6 August 2014
Academically gifted students from all walks of life deserve equal opportunity to get into the best universities, if this is their goal. But the latest study that trailed statistics from the Department for Education has delivered yet another bleak picture for students from poor socio-economic backgrounds.
The stats reveal that 3 private schools and 2 elite sixth form colleges provided as many entrants to Oxford and Cambridge universities as 1800 state schools and colleges across England. The odds seem vastly stacked in the favour of wealthier students. What’s worse is that the top five Oxbridge producing schools are becoming more, not less, dominating – a previous study by the Sutton Trust found that the top five has as many Oxbridge acceptances as around 1500 schools across England.
These figures don’t just affect the poorest pupils; those from middle-income families who could never entertain the idea of a private education are also affected.
Does it matter? There are plenty of other universities out there. Alas it does. The top jobs are still dominated by the private school and Oxbridge elite in politics, diplomatics, law and journalism. And the economic gaps extends to other leading universities, namely the Russell Group. 30% of comprehensive schools have at most a couple of students attending one of these prestigious institutions, and other data from the government indicates that the proportion of A-level students from comprehensives progressing to a Russell Group university fell from 23% in 2008-09 to 19% in 2011-12.
An Oxbridge degree is a significant precondition to success in top-earning, influential roles. The fact that the diversity of people holding these passports is so low is a big problem, not only for those directly affected, but for progress in general – diverse teams from different backgrounds introduce new dynamics – we are missing out on the benefits of “cognitive diversity”.
Whilst enabling young people from all backgrounds to meet minimum standards of education to allow them to be successful is an important goal, it is equally as important to enable those with the aptitude and appetite for greater things to get the opportunities they deserve, regardless of what secondary school they attended.
Bridge Builders mentors work with young men from poor backgrounds to help them realise their potential, exploring all the opportunities that are available to them, and using their own knowledge and experience to help them get there. Whether this means focussing on achieving 5 A*-C grades or getting that Oxford acceptance, what’s important is giving these boys the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of where they have come from.