Over 40 per cent of state secondary school teachers rarely or never advise their academically gifted students to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, according to a survey released yesterday by the Sutton Trust. The survey, of a nationally representative 1,607 teachers, also found common perceptions of the proportion of state-educated students Oxbridge, despite increases in state school numbers in recent years.

Only 21 per cent of state secondary teachers said they always advised their bright students to appl. When asked to guess the proportion of state-educated students at Oxbridge, just one in a hundred overestimated it.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said, “Today’s polling tells us that many state school teachers don’t see Oxbridge as a realistic goal for their brightest pupils. The reasons are they don’t think they will get in and if they get in they don’t think they will fit in.”

Sir Lampl’s comments are supported by the data, which suggest that a fi fth of teachers who don’t encourage bright students to apply do so because they feel applications will be unsuccessful, and 13 per cent because they expect students to be unhappy there. Sixty per cent say they never advise on university choice.

James Brackin, a second-year Magdalen student who went to Worthing Sixth Form College, said, “The teachers at my college were very keen to encourage us to apply to Oxbridge – they ran a scheme called Aspire that was aimed at getting more academically gifted students (with 5 As at GCSE) into competitive universities. We were each given an UCAS adviser to help us with the application, and my Physics teacher (I was applying for Physics and Philosophy at Oxford at the time) spent two lunchtimes a week helping me prepare for the Physics Aptitude Test.

“The programme included trips to the Oxford and Cambridge Student Conference at Epsom Downs, as well as to the Oxford September Open Day.”

The Sutton Trust report accompanying the survey data emphasised that “those from more advantaged educational backgrounds are more likely to receive higher quality support and to be able to draw on more relevant forms of social and cultural capital”.

The proportion of state secondary teachers unwilling to recommend Oxbridge to their students has not changed since 2007 when the same survey was conducted, while the proportion of successful state applicants has risen steadily in the same period from 47 per cent to 55.6 per cent.

Eden Bailey, OUSU Vice President for Access and Academic Aff airs, said, “There are some problems which are specifi c to Oxford, but it is often the case that teachers’ preconceptions of Oxford are (mis) informed by experiences many years ago, and by second-hand received ‘knowledge’. Further to this, there is little outside recognition of how exceptionally proactive Oxford’s student body is in providing and improving services that students need in response to issues faced here.

“Above all, it is important that prospective students are in control of their application – not their teachers, parents, or anyone else. Although concerns may stem from good intentions, it is a serious problem when teachers preclude students from educational opportunities without giving students themselves to explore them and make their own minds up.” she said.

Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at Oxford, said, “Our outreach activities and commitment in reaching out to teachers prioritises those most in need of support, and includes a newly launched Sutton Trust summer school for teachers from state schools.

“We are increasingly reaching out to teachers of younger pupils to help them understand how best to support talented students from early on. At the moment we work with about 2750 state schools every year to address misconceptions about Oxford.”

In its report, the Sutton Trust drew attention to its own work with state school students. “The Sutton Trust has run Teacher Summer Schools at Oxford and Cambridge this year, free courses that aim to dispel common myths about Oxbridge and other leading universities and to provide support to state school teachers to help bright students to apply,” it said.