Eight schools and colleges had more students accepted to Oxbridge in the last three years than three quarters of all other schools, a report has revealed.

The group, most of which are fee-paying independent schools, gained more than 1,300 admissions to courses at Oxford and Cambridge between 2015 and 2017.

By contrast, some 2,900 schools and colleges, equating to three quarters of all further education centres in the UK, saw just 1,200 of their students accepted to Oxbridge in the same timeframe.

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The figures, collated from Ucas admissions data in a new report by education and social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, also highlighted vast geographical discrepancies in acceptance rates.

Not a single student from Southampton, Rochdale, or Thurrock in Essex was accepted to Oxford or Cambridge in the three years studied, compared to Kingston-upon-Thames, where 150 alone were offered places.

Natalie Perera, head of research at think tank the Education Policy Institute, criticised top universities over the findings, calling on them to do more to tackle “inequality of access”.

“Today’s report confirms that the most elite universities, particularly Oxbridge, need to do far more to attract and admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said.

“Even when you take exam results into account, these students are still under-represented. We know that the type of university and qualification can make a difference to earnings later in life – so tackling this inequality of access is vital.

“Schools and universities need to work together to ensure that bright, state-educated students have a fair chance at accessing the best higher education opportunities.”


The Sutton Trust has not disclosed which eight schools and colleges accounted for the huge number of Oxbridge admissions – a condition of obtaining the data from Ucas.

However, it is understood the majority are independent, fee-paying schools, with Eton, Westminster School and St Paul’s School all included on the list.

In its report, the charity highlighted practices at some of these schools, which are giving students a leg up on their peers.

At Eton, where pupils have access to a dedicated universities officer and the school’s own internal higher education guide, between 60 and 100 boys are sent to Oxford or Cambridge each year.

Westminster School offers its students bespoke mentoring and university preparation classes, resulting in around 70 to 80 admissions to Oxbridge each year.

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St Paul’s School assigns each of its students a university advisor to guide them through the application process – a move that helped over a quarter of their students gain a place at either Oxford or Cambridge in 2016.

In its report, the Sutton Trust called for students from all backgrounds to receive admissions advice to help close the admissions gap between top schools and the rest of the country.

“If we are to ensure that all young people, regardless of their background, have a fair chance of getting in to our top universities, we need to address the patchwork of higher education guidance and support,” the trust’s founder, Sir Peter Lampl said,

“All young people, regardless of what area they grow up in, or what school they go to, should have access to high quality personal guidance that allows them to make the best informed choices about their future.

“The admissions process also needs to change. We have made the case for giving poorer students a break through contextual admissions, but we also need universities to make it clear what grades these students need to access courses.”

Ucas admissions figures also highlight the geographical and socioeconomic barriers preventing many high-achieving students from earning a place at a top university. 

Several local authority education areas, including Salford, North Lincolnshire and Portsmouth, had no students accepted to Oxbridge in the three years studied.

In some areas, the problem appears to have been exacerbated by a lack of students applying for Oxford and Cambridge, despite receiving top grades. 

Ucas figures revealed of the more than 5,000 students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who achieved two A*s and one A grade at A Level, only 220 were admitted to Oxford.

Just 25 per cent of state school students who achieve A*, A*, A grades apply for Oxford, compared to 37 per cent of such students from private schools. 

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The disparity is worst for students who attended comprehensive schools, who were less likely to apply for Oxbridge even when earning top grades than pupils at independent or state selective schools.

Education secretary Damian Hinds called on universities to work with the government to help make access to higher education easier for students from a wider range of backgrounds.

“Whilst potential and talent is evenly spread, the opportunities to make the most of it sometimes aren’t,” Mr Hinds said.

“Recent data shows progress has been made for disadvantaged students going to university, but there is still a long way to go.

“I want universities to work with us, consider the data carefully and look at their own admissions policies to work out what can be done to ensure that their university is open to everyone who has the potential, no matter their background or where they are from.”

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