Oxford, Education and Inclusion

Oxford University and social inclusion aren’t necessarily two phrases that would naturally find themselves in the same sentence –  but as was reported in The Guardian at the weekend, Oxford is going to take into account factors such as the applicants postcode, the schools’ general performance in GCSEs and A levels and time spent in the care system to favour applicants who have had less advantageous circumstances and are claiming to guarantee interviews (although not necessarily offers, of course) to potential pupils who meet these criteria.

Corporate crest of the University of Oxford, i...

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There is uproar in the suburbs..

the move has infuriated critics who say it puts middle-class applicants at an unfair disadvantage. Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said ‘the emphasis on social factors’ worried him. ‘Alex Ferguson needs to make judgments based on football ability and Oxford needs to make judgment on intellectual ability,’ said Smithers. ‘The only issue should be the talent of the person. The government is keen on social engineering and [Oxford] university seems to be bowing to that.’

As far as I’m concerned though, a middle class kid with all the advantages of private education, additional tutoring and supportive friends and family is not displaying necessarily more intelligence than a kid from the inner city who struggles to find time to study and doesn’t have the same natural advantages and incentives.

A seemingly ridiculous comment that

parents could try to beat the new system at Oxford by renting homes in poor areas before their children apply

Which is laughable but also sadly displays some of the efforts that people will go to to try and orchestrate an advantageous position for their children if they are unable to prove the point on academic results alone.


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Personally, I applaud Oxford for at least attempting to redress a balance of sorts and making an effort to reach out to those who will find it harder to be reached.

Taking into account circumstances is not really social engineering so much as ensuring that the best quality of students have access to education and opportunities that open as a result of it. There is more to intelligence than grades.

A case in point being Julie Oke, a Social Worker and single parent from South London whose quadruplets all achieved high grades in their A levels and are off to top universities – as reported in the Mail on Sunday.

Julie has clearly spent a great deal of time and effort to instil in her children the importance of education and has made significant sacrifices to ensure that her children grow up in a positive environment and it is a wonderful story.

I hope the move by Oxford will be followed more intently by the education system as a whole – that opportunities will be opened across the board to children who want to succeed despite and not because of the situations around them.

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10 thoughts on “Oxford, Education and Inclusion

  1. I think it’s a great move by Oxford and the people complaining should be slapped. Seriously, the biggest hurdle is the interview and no-one can prep you for that. I had friends that were brought to tears by their interviews, but mine was pretty calm.. I was completely sure I’d messed it up though because I couldn’t remember the characters names in Mansfield Park.

    Luckily for me, they went more on personality than on such details and I obviously knew enough that they forgave me that small crime.

    To give people a bit of a hand to get to the interview stage if they’ve not had added tutoring and the luxury of a whole network who’s been to Oxbridge seems a remarkably good idea. If my college does it, I might even contribute to them 🙂

  2. Exactly – and it’s just about getting to interview anyway. No guarantee of offers but definitely a move in the right direction

  3. The idea of parents trying to beat the system by renting house in poor areas is making me laugh – it obviously being the complete opposite of parents renting houses in expensive/middle class areas to ensure their children get into certain schools’ catchment areas.

  4. I am on the whole in favour of positive discrimination but I can understand how it might rankle with some people. It is a difficult thing really.

  5. I think it is about having access to the interview process – and accepting that not everyone is starting from a level playing field and exam results are far from the only indication of intelligence..

  6. cb, this is fascinating for me to hear about, given the US’s ongoing back and forth about the merits of what we call Affirmative Action. Is this the first time Oxford has tried something like this? Has it always been class-based, or have ethnic backgrounds ever come into play?

  7. We don’t really do much positive discrimination here although there is a new Equality Act that I believe will be more liberal towards its use. Interestingly the general debate tends towards favouring women for positions rather than on a racial or ethnic lines. As regards Oxford, I’d be pretty confident that the bias is purely on a class basis – rather than along racial or ethnic lines. It certainly is presented in that way in the article and quotations that I found. In the UK, class still has the potential to be the greatest divide.

  8. Interesting–thanks for taking the time to explain. I think that will be the direction of Affirmative Action in this country, starting now. Our Supreme Court has suggested that race-based Affirmative Action needs to sunset in the next generation or so, and several states have outlawed it under their state constitutions. Nevertheless, schools are still interested in getting a good mix of students and in making up for disparities of opportunity that exist between high and low income Americans…we’ll see how it all turns out.

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