Highly-academic schools ‘may hinder chances of getting into Oxbridge’

The Telegraph is reporting that a new guide for parents looking at private schools is suggesting sending children to high-achieving schools such as Eton or St Pauls may be counter-productive because of quotas at different colleges.

Victoria Barker, editor of the Parent Brief, which offers parents advice on independent school entrance, wrote: “When it comes to university admissions, the pupils of the most selective schools are competing against each other for entry to the top universities—and this can be an unpleasant experience for a child who is not as accomplished as their friends. 

“The schools on the top of the league tables have selected their cohort as potential Oxbridge candidates all along. In some schools, the majority apply to Oxbridge and each applicant will have the marks and the ability to succeed there. But there are limits to the numbers that can reasonably be taken from any single school. 

“There are various effects of this: a highly selective school will know that it can do little to improve its Oxbridge numbers, so it may provide less help to its Oxbridge applicants than the schools eager to improve their Oxbridge numbers. Indeed, knowing that each Oxbridge college will likely take only one child from the school in a given field, the school may be reluctant to support too many applications. But whose application will it be? Naturally, the most accomplished pupils will have earned the right to their first choice. This experience can be demoralising for the child at the bottom of the school— even though this child will likely attain an A average. The problem is that their friends will attain A*.”

Instead, the author suggested parents looked for the school that met their child’s academic attainment if they wanted to maximise their chances of getting into Oxbridge. She wrote: “If a child attends a school that suits their academic level, they may have a better chance of gaining entrance at a top university.” 

Some in the sector agreed. Clarissa Farr, high mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School, said: “Schools will advise their students individually and spread candidates across the colleges – this needn’t disadvantage anyone as there is a range of possibilities…

There is evidence that state schools are becoming increasingly successful at sending children into Oxbridge, further evidence independent schools may be facing steeper competition from their maintained sector counterparts. 

This year, for instance, data shows that state schools like St Olave’s Grammar School and Reading School sent between 18 and 39 pupils to Oxbridge compared to 39 at Brighton College and 36 at Sevenoaks…

More at: Highly-academic schools ‘may hinder chances of getting into Oxbridge’


It is perhaps interesting that although they still dominate the successful applications to Oxbridge (as a proportion of their overall pupil numbers), there is clearly concern amongst some in the private sector that it might be getting harder to maintain this dominance.

It also, however, shows just how sophisticated their understanding of the Oxbridge admissions process is when they talk, for example, about spreading candidates amongst the colleges.

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