Education & Family

Oxford and Cambridge universities 'out of reach of most locals'

Oxford gargoyle
Image caption The report points the finger at Oxford and Cambridge

Children from poor families in Oxford and Cambridge have less chance of good exam grades than those in London's most deprived areas, says a report.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission ranked every English council for disadvantaged children's prospects.

Not one pupil eligible for free school meals in Cambridgeshire got into an Oxbridge university in 2014, and no Oxfordshire pupil managed it in 2013.

The commission said some of the richest areas failed poor children the most.

The government said fairness was vital.

"We are determined to spread... educational excellence everywhere," said a spokesman.

The results go beyond a crude North-South divide, say the researchers.

They analysed a range of measures to compile the new Social Mobility Index, assessing the life chances of England's poorest children across 324 local authority areas.

South East dominant

Of particular surprise was the lack of opportunity for poor children in some of the richest places in England, say the researchers.

Many rich areas are successful in boosting the life chances of poor children - but others "rank quite poorly against the index", they found.

London and its commuter belt do appreciably better than the rest of the country, occupying 36 out of the top 40 spots on the index.

Outside this area, only Trafford and Fylde in the North West and East Devon and South Hams in the South West made it to the highest part of the index.

Manchester, Birmingham and Southampton were about average, while Nottingham, Derby and Norwich scored badly.

"There are many affluent areas that fail their less affluent residents," says the report.

For example, despite being home to two of the world's best universities, Oxford and Cambridge "do quite badly" by children from disadvantaged homes, says the commission.

It found that of children eligible for free school meals in the two cities:

  • Fewer than four in 10 achieve a good level of development by age five
  • Only a quarter get five good GCSEs, including English and maths
  • More than one in five are not in education, employment or training a year after GCSEs
  • Relatively few go to university (15% in Cambridge and 14% in Oxford)
  • In Oxford only 4% go to a selective university and in Cambridge only 2%

By contrast, in London's Tower Hamlets, which has the highest rate of child poverty in England:

  • More than half of children on free school meals achieve a good level of development by five
  • More than half get five good GCSEs including English and maths
  • Only 11% are not in education, employment or training a year after GCSEs
  • A total of 39% go to university
  • Around 10% go to a selective university

Commission chairman, Alan Milburn, called the research a "wake-up call".

"It is shocking that many of the richest areas of the country are the ones failing their poorest children the most," he said.

"I hope the government will put itself at the head of a new national drive to ensure that in future, progress in life depends on aptitude and ability, not background and birth: on where people aspire to get to, not where they have come from.

"This report suggests that is long overdue."

Image caption The research is a "wake-up call" said Alan Milburn

A Department for Education spokesman said the government was committed to social justice.

"That is why raising standards for every child, regardless of circumstances, is part of our plan to ensure everyone can achieve their full potential.

"Thanks to our reforms there are now 1.4 million more pupils being taught in 'good' or 'outstanding' schools compared to 2010. And over this parliament we are determined to spread this educational excellence everywhere, extending true social mobility for all."

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