Thurrock student says: “You can get to Oxford and Cambridge”

By Danielle Ball.

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WHEN I was growing up, I always saw Oxford and Cambridge as real-life Hogwarts – exclusive universities that only invited those born into excellence. Some people, I feel, still hold this view in a way; that if you are born into the ‘right’ family then you have an easy road to get in, and if you aren’t then why even apply? But this isn’t the case. Certainly, Oxbridge will forever be associated with private school students and well-off parents but with the measures now in place to benefit ‘disadvantaged’ students in their applications, state school students have never been more equal in their applications.

It is expected that private and grammar school students will academically exceed comprehensive school students, surely securing them Oxbridge places. However, grades are not the only deciding factor when applying to the top universities. Contextual information about students’ secondary schools and colleges/ sixth forms are analysed in comparison to students’ grades to see how well they are doing compared to their educational environments. Similar methods are used by Russell Group and other prestigious universities across the country to increase the number of state school students that attend. Of course, this will benefit all students in the grammar school-less Thurrock who aspire to attend such universities.

I attended St Clere’s School in Stanford-le-Hope from 2012-2017, leaving with two 9s and an 8 in the new English and Maths GCSEs (equivalent to A*), 7 A* and an A. After being told that Oxford and Cambridge were ‘the best’ by my family when I had asked what universities were in primary school, I had always dreamed of attending but never believed it was realistically possible. Despite visiting Cambridge University on a school trip in year 10 and being encouraged my numerous teachers at St Clere’s to aim for Oxbridge, I didn’t know anybody who had studied at Oxbridge so it felt so far out of reach.

I felt disbelief at every stage of the process: my GCSE results shocked me, the offer of an interview from Cambridge seemed to be a mistake and I had to read the confirmation email too many times before I accepted it was real. Yet, looking back now I should have believed in myself as I had both the grades and ambition to do it and little reason not to.

As a tutor, I have seen immense potential in many different students from Thurrock, but also the same huge disbelief that I felt as a student in Thurrock. As I start at Cambridge University to study History in October, I want students from Thurrock to look at my state school education so similar to their own and know that if they have the ambition and the work ethic, then they certainly can aim for the top universities.

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