A Trinity College alumna has accused the college this week of not having an adequate access scheme. Rebecca Newsome, who graduated from the university in 2011, lashed out at Trinity in a letter to the college President, calling its access record “appalling”.

Newsome is now an English teacher, having begun her career through Teach First, and teaches at a comprehensive school. e 65% of her pupils are eligible for free school meals, meaning that their household income is less that £16,190. 98% of the students at the school are from an ethnic minority.

Newsome apparently contacted Trinity to try and organise a school trip for pupils in year 11, as the school does not have a sixth form. She claims that she was informed “that Trinity’s Access policy only allowed school visits to students in years 12 and 13”, and thus to have been denied the visit.

In a letter to the Trinity College President, Newsome wrote, “Trinity’s record for access, as you are aware, is appalling. I find it outrageous that Trinity is not doing everything in its power to rectify the current abhorrent situation where very few undergraduates that come from comprehensive schools attend Trinity.”

She also questioned Trinity’s alleged policy of focusing its access programme on students between the ages of 16 and 18, arguing,“To enable more students from comprehensive schools to attend Trinity you must offer them help at the earliest opportunity: offering access schemes only to those in year 12 or 13 is too late for many pupils at comprehensives.”

Newsome’s accusations are not university-wide: she said that her students were “saved” by Corpus Christi College, which “has been extremely helpful and supportive”. However, she said, “I find it appalling that my college, the college that will be requesting me to donate money to its ‘access schemes’, refuses to help my students.”

“I received a very generous Trinity Bursary when I attended Oxford, but if such generous bursaries are given out at the expense of helping students which face huge barriers in accessing higher education, then I think Trinity needs to rethink its access policy”.

Sir Ivor Roberts, President of Trinity College, defended the college against Newsome’s allegations, making reference to the “wild remarks” in her letter.

He explained Trinity’s decision not to offer Newsome’s students an overnight stay at the college, saying, “the university asked the colleges to divide up the UK into regional catchment areas to avoid duplication of effort and to ensure that no areas were neglected, which we have done.

“Rebecca is working in the North West and asked  if she could bring a group of Yr 11 pupils to Trinity later in the year. Her school is not in our regional catchment area (Corpus where her pupils ended up DOES have responsibility for schools in Rebecca’s area).” Roberts also pointed out that “we did say that she would be welcome to bring her pupils to look round the college.”

Overall, he said, “I take issue with Rebecca’s language, although we applaud and share her concern to ensure bright state school students do consider applying to Oxford.”

Claudia Clarke, a second year physics and philosophy student at Trinity who attended a state school, defended the college against Newsome’s allegations. She told Cherwell, “A predominantly private-school background (are there any colleges where private students are in the minority?) is a university wide problem, which, I believe, stems more from a lack of state applications than a vendetta against them.”

She added, “It sounds to me like the trip was denied on the grounds of the age of the students, not any attempt to keep out prospective state school applicants and I’m sure that any equivalent private school trip would have been turned away in the same way; the website makes it quite clear that visits are intended for Year 12s, any of whom are welcome. So if Rebecca Newsome views this as detrimental to access, at least Trinity isn’t straying down the dangerous road of positive discrimination.

“At school, during the application process, I wasn’t warned ‘don’t apply there, they don’t accept state school applications’ but nor was I advised to pick another ‘state-school friendly college’. I chose Trinity neither lured nor put off by its access figures, weighing up factors that were actually important to me, rather than fretting over how many other state school students there were likely to be. I’m thoroughly happy with my decision and have never once encountered anything that seems to speak of discrimination.”