Eva Simpson says more needs to be done to close the gap between schoolchildren with a clear advantage over those who view elite educational institutions as places for wealthy, posh whites
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In high school, and I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, I was academically one of the brightest kids.
in my year, consistently getting top marks.
Despite this, I never even considered applying to Oxbridge. I had never met anyone who had gone to either college and I believed the places there were for wealthy, posh white people. So naive.
It wasn’t until I got to sixth grade and met a black girl in my English class who was determined to get into Cambridge that I realized people like me could apply.
Fast forward to 2022 and more Black and Asian children than ever before are applying and entering what is considered one of the best institutions of higher learning in the world.
We should celebrate this fact. Instead, the question of who enters and does not enter Oxford and Cambridge has become another battleground in the never-ending culture wars.
Last week, a Cambridge academic claimed white boys in top private schools were ‘disadvantaged’. I had to check that it wasn’t a very late April Fool’s joke.
This was not the case. David Abulafia says the fact that boys attend private schools was used to ‘justify injustice’ and that children in public schools are increasingly getting top places.
Abulafia is stunned that the number of places at Oxbridge for Eton pupils has halved between 2014 and 2022. My heart is bleeding.
Yes, admission figures are slowly being split more evenly, but Oxford and Cambridge each still enroll over 30% of their students in private schools, even though only 6.5% of students attend them.
Thus, far from being disadvantaged, this cohort is the embodiment of privilege. They are supported, mentored and coached on how to get into top universities, where public school children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, enter on merit.
Let’s not forget that during the pandemic, when exams were marked by teachers, private schools saw a much bigger jump in the number of children getting top marks, which means they will be at an even greater advantage when it will be about applying to Uni.
Elite universities should therefore go further – their admissions should be even more heavily balanced in favor of public school students.
It’s important because in the UK we’re still mostly governed by people who went to Oxbridge. A report by the Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission found that “power rests with a small part of the population – the 7% who attend private schools and the 1% who graduate from Oxford and Cambridge”.
The report found that 24% of MPs visited Oxbridge, 38% of House of Lords peers, 56% of civil service permanent secretaries, 71% of senior judges, 40% of chairmen of public bodies and 33% of chairmen of select committees. Some 16% of senior armed forces officers and 13% of police chiefs also traveled to Oxbridge.
It is vital that these changes better reflect the whole of society and better meet the needs of everyone, not just the chosen few.