Monday, July 15, 2024

Abbie’s Blog: Time to learn from the Independents

Blog piece by Abbie Louise Maguire
“Like the multifarious world of politics, everyone has a newspaper affiliation. The Guardian and The Independent often occupy my coffee table of a morning and are usually read back to back, save the sporting commentaries, with a sugary tea in hand. Minus the gossip-ridden, controversy-orientated redtops, if you close your eyes and draw invisible circles with a finger, you are surely to land on an article provoking moral panic in the institution of education, evoking remnants of past teaching and comparing it with the apathetic generation. I take particular pleasure in reading the Daily Mail’s articles about the prejudices that lurk within Oxbridge admissions. “Social engineering” is one of their favourite phrases. Every now and then, when the press releases stop churning through, Mr Education Reporter is demanded by Mr Education Editor, most likely Oxbridge educated himself, to pen a sensationalised report about the discrimination to the common man when their UCAS application arrives on the admission officer’s desk, portrayed in a caricature as a high-brow, pretentious elitist.
I’m in the middle of writing my UCAS Personal Statement for English Language and Literature and English Literature and Linguistics, and among the apprehension mustered by the grades, the predicted grades and the reference, it’s just another thing I have to panic about. I have my eye on three competitive universities, and applying to all five for a delightfully popular course. One of those universities is Oxford, and it is a university plagued with rumours and a stigma. Some of the Oxbridge headlines include: “Data shows Oxbridge chances divide”, “State pupils miss out on top universities”, “Towns that still have grammar schools top the tables…” Anyone would assume gaining entry to the University of Cambridge or the University of Oxford is like asking the rain to fall upwards, if you don’t attend a grammar or private school that is. If I write a good personal statement, receive an excellent reference, achieve my predicted grades, have a good interview and excel in the aptitude tests, there is no reason why I can’t be considered for that elusive place. Similarly, if someone from a grammar or private school meets the outlined demands, they is no reason why they shouldn’t be considered either, or why we can’t fairly compete for one place with no social partiality. But that social partiality works both ways. If Miss Private School Girl is denied a place over me because Oxbridge wants to silence its critics by allowing more state school pupils into their institution, that is also an example of social partiality at the other end of the spectrum, and what the plethora of articles fail to mention. If they deserve the place, why shouldn’t they have it? Why should we belittle their success and put it down to discrimination?
So is the answer to bring back grammar schools, or just to encourage private school techniques within your typical sixth form or college? The very nature of grammar schools is what makes them obvious applicants for Oxford, Cambridge and the prestigious Russell Group universities; they embed the idea of naked ambition from their beginning day, they provide them with expert and well-tested guidance, and eliminate vocational courses from their curriculum. They are exactly what Oxbridge wants, and exactly what our country needs. In the 2009/10 university cycle, 330 state schools, which equates to approximately 14% of sixth form state schools, couldn’t accredit one teenager with an admission to a leading university.
 The removal of most grammar and private schools was, in my opinion, the politically frivolous reaction to class envy. Anyone with an academic turn of mind can be accepted into grammar schools, with only their attached sixth forms usually requiring a certain standard of entry. Pate’s Grammar School in Gloucestershire is a free grammar school – the concept of fees, especially recently, are becoming increasingly obsolete. The reason for their prejudice is that there is simply not enough of them – if everyone had access to a grammar school, the majority of children could go an grammar standard education, renowned for academic brilliance. So what’s stopping us? Time for an investigation…


  1. I agree with much of the sentiment of this well written piece. Oxford and Cambridge don’t actually have a system of prejudice – they spend ages on each application because they want the best students for the positions they have available. There are some who come from the well established independent sector who have been so well groomed, they seem to have a head start. However, the state schools/colleges who send students regularly, start by having to debunk the myth of ‘background’, ‘the old school tie’ or ‘money’ being important for OxBridge. The Universities are good at supporting schools and colleges – they realise that there is a high number of students with real talent who don’t consider applying to OxBridge… the reason often being due to the inexperience of the school/college or the concerns of parents. The problem isn’t in the nature of the school, but in the awareness of the senior staff.
    I do work in a College with a good record of sending students to both places, indeed it is my role to help students who apply to Oxford or Cambridge with their applications. It is my experience that the grammar school system would not be any real advantage for potential applicants. This year, five of our applicants had sat the Trafford 11+ examination. Two students who failed the 11+ exam succeeded in gaining offers (and deservedly so)… one at Oxford (for Computer Science) and the other at Cambridge (for History). I had two who;d passed the 11+ who failed to secure offers, and one who’d passed who did gain an offer. This statistical fact from this year is good anecdotally, but also, year on year, I can say that the former grammar school students who may have OxBridge potential (yes, they opt to leave the GS to come to us for the sixth form) are no better than the students who have been through the comprehensive system: bright students have enthusiasm for their subjects whatever their secondary school… and their talent shines through.
    Finally, good luck with your application! I hope that you are well advised and are given the chance you obviously deserve. Best wishes 🙂


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