Sean Coughlan covers today’s new research on university admissions for the BBC.

Oxford and Cambridge are being accused of being so socially exclusive that they recruit more students from eight top schools than almost 3,000 other English state schools put together.

The Sutton Trust social mobility charity says the leading universities are failing to attract a wide enough range of talent.

Trust founder Sir Peter Lampl said all young people needed a “fair chance”.

Oxford University said they were “very aware” that they “must work harder”.

The study examined Oxford and Cambridge admissions data between 2015 and 2017 and found a handful of schools, mostly private, disproportionately dominating the number of places awarded.

The Sutton Trust says pupils from eight schools filled 1,310 Oxbridge places over three years, compared with 1,220 from 2,900 other schools.

These 2,900 schools were those with historically few admissions to Oxbridge – and accounted for about three-quarters of secondary schools.

In the past three years, Oxford and Cambridge admitted a total of 19,851 undergraduates, with the remainder of places coming from other private schools and top performing state schools and colleges.


Which are the schools with the most Oxbridge admissions?

The charity was using anonymised admissions data – but it says it believes most of these eight places were private schools plus a couple of big state sixth-form colleges.

Using published figures, among the schools and colleges with the highest number of Oxbridge admissions are:

  • Westminster School, London (independent) – an average of 70-80 pupils each year have been offered places at Oxford and Cambridge in the last five years, the school says
  • Eton College, Berkshire (independent) – in 2014, 82 students were accepted to Oxbridge. The following year 68 were accepted
  • Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge (state sixth form college) – an average 60 pupils receive Oxbridge offers, the school says
  • St Paul’s School, London (independent) – 53 students went to Oxbridge in 2016 and 41 in 2015
  • Peter Symonds College, Hampshire (state sixth form college) – an average of 48 students received offers from Oxbridge over the past three years
  • St Paul’s Girls’ School, London (independent) – an average of 45 students went to Oxbridge each year between 2015 and 2017
  • King’s College School, London (independent) – sent 48 students to Oxbridge in 2017
  • Magdalen College School, Oxford (independent) – 44 students went to Oxbridge in 2018

The research also found that high-achieving independent school pupils were twice as likely as state school pupils to apply to Oxford and Cambridge, even with the same ability and predicted grades.

The report shows the imbalance in admissions:

  • 7% of all UK pupils attend private schools
  • 18% of those taking A-levels are at private school
  • 34% of Oxbridge applications are from private school
  • 42% of Oxbridge places go to private school pupils

The study says there are some parts of the country where particularly few young state-educated people get places.

These include:

  • Halton
  • Knowsley
  • Lincolnshire
  • North Lincolnshire
  • Portsmouth
  • Rochdale
  • Rutland
  • Salford
  • Southampton
  • Thurrock

The study blames a lack of advice and guidance for applicants and calls for better information about what is required for entry and for admissions to take into account young people’s backgrounds.

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Get the story or read the research.

‘Access to Advantage’ was also covered on BBC Radio 4’s the Today programme, news bulletins on BBC One Breakfast, BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat, as well as across the BBC network on local radio.