‘Oxbridge’ academy set up

A new free academy for bright students from low-income families has been set up by the Harris Federation in tandem with Westminster School. The Federation’s CEO, Sir Dan Moynihan, hopes that half the students will go on to Oxford or Cambridge.

The academy, called the Harris Westminster Sixth Form, is likely to rank as one of the most selective schools in Britain. Set up under the Government’s free schools programme, it is set to take on 125 students in September 2014, with that number increasing to 250 in future years. These admissions will be open to children from all across London, but priority will be given to those entitled to free school meals.

The Harris Federation, which has around 1600 to 1700 students in academies, is a non-profit educational charity.

James Handscombe, the new academy’s Principal, said: “Getting into Oxford is never easy but it is a sight harder if your school has no history of sending students there, no experience of navigating the admissions system and no peer group of similarly bright and ambitious pupils to support and encourage each other.”

He added, “Harris Westminster is the Harris Federation’s solution to this problem.”

The new sixth form will be sited close to Westminster School itself, which sends 90 pupils to Oxford and Cambridge each year. The aim of a partnership with Westminster is that it can provide high quality educational standards to the new academy through joint departmental meetings and shared staff training. Sir Moynihan remarked in the Times: “We want to get more A* and A grades at A-level and Westminster has that expertise.”

Handscombe said the sixth form will be “adopting many aspects of Westminster’s education model, including the development of cultural capital in the pupils.”

“In order to take advantage of an Oxford education, and therefore in order to be offered a place, pupils need not just academic potential but also academic achievement: they need to have read about their subject, to be enthralled by it and to have pushed themselves to achieve in exams. Most people will do these things more successfully with support from their school than without it.”

An Oxford University spokesperson said: “We would like to see an increase in the proportion of UK students from the lowest income bracket of below £16,190. Every year we hold over 2,400 outreach events, spending over £5m on this work and speaking to schools in every local authority in the UK.”

St Anne’s Access Rep Will Carter said, “The school looks like a fantastic opportunity for some, but we shouldn’t let high publicity developments like this distract us from making Oxford and the university in general as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.”