London state school secures 41 Oxbridge offers

By Rianna Croxford
BBC News

  • Published
Dorcas Shodeinde
Image caption,
Dorcas wanted to prove that you can turn around a negative experience

"Both of my mums were so excited," says Dorcas Shodeinde. "First I rang my foster mum and then I rang my actual mum," she explains.

Dorcas has been in care since she was 14 and has just received an offer to study Law at Oxford university.

She is one of 41 students at Brampton Manor, a state school in east London, to have secured an offer to study at either Oxford or Cambridge this year.

The school is based in Newham - one of the poorest boroughs in London.

However, its success rivals the admission rates of some of the top-performing private schools across the UK.

Nearly all of those who received offers are from ethnic minority backgrounds, while two-thirds will be the first in their family to attend university.

Image caption,
"We need to shake off the idea that Oxford and Cambridge are just for an 'elite,'" says the sixth form's director

Half of them, like 17-year-old Dorcas, are on free school meals.

"When I was put in care because of family difficulties all I knew was that statistically care leavers don't do very well," she says. "But I wanted to prove that it's not the end of the world and show my foster-sister that you can change the outcome of negative experiences."

Only 6% of young people leaving care attend university.

"I nearly didn't apply because I was scared of leaving London and figuring out where I'd live during half-term and after I graduated," she adds.

Image caption,
Lydia fled Algeria when she was 12 years old

Lydia Khechine, 18, travels for up to two hours a day to the school.

The journey is "worth it", she says, smiling at her offer to study history and politics at University of Oxford.

Fleeing Algeria, she arrived in the UK alone when she was 12, unable to speak English; she now lives with her older sister.

Emotional, she doesn't want to go into details of her childhood in Algeria.

But she says participating in inter-school debating competitions has helped boost her confidence.

"A lot of people filter themselves out of the Oxbridge process because they don't think they belong," she says.

"But the truth is people from unconventional backgrounds like mine do have the potential and it's about reassuring ourselves that we have a voice."

Image caption,
Rama has an offer to read English at Oxford

Rama Rustom, who came to the UK as a refugee from Saudi Arabia in 2013, agrees.

"This offer sets my family on a new path," the 17-year-old says. "In my culture, women are traditionally told not to pursue education."

She now holds an offer for English at St Hilda's College, Oxford.

"My first language is Arabic - lots of people outside of school said I couldn't do it, but my teachers always believed in me."

Brampton Manor opened its sixth form in 2012, with the aim of transforming the progression rates of disadvantaged students to the UK's top universities.

Part of their motivation, the students say, is seeing the faces of former Brampton pupils who received Oxbridge offers on the school walls.

At the entrance of the school, on bold laminated plaques, are lists of names of every former student to have attended university.

The photos of its Oxbridge students are also displayed in multiple places across the school.

In 2014, only one student received an offer.

Last year, 25 students received offers from Oxford and Cambridge.

This year's 41 offers, which are conditional on the students getting the grades, is a new record.

"Every student here goes to university," says Sam Dobin, the director of sixth form, who has worked at Brampton Manor since it opened. "We have a very traditional approach with no gimmicks or shortcuts."

Mr Dobin says there is "no secret formula" to its success. The school buys every student their own textbooks to encourage independent study, he says.

It does not rely on supply teachers and has an in-house team of five Oxbridge graduates solely dedicated to university access.

The school also has a study centre open from 06:00 until 19:30.

Mr Dobin says it is always staffed and many students choose to work there until the school closes.

"This is where we choose to invest the money we receive from the pupil premium," he adds, referring to the additional funding given to state schools in England to help bridge the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

"But the key is to keep telling your students that they're capable, that they're good enough.

"We need to shake off the idea that Oxford and Cambridge are just for an 'elite' couple of students and encourage everyone to apply."

Image caption,
Jeffery believes he has "defied the odds" in securing an offer from Cambridge

The sixth form, which is oversubscribed and academically-selective, annually accepts 300 students, who are interviewed before being offered a place.

Mr Dobin predicts at least 100 of the current cohort will apply to Oxford or Cambridge this September, and expects at least 50 offers.

One student who will leave before then is 17-year-old Jeffery Maya.

He joined Brampton Manor from a local comprehensive with a mixture of A and B grades and is now working hard to make good on his offer at Pembroke College, Cambridge to read natural sciences.

He says he's "defied the odds".

"You don't see a lot of people around Newham going to college," he says. "A lot of people get into illegal stuff."

His advice? "Don't doubt yourself. The only way you won't get into Oxford or Cambridge is not applying in the first place."