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With the country’s leading universities coming under increasing pressure to admit more students from state schools, one don recently said his suggestion for parents who want their child to win a place at Oxbridge is: “Shift your kids to the local comp.”
But is that really the best advice? Of course Oxford and Cambridge admissions tutors will try to seek out the brightest and best pupils wherever they are – but in reality there are a handful of state schools which are dominating when it comes to Oxbridge offers.
The Telegraph has obtained detailed information, following a series of freedom of information requests, from every Oxford and Cambridge college about the schools to which they have made the highest number of offers over the past three years.
According to our data, a number of the top 20 state schools for Oxbridge offers are in fact sixth form colleges which have built up an expertise in teaching a rigorous, academic A-level curriculum and then sending students off to top universities.
The state school with the highest number of offers from Oxbridge was the Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, followed by Peter Symonds College in Hampshire.
Read the full list here:
Oxbridge schools – top 20 state schools
Here we have profiled some of the country’s best state schools for getting a place at Oxbridge.
Hills Road Sixth Form College
The Hills Road Sixth Form College was established in 1903, initially as the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys, and in 1974 the school adopted its current name and co-educational status.
The ambitious Cambridge sixth form is one of the top sixth form colleges in the country for A-level performance and is rated “Outstanding” by Ofsted.
Six colleges – three at Oxford and three at Cambridge – gave the highest number of places to pupils at Hills Road. Each year, the college sends between 65 and 75 students to Oxbridge.
With over 2000 pupils aged 16-19, the sixth form college is one of the few state schools in the county to offer Latin A-level. All students have to take an extended project qualification, where they independently research and write a mini-dissertation on a subject of their choice.
Students in Year 12 undertake an “enrichment” programme as part of their timetable, where they spend an hour a week learning a new skill which they choose from a list of over 70 activities including debating, French film and culture and sign language.
Jo Trump, the headteacher, told The Telegraph: “What we do is offer that stepping stone between school and university. It is something we do very well, we are very much about the transition stage.
“Our students do very well at university and we prepare them well for the university experience. I imagine there are Oxbridge colleges that know this about students – that they will go on to thrive.”
Oxbridge schools – postcode search
Camden School for Girls
Graded “outstanding” in all of its Ofsted inspections and boasting a stellar record of A-level and GCSE grades, Camden School for Girls is one of London’s top comprehensive schools.
The oversubscribed north London school is single-sex until sixth form, at which point boys are admitted. It was founded in 1871 by suffragist Frances Mary Buss, and has continued to pioneer women’s education ever since. Notable alumni include actresses Emma Thompson and Tamsin Greig, and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.
While admission to the lower school is based on a range of factors, including catchment area, musical ability, and exceptional social need, sixth form admission partly rests on achieving specific GCSE grades.
Since opening in 2014, Harris Westminster Sixth Form has excelled in A-level results and Oxbridge admissions. The London state school was launched in partnership with the fee-paying Westminster School to give economically deprived students a top education.
It has been described as the most selective sixth form in the country. Students sit entrance exams and interviews, and successful applicants then study a Westminster syllabus at the college, with monthly assemblies held in Westminster Abbey.
James Handscombe, Principal of Harris Westminster, told The Telegraph: “Economically deprived students have always been underrepresented at Oxbridge for a host of reasons that are not related to their intelligence or potential.
“Harris Westminster has always prioritised these students in admissions and it’s therefore incredibly pleasing that out of the hundred and sixteen HWSF students to have received Oxbridge offers over the last three years, twenty-nine are from the highest levels of disadvantage.”
The Cherwell School
The Cherwell School is located in Oxford, a ten-minute cycle ride from the Bodleian Library and the University’s central colleges, and has a history of academic success. The co-educational state school is spread over two sites along Marston Ferry Road, with years 10-13 based on the north site and younger students on the south site.
The school caters for students aged 11-18, with around 270 pupils admitted in the Year 7 intake each year. Extracurricular clubs include an Enigma Problem-Solving Club and an International Book Club, and students in the large sixth form can study A-levels ranging from Engineering to Psychology.
Among the school’s notable Cherwellians – former Cherwell students – are actor Rupert Friend, novelist Rachel Seiffert, and theatre director Ramin Gray.
Oxbridge schools – explore the colleges table
Brampton Manor Academy
Two thirds of pupils at Brampton Manor Academy qualify for free school meals, and the overwhelming majority are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The school is based in Newnham, one of England’s poorest boroughs, where one in five children are from low-income families.
The school’s headmaster, Dr Dayo Olukosh, has said that his pupils are “just as capable as their more privileged peers in other parts of the country”.
In an interview with The Telegraph in 2019, he explained that there is a “strong culture of high expectation that runs through everything we do here, right from the cleaners to myself”.
Dr Olukosh, who has been awarded an OBE for services to education, said his school operates a “clear discipline structure” and challenges any kind of “excuse culture” from parents.
He explained how he intervenes if he thinks a parent is holding their child back from attending a top university.
“We have had some cases, especially among the female students, where the parent basically says they’re not going to support their daughter moving out of London,” he said.
“The parents will say: ‘Well, I’m sorry, our daughter’s not leaving home. The University of East London is not far from where we live, why can’t she just go there?’ We have constant battles with the parents, and we win most of them.”
The latest Ofsted report describes Brampton Manor as having “relentless ambition and high expectations” and says its sixth form, which has 580 pupils, is a centre of excellence. In 2020 it had 51 Oxbridge offers, up from 41 in 2019.
Brighton Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College
Brighton Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College’s exam results place it in the top one percent of schools and colleges nationwide, and its students – aged between 16 and 19 – have a stellar Oxbridge admissions record.
Students at the non-selective, co-educational East Sussex school are expected to spend 13 hours on private study and homework each week outside of lessons, and the College says it offers “an accepting and inclusive atmosphere in which self-expression can flourish.”
In light of the College’s Oxbridge success this year, the school’s principal William Baldwin said: “For a non-selective state funded sixth form college to be consistently getting over 50 offers a year for students to study at Oxford or Cambridge is truly remarkable.
“We pride ourselves on ensuring that students with a range of academic abilities can not only come [here], but can go on to study at universities like Oxford or Cambridge.”