STATE school heads have warned that new Oxford entrance tests discriminate against their students.
The Association of School and College Lecturers (ASCL) raised concerns that the introduction of tests place state school applicants at a disadvantage, since they are less likely to have received extra teaching than their private school counterparts.
The ASCL’s Secretary-General, Dr John Dunford, said, “The increase in entrance exams is particularly problematic for state schools. There would be an expectation that schools put on extra classes to prepare students, but that is difficult for schools that send only one or two pupils to Oxbridge a year.”
Dunford suggested that although the use of tests was reasonable for courses like Law and Medicine, for other subjects access to individual A-Level module scores was sufficient to differentiate between candidates.
Oxford introduced aptitude tests for those wanting to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) as well as English for the first time this year. There are already tests for other heavily subscribed courses including History, Law, Medicine, Maths and Physics.
The University denied that the tests were discriminatory, claiming that aptitude tests help make admissions fairer by measuring the ability of pupils regardless of the their educational background.
A spokesperson for the University said, “We can’t rectify the problems in the school system but we can try to help by disseminating information about the tests and making information about them readily and easily accessible to all.”
She added that practice tests were being made widely available by the University for applicants. “We encourage students to look at the web to familiarise themselves with the format of the text. You can download a test and attempt to tackle the paper.
“There is no particular way of approaching or answering the tests, and the idea is not to develop right or wrong answer but instead to test the potential of the applicant. There is no right or wrong approach which means you cannot be coached for these tests.”
The criticism comes on top of renewed pressure on Oxford and Cambridge to increase numbers of state school applicants. Oxford is set to miss its self-imposed state school admission targets for 2011.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which has recently criticised Oxford for what it claims is the under representation of state school pupils who achieve straight As at A-level, said that the usefulness of the tests would depend if they redressed the balance of state and private school admissions to the University.
Richard Darlington, media manager at IPPR, said the think tank would refrain from judgement until it became clear what impact the tests had on Oxford’s state school intake. “The jury is still out on them and we won’t know until we can analyse the impact they have,” he said. “What matters is whether these tests change the type of students who attend Oxbridge. We’re not prescriptive about the process but the university needs to be more proactive in attracting and admitting more state school applicants.”
OUSU has supported the tests on the basis that they assess aptitide only and help to distinguish between large numbers of candidates.
James Lamming, OUSU Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs, said, “The tests must meet careful criteria where there is a demonstrable need for the test to distinguish between large numbers of applicants and that the tests examine aptitude.
“This should benefit the most gifted students whatever their background as it will allow their academic potential rather than the quality of their education to stand out.”
He added, “If these tests are demonstrated to be a hurdle too many we will be concerned about their use, but we believe that the University has made every effort to ensure that its as easy as possible for every student to take the test.”