Elite schools fill Oxbridge places: Five top institutions including Eton send more pupils than 1,800 state schools combined

Five top schools send as many pupils to Oxford and Cambridge as 1,800 state schools put together, a new analysis has revealed.


A small group of elite schools is tightening its grip on the country’s most prestigious universities as wealthy families spend increasing sums on education. Three well-known private schools and two elite sixth-form colleges supplied 260 Oxbridge entrants in 2011/12 – the same number as 1,800 state schools across England.   


 Similar research relating to the previous three years found that the top five schools and colleges produced as many Oxbridge acceptances as about 1,500 state schools.  

The charity behind the research warned of a growing divide between Britain’s wealthiest families and ‘normal’ middle-income pupils.  Rich families were devoting more of their resources than ever to education because they recognised its increasing importance in landing top jobs and ‘positions of power’, it was claimed.


The five top schools for producing Oxbridge entrants include Eton, which was David Cameron’s old school, Westminster, where Nick Clegg was an old boy, and St Paul’s, which educated George Osborne. The remaining two schools are large state sixth-form colleges – Hills Road in Cambridge and Peter Symonds in Winchester – which have become the ‘choice destinations for professional parents wanting to maximise the chances of their children getting into Oxbridge’


The analysis – produced by the Sutton Trust education charity – also shows that just 40 schools and colleges provided about a quarter of all Oxbridge entrants in 2011/12. These schools are a mix of elite private schools and top-performing state grammars and sixth-form colleges. The only state comprehensive to make the list is Cherwell School, which is based in Oxford.

In a blog, Lee Elliot Major, the trust’s director of development and policy, said the figures were ‘powerful’ because they show the ‘extent to which a tiny minority of the country’s 2,750 schools and colleges dominate enrolment at prestigious universities’.

This was a ‘sombre message for the 100,000s of students waiting to receive their A-level results this August’.He argued that despite ‘valiant efforts’ by universities, entry to elite campuses was increasingly dominated by children from the most privileged families.   ‘The concern is that a small cadre of schools and colleges is tightening its grip on elite university places,’ he said.

‘The figures indicate that students from the wealthiest families could be pulling further away in the race for prestigious academic degrees, and the positions of power they pave the way to ‘This yawning gap is not just a problem for our poorest children but also those from “normal” middle income homes.’  

 Mr Elliot Major added: ‘The social mobility arms race is escalating with each academic year as the richest families increasingly devote more resources to ensure that their children excel at school and university. ‘They recognise education’s increasing importance in who wins in the workplace.’ 

 The research is based on the latest available data from the Department for Education, published earlier this year. Billions of pounds have been spent over the last 15 years on outreach schemes, bursaries and funding aimed at up opening up access to university. But the analysis shows that the proportion of A-level students attending comprehensives and progressing to the country’s 30 most academically demanding universities fell from 23 per cent in 2008/09 to 19 per cent in 2011/12.

Mr Elliot Major warned that prominent positions in politics, law, the media and the civil service – where an Oxbridge degree ‘remains the passport to success’ – would continue to be dominated by graduates from a narrow range of backgrounds.   But he also said the figures also highlighted some ‘exceptional’ comprehensives whose pupils are getting the grades and the know-how to get into Oxbridge and other top universities.

The list includes Mossbourne Community Academy, which was built up from scratch by Sir Michael Wilshaw, now head of Ofsted, and sent seven per cent  of its pupils to Oxbridge in 2011/12. ‘We know that there are tens of thousands more academically talented children in schools across the country who could be real candidates for university, and even perhaps an Oxbridge degree,’ Mr Elliot Major added.






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