John Hood has encouraged British school teachers to dispel prejudices among pupils as to what studying at Oxford is like.
In an article published in the Daily Telegraph, Hood discussed the efficacy of Oxford’s admissions service and expressed concerns about the proportion of state-school and independent-school educated pupils who are given places at Britain’s top universities.
He placed particular focus on the current drive to diversify the social and educational backgrounds of candidates applying to Oxbridge, saying, “the wider challenge is about much more than Oxford and a handful of peer institutions; … further real progress [in encouraging state-educated applicants] will require some bigger shifts of attitude and approach. True equality of higher-education opportunity is a vast socio-economic project stretching back towards birth.”
He also defended Oxford’s admissions policy but added, “the idea that everything would be fine if a few of our top universities ‘sorted themselves out’ on access and admissions is absurd.”
The Vice Chancellor suggested that one way of promoting a realistic and demystified image of Oxford among students at a grassroots level might be to invite school teachers to experience life at the University.
“At school, the educational aspirations of young people are made and unmade. We are looking at mixing regional events for teachers with the possibility of time here in Oxford for those who want to experience the institution and its academic community for themselves. More needs to be done to harness the power of mentoring which can do so much to transform aspiration,” he said.
James Lamming, Vice-President of Oxford University Access and Academic Affairs, maintains that there is still some problem persuading state school applicants to think of Oxford as a viable option and admits that Oxford is still an institution beset by mistaken belief and false impression.
Lamming said, “in Hilary term, the Sutton Trust published a report that provided evidence about misconceptions many teachers had about Oxford and Cambridge that was leading them to provide inaccurate advice to their students. Lower than expected numbers of state school students apply because of myths that put them off Oxford. Bad advice that propagates out-of-date or simply false myths about Oxford unsurprisingly puts students off applying.”
Max Haimendorf, Biology graduate from St Hugh’s, has been involved in mentoring students since he joined the independent charity, Teach First, shortly after leaving Oxford in 2002. He echoed Lamming’s point of view saying that the attitude in some schools is that “our kids wouldn’t fit in in Oxford.”
Haimendorf claims that the Teach First program, which encourages top graduates to work in a challenging secondary school for at least two years, is effective at tackling the issue of creating relationships between schools and universities.
“In order to educate young people as to what Oxford is about it is necessary to combine various strands. Both parents and teachers need to be involved. In some communities it is very hard for parents to know how to help their children get in to university. It is not because they don’t want the best for their kids; it is just outside the realms of their experience,” he said.
He added, “our role was to inspire people to think about Oxford in a different way. As recent graduates and closer in age to the students, Teach First teachers have a unique position to influence pupils. We were there not as replacements to the existing university guidance, but as much needed additional support.”
The drive of both the Teach First and the Access program is, as Hood stated in his article, “to bring in [to Oxford] the brightest and the best.”
Lamming added, “if we can tackle the prejudices and misconceptions, we should attract more talented applications. Oxford wants the very best students; there is no conspiracy designed to keep certain applicants out of our dreaming spires.”