Poor pupil numbers frozen in time: Oxbridge takes on just five more poor pupils than in 2007

++Charity calls on Universities to set up new free schools++

++International students at Oxbridge outnumber poor English students by 30 to 1++

New data analysed by New Schools Network has found that, despite an increased focus on access initiatives, the poorest pupils are still well behind more advantaged students when it comes to studying at the country’s best universities. In fact the number of these students going to Oxbridge has barely improved since 2007.

The number of poor pupils applying to Oxbridge has flatlined

Just five more pupils on free school meals went on to study at Oxford and Cambridge in 2013-14, the latest year for which data is available, than seven years previous. In 2006-7, the earliest year for which data has been released, 45 pupils receiving free school meals took up places at Oxbridge, compared to 50 in 2013-14.

In 2014, poorer pupils accounted for only 2% of Oxbridge’s intake from English schools, with 50 pupils on free school meals compared to 2,560 other students.

Top universities also have less chance to consider applications from deprived students – students not in receipt of free school meals are more than twice as likely to apply to university. Data from UCAS, the body that oversees university applications, shows that in 2014, only 18% of pupils on free school meals applied to university, compared to 37% of all pupils.

Foreign pupils outnumber poor English students by up to 30 to 1

This means that in the 2013-14 academic year, 1,455 international students started at Oxbridge, compared to 50 pupils from English schools who were on free school meals. At Oxford and Cambridge, foreign undergraduates outnumber poorer English students by 30 to 1.

Wide inequalities between state and independent schools are also apparent. In 2014 Eton College alone saw 99 pupils receive offers from Oxbridge, twice as many as the number of deprived students who went on to study at the institutions in the same year. Other public schools, including Westminster and St Paul’s, saw similar results.

Free schools are sending record-breaking numbers of children to the best universities. This year eleven students at the King’s College London Mathematics School, one in five of their A Level cohort, received Oxbridge offers. The London Academy of Excellence received eight Oxbridge offers, and Harris Westminster Sixth Form got ten, more than top public schools such as Gordonstoun, Sherborne and Haileybury.

Pupils in London twice as likely to attend top universities than those in the North

In 2013-14 there were also huge regional differences that affected a student’s chances of going on to one of the top 30% of universities in the country. Those living in Outer London are twice as likely to go onto one of the top universities as those in the North East of England. The North East and Yorkshire saw the lowest rates of pupils gaining entry to the best third of higher education institutions, while Outer London and the South East saw the most pupils go on to study at these universities. 

Region Proportion of all pupils going on to post-Key stage 5 study at the top third of higher education institutions
North East 12%
Yorkshire and  Humber 13%
North West 16%
East Midlands 16%
West Midlands 16%
South West 16%
Inner London 17%
East of England 18%
South East 21%
Outer London 24%

Free schools are taking a leading role in opening up the best universities to the poorest pupils

Free schools, which are ten times as likely to be located in the most deprived areas of England as the least deprived, have taken a leading role in opening up universities.

Harris Westminster Sixth Form is set to send ten of their pupils to Oxbridge this year, a third of the students that have received an offer are eligible to receive the pupil premium. Chapeltown Academy, a Sheffield free school, has received two Oxbridge offers to date and 70% of its graduating cohort have offers to study at Russell Group universities. And the London Academy of Excellence, located in a deprived part of East London, received eight Oxbridge offers – a record-breaking number for the school. Last year, 72 students from the London Academy of Excellence went to top universities compared to 46 in the rest of the area’s schools put together.

Free schools offer more academically rigorous subjects than other schools70% of A Level entries by free schools were in the ‘facilitating subjects’ – those deemed by the Russell Group as the subjects that best prepare students for university study. This compares to just half of all entries in the top 500 state schools, and 63% of independent school entries.

The free schools programme has allowed leading universities to start their own free schools and institutions like the University of Birmingham, King’s College London, and the University of Cambridge have led the way in creating schools designed to best provide students with a rigorous education – eleven students at the King’s College London Mathematics School, one in five of their A Level cohort, received Oxbridge offers this year.

Nick Timothy, Director of the New Schools Network, said:

“It is shameful that only five more students from tough backgrounds are now winning places at Oxbridge than in 2007. When criticised about fair access, universities understandably point to the lack of high quality candidates coming through our schools. By setting up free schools, universities can help address this and improve access to higher education for disadvantaged students.”

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of Governors at the London Academy of Excellence, said:

“The London Academy of Excellence was set up in response to a shortage of high-quality A-level places in Newham. In the year before we opened three pupils from the whole borough went to Oxbridge. This year my little school has eight offers. This shows what can be done and is a tribute to the free schools concept.”



Destinations of poorer pupils

  • The number of students on free school meals from state-funded mainstream schools and colleges going on to study at Oxbridge in 2013-14, as well as regional breakdowns of applications to university, was drawn from the Department for Education’s Destinations of KS4 and KS5 pupils, 2013 to 2014.
  • The number of students on free school meals going on to study at Oxbridge in 2006-07 are from a Parliamentary Question asked of the Minister of State for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in 2010.
  • The number of international students joining Oxbridge as undergraduates was drawn from Higher Education Statistics Agency, HESA Student Record 2013/14.
  • 99 Eton College pupils, 97 Westminster pupils, and 60 St Paul’s pupils received Oxbridge offers last year according to Tatler’s Schools Guide 2015.
  • The proportion of students on free school meals applying to university was taken from UCAS, Analysis Note 2014/02.

Free schools

  • Free schools are state funded schools that are independent of local authority control. They have the freedom to decide the length of school day and term, their curriculum, teacher pay and how they spend their budgets.
  • Free schools are ten times more likely to be located in the most deprived local authorities in England compared to the least deprived. This was calculated from the English indices of deprivation.
  • 70% of free school A Level entries are for the facilitating subjects. This was compiled from the KS5 Performance Tables (2014). Guidance on facilitating subjects is from the Russell Group’s Informed Choices report (2014). The Russell Group represents the 24 leading universities in the United Kingdom.
  • Facilitating subjects are defined by the Russell Group as the subjects which “open doors to more degrees and more professions than others”. (Informed Choicesp.1). They are: Mathematics and Further Mathematics, English Literature, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History, Languages (Classical and Modern) (Informed Choices, p.25).
  • The London Academy of Excellence is located in Newham. Information on its admissions to university was drawn from The Daily Mail, ‘Students at East End academy outshine top private A-level pupils with free school sending five pupils to Oxbridge universities’.
  • The University of Cambridge Primary School opened in September 2015. It will eventually cater for 630 children and will combine primary education with a purpose-built research facility as well as the provision of professional learning for teachers.
  • The University of Birmingham School opened in September 2014 and has one of the highest numbers of applications per places in the country.
  • More than three quarters of free schools that have been inspected under the new tougher Ofsted framework, have been judged as Good or Outstanding. They are more likely to be judged as Outstanding when compared to other state schools.


News type