Fair Access body demands Oxford mentoring for 11 year-olds

The debate over applications to Oxbridge has flared up again after a government proposal suggested that potential state-school candidates should be identified at age 11.According to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), students who showed potential at primary school level would then be mentored throughout their education. According to Sir Martin Harris, Director of OFFA, such a move would help maintained-sector students to compete for a place.Sir Martin is responsible for ensuring equal access to further education for pupils from less privileged backgrounds. He explained that talented state-school students would have similar chances of success in applying as grammar school children in the 1950s.However James Lamming, OUSU’s Access and Admissions Officer, defended Oxford’s record. He said, “Oxford continues to work hard on widening access, but measuring its success against government benchmarks that are based on a flawed methodology, which assumes every successful student would want to apply to Oxford, can be misleading.“I disagree there is a social bias in the admissions procedures: all tutors want to teach the very best students whatever their background. The key to increasing access is by increasing applications.  To do this we need to tackle the misconceptions that discourage many students from applying, and provide extra support to talented students that have been let down by the school system.”A spokesperson for the University explained the systems currently in place to encourage maintained-sector students to apply. They said, “There are various sustained programmes that Oxford University runs for students from under-represented backgrounds, such as the four-year ambassador scheme and the Black Boys Can Scheme.“Oxford regularly runs events with schools to enrich schools’ curricula and raise aspirations. Examples include the Christmas lectures and a forthcoming visit by Banbury School for a master class in English literature.”The proposal is indicative of the concerns about social mobility in Britain. Oxford has been criticised for failing to reach government targets regarding the proportion of state-school students studying at Oxford.In a recent Telegraph article, John Denham, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, accused Oxford and Cambridge of social bias leading to a huge waste of talent.A report by the Sutton Trust charity, published earlier this month, contradicted Denham’s statement. Instead it emphasised that many state school students were simply not choosing to apply to Oxford.
by Rob Pomfret