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Oxford prep pays

By Danny Harrington

Last week’s A-level results and the resulting annual re-evaluation of university offers – to put it politely, many refer to it as a scramble or worse – has generated much interest in the press. As usual, The Guardian has had plenty to say, most of it interesting and some of it controversial. The Guardian is perhaps the best modern commentator on UK education and always well worth taking a look at.

One story that popped up concerned some interesting numbers from Oxford showing that privately- schooled applicants are 9% more likely than state-schooled applicants to gain a place at the university despite having the same grades.

As a state-schooled Oxford alum myself, and someone who has helped students access Oxford for the last 16 years regardless of background, this is a subject dear to my heart. In essence I believe it shows that little has changed in decades since a concerted effort was made by Britain’s very top universities to attract talent from the state-schooled populace. No matter what Oxford does to make itself more equitably attractive – encouraging applicants, making allowances for inexperienced teacher-reports and the like (apparently only 52% of predicted grades are correct) – when it comes down to it the extra buying power that many privately-schooled candidates have, both through the provisions their schools make and their own independent efforts, sways things in their favour. Tutorial support for entrance tests and interview practice makes all the difference – Oxford can only offer based on what admissions tutors see, and tutors see generally worse performances from non-prepped students than prepped. And prep comes at a price.

As The Guardian article points out, state school applicants also tend to apply to a narrower range of courses thus competing more with each other than with the privately educated. They may make Oxford decisions later and have weaker GCSE grades. If you have aspirations for an Oxford application then it is still the case that resources are very well spent in this direction – ensuring good grades, entrance tests and interview performance. And these preparations can never be considered wasted as they allow students to apply to a better group of courses overall, even f they miss out at Oxford, let alone the intrinsic benefit that the learner derives.

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