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This is a state school, but it is certainly not comprehensive.

This is a state school, but it is certainly not comprehensive.

18th January 2019

In many ways, Brampton Manor Academy 6th Form is not like other schools. It made headlines this week as 41 of its students secured offers for undergraduate study at Oxford and Cambridge.

The achievements of these students – two thirds of whom will be the first in their family to attend university – triggered an explosion of online celebration. The majority of successful applicants were also from minority ethnic backgrounds, outstanding given the disgracefully un-diverse admissions record of our country’s two – supposedly - most prestigious universities.

It will be unfashionable to suggest, but this feat is remarkable, but maybe not surprising. The achievement of the individual students is exceptional, but the role of the 6th form questionable.

This is a state school, but it is certainly not comprehensive.

Two basic facts exist: this school is selective - exceptionally so, and admissions, at least in pure numbers, are more competitive than to Oxbridge itself[1]. Entry requirements to the 6th form include, at a minimum, a grade point average of at least 7.0 across all GCSEs. However, their policy also notes that when oversubscribed, ‘significantly higher grades may be required in order to secure a place’; a coy nod that the real entry grades are much higher.

This 6th form is oversubscribed, at a rate of 10:1, meaning that those lucky enough to be admitted have likely been creamed from at least the top 12% (Grade 8), and most likely the top 4.5% (Grade 9), of academic performers in the country.

If its intake is a handpicked, concentration of the best GCSE results, should we really be so surprised that it ends up with a concentration of pupils who go on to the best universities in the country?

The widespread coverage failed to highlight this point. It is also beginning to fuel a narrative that this school works harder for its pupils than others (see twitter) - undermining the supreme effort of teachers in comprehensive schools up and down the country.

The teachers at Brampton Manner do right by their students, unquestionably. But so do countless other, non-selective, schools that do not have the luxury of hiring a team of Oxbridge graduates, dedicated to steering their students through an institutionalised admissions procedure.

I highlight this not to take away from the admirable drive of Brampton Manor, and certainly not the blistering efforts of its talented students who are defying the odds. I highlight it to quash a latent narrative: ‘if this state school can do it, then why can’t others?’

Such a question is blind to the idiosyncrasies of the Brampton model that are not replicable at scale. Such a focus also fails to address underlying injustices, distracting from why the feat of Brampton Manor and its pupils was so remarkable in the first place – Oxbridge’s atrocious record of widening participation. The onus should therefore remain with the respective universities to ensure that those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have fair access, not on schools to become subservient to unjust admissions processes.

Tom McEwan, Senior Researcher, Policy Connect