Paul Murphy's hubs idea to help pupils into Oxbridge

Education Minister Huw Lewis said he would pilot a hub scheme immediately

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A network of 12 hubs should be established across Wales to help more pupils get into Oxford and Cambridge universities, according to a report.

On average, nearly 450 pupils from Wales apply for places each year but were less likely to win places than those in England or Northern Ireland.

The report has been produced by former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy.

He was made Oxbridge ambassador by the Welsh government to find out why so few pupils win places at the universities.

Mr Murphy studied the period 2008-2012 and found:

  • Pupils from Wales applying to Cambridge had a 22.6% success rate, compared with 27% in the rest of the UK
  • Those applicants from Wales to Oxford had a 17.3% success rate, compared with 23.6% for the UK

Mr Murphy's report cited relatively low exam results as being partly responsible.

"It seems highly likely that the relatively low admission of Welsh applicants to Oxford and Cambridge can in large part be attributed to their relatively low attainment in the post-GCSE assessments which the universities consider critical," he said.

"Welsh attainment at the upper end is not as high as it should be when compared proportionally with the rest of the UK."

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But Mr Murphy, who studied history at Oriel College, Oxford, said exam results were not the whole story as Wales' strongest students were actually applying to Oxbridge but were not getting through the universities' admissions processes.

The report said that the 12 hubs would be hot-houses to help more able and talented pupils to prepare themselves for entry exams which could help more pupils get into top universities.

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Analysis by BBC Wales education correspondent Arwyn Jones

The Welsh government-appointed Oxbridge ambassador Paul Murphy says even when you take into account factors such as that we are poorer generally in Wales, we still do not do so well.

But it is not just results which are a barrier to getting into the top universities.

Both Oxford and Cambridge often require applicants to be tested or interviewed, and Mr Murphy's analysis suggests Welsh pupils do not do too well in those either.

He also raised the issue of the Welsh Baccalaureate as being a possible hindrance to more able and talented pupils, that it does not stretch some pupils and takes up space in their timetable which could be better used for other activities.

Mr Murphy said he was looking forward to seeing the new version of the Welsh Bacc which will be graded and more challenging.

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Education Minister Huw Lewis said he would consider the recommendations in full and would pilot a hub scheme immediately.

A hub called HE+ was launched at Gower College in Swansea in 2012, bringing together students from seven schools across the city to help prepare them towards applying to Cambridge.

So far 450 students have attended the monthly hubs which include specialist subject seminars, master classes and trips to Cambridge.

The University of Cambridge said it welcomed the report and said it would "do its level best" to support further hubs.

"There are many outstanding students in Wales and this report has shown that, if they are to reach Cambridge and Oxford in greater number, we must collectively ensure that they are appropriately encouraged, supported and most of all stretched in the sixth form," said vice chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.

An Oxford University spokesperson added: "The report rightly identifies secondary school attainment as an issue, as well as the need to raise the aspirations and confidence of bright students with the help of their teachers.

"We absolutely want more talented Welsh students at Oxford - and the report's recommendation of increased practical support and academic stimulation as well as encouragement will help make that possible."

Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns said not enough Welsh pupils were getting to Oxford and Cambridge because of Welsh Labour ministers' "systemic failure in education".

She said there was "no easy alternative" to an "unapologetic drive to raise the exam performance of every child".

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