Secondary school teachers in England and Wales seriously underestimate the proportion of state school students at Oxford and Cambridge universities, according to an Ipsos MORI survey of nearly 500 teachers published by the Sutton Trust today.

More than a third of those who made a valid response believed that 20% or less of undergraduates at the two universities came from the state sector, and the majority (three fifths) thought it was 30% or less, even though 93% of school-aged children attend state schools. In total 91% of teachers underestimated the representation of state school pupils, while only 1.5% over-estimated (see appended tables).

Only 8% of respondents picked the correct figure of between 51% and 60% of students coming from the state sector. The actual figure is 54%.

The majority of teachers answering (56%) also thought it was more expensive for students to study at Oxbridge, whereas in fact the two universities charge the same tuition fees as the vast majority of other English universities and offer some of the most generous bursary provision.

Alarmingly, only just over half the teachers (54%) reported that they would generally recommend their brightest students to apply to Oxbridge, while 45% said they would never or rarely do so.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The misconceptions among secondary school teachers about Oxbridge are alarming and clearly have an impact on the number of bright state school students applying to these two great universities, despite the considerable efforts that both are making to reach out to them.”

The Sutton Trust sponsors summer schools and other access initiatives at both universities for state school students and teachers. But Sir Peter added: “It is clear that much more needs to be done to dispel the myths about Oxbridge and other leading universities, and to ensure that young people’s higher education decisions are based on fact not fiction.”


1. At Oxbridge, what percentage of students from UK schools and colleges on undergraduate courses come from the state sector?

Up to 20%36
21 to 30%25
31 to 40%16
41 to 50%14
51 to 60%8
61 to 70%1.3
71 to 80%0.2
81% +

Base: All teachers making a valid response (452); a further 45 respondents (9% overall) said ‘don’t know’

2. Comparing courses on a like-for-like basis, is studying for an undergraduate degree at Oxbridge generally more expensive, as expensive or less expensive than at other universities?

More expensive56
As expensive41
Less expensive2

Base: All teachers making a valid response (385); a further 112 respondents (23% overall) said ‘don’t know’

3. Which of the following best describes the frequency with which you advise the academically-gifted pupils that you teach (or have taught) to apply to Oxbridge?


Base: All teachers making a valid response (463); a further 34 respondents (7% overall) said ‘don’t know’

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