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Primary Education News
News Oxford University data shows private school A-level pupils' advantage
Latest figures show private school pupils 9% more likely to be admitted than those at a state school with same grades
Students from private schools retain a significant edge in gaining admissions to Oxford University over state school pupils even when they go on to achieve the same A-level results, new figures reveal on Thursday, as hundreds of thousands of pupils receive their A-level results.
The figures, supplied to the Guardian from the university under a freedom of information request, show that between 2010 and 2012 applicants from private schools who gained the very highest possible grades – three A* grades or more at A-levels – were 9% more likely to have been offered a place at Oxford than state-educated pupils with the same grades.
The gap increased to 14% for independent school applicants gaining three A* grades when compared with applicants from non-selective or comprehensive state schools achieving the same grades.
A spokesperson for Oxford said the figures compared applicants' final A-level results, whereas the university made admissions decisions using a number of factors including predicted grades.
"Admission to Oxford is based purely on aptitude and potential for the chosen course, without regard to school type or any other factor. The university puts enormous effort into assessing individual aptitude and potential, using a wide range of means," the university said.
"We do not know students' A-level grades when selecting, as they have not yet taken their exams. Aptitude tests, GCSEs and interviews, which are used in our selection process, have not been explored in this analysis."
The figures appear at odds with a long-standing myth – perpetuated by sections of the media and independent school sector – that state school applicants are given preference over similarly qualified private school applicants.
In the three years' worth of data, offers were made to 28% of applicants from independent schools, while 20% of applicants from comprehensive state schools received offers.
In total over the period, 3,196 state school applicants scored three A* grades and above, with 1,474 gaining offers. Meanwhile, 2,175 independent school applicants achieved the same grades but 1,098 – just over half – were offered places.
State school applicants did, however, appear to have held their own in winning places to study in three of Oxford university's most sought-after undergraduate courses.
Offers to study medicine, PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) and economics and management degree courses showed no statistically significant differences between offers to independent or state school applicants – which suggests that the overall gap in admissions could be explained by state school pupils applying in greater numbers to the most competitive courses.
Independent school pupils were most successful winning offers to read Classical studies, the least competitive course with an overall rate of one offer for every three applicants. Admission in most cases requires previous study of Latin or Greek, subjects that are less commonly offered in the state sector.
According to the figures, black and minority ethnic applicants were statistically less likely to receive offers than white applicants with the same A-level grades, regardless of school background. The lowest success rates were seen in minority ethnic applicants from non-selective state schools.
The figures support previous analysis by the Guardian which found that white applicants to some of Oxford's most competitive courses were up to twice as likely to get a place as black or minority ethnic applicants, even when they achieved the same A-level grades.
The figures may be ammunition for those who question Oxford's admissions procedures, which include individual interviews.
And as thousands will discover – some to their cost and others to their delight – when they hear their final exam results today, A-level predictions are notoriously unreliable, with a 2011 study finding that less than 52% of predictions were accurate.
This year, students have an opportunity to enter the clearing system if their results are higher than they anticipated, thanks to a new policy that removed the cap on the number of students with at least an A and two B grades that universities can recruit.
That gives an incentive for over-performing students to seek to trade up to more prestigious courses, and as a result universities are expected to offer more places through the clearing system.
Last year, the proportion of A grades awarded fell for the first time in more than two decades, with just 26.6% of exams earning an A or A*, a slight fall from 27% in 2011.