridge this year, free courses that aim to dispel common myths about Oxbridge and other leading universities and to provide support to state school teachers to help bright students to apply.

The Sutton Trust first asked teachers whether or not they would recommend Oxbridge to bright students in the NFER omnibus in 2007, when the same proportion (43%) said they would rarely or never do so, highlighting the need for better information.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment, said today:

“We know how important teachers are in shaping young people’s aspirations which is why we run teacher summer schools at Oxford and Cambridge. Today’s polling tells us that many state school teachers don’t see Oxbridge as a realistic goal for their brightest pupils. The reasons are they don’t think they will get in and if they get in they don’t think they will fit in.

“The majority of state school teachers believe state school students are in the minority at Oxbridge when in fact they are around 60%.  It is vital that the universities step up their outreach activities to address teachers’ and students’ misconceptions.”

1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 170 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.
2. In 2016, the Sutton Trust has run Teacher Summer Schools in partnership with the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. The free residential courses for are aimed at teachers in schools and colleges which have relatively few students progressing on to highly selective universities. They provide support to ensure teachers have up-to-date knowledge and skills to provide accurate information about access to leading universities to their students.
3. In addition to the Teacher Summer Schools, the Sutton Trust runs a number of other programmes to improve access to students from non-privileged homes with Oxford and Cambridge universities. With the University of Oxford they run Pathways to Law, a programme designed to widen access to the legal profession; and the Oxford Pathways Programme, an initiative that aims to provide information, advice and guidance on higher education and Oxford to students in year 10, 11, 12 & 13. With the University of Cambridge they run UK Summer Schools, free subject-specific residential courses to give students a taste of life as an undergraduate; and Sutton Scholars, the Trust’s flagship programme to support highly able low and middle income students in early secondary schools.
4. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) runs the Teacher Voice omnibus survey three times a year, in the autumn, spring and summer terms. Practising teachers in the maintained sector in England complete the survey, which achieves responses from at least 500 primary and 500 secondary teachers.  The data from each survey is nationally representative by key school characteristics and teacher roles in primary and secondary schools, and respondents include the full range of roles from head teachers to newly qualified classroom teachers.
5. NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. It is a charity who’s robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support its charitable purpose.

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Sam or Ruby. If it's out of office hours, you can call or text 07791 044564.

E: [email protected] T: 020 7802 1660

Keep up to date with the latest news