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EDITIONS
Monday, 3 July, 2000, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
Oxford targets younger pupils
seminar
Fifteen-year-old pupils sample a seminar
By BBC Education Correspondent Mike Baker

Oxford University is trying to win over 14- and 15-year-olds in its latest attempt to refute the charge of elitism made by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

physics demo
Rocket science made fun
Sixty youngsters from city comprehensives are on a two-day summer course at Christ Church College, designed to encourage them to aspire to a place at the university.

They have not even taken their GCSE exams yet but Oxford thinks it is vital to inspire them early, before prejudices about it become entrenched.

It says that task is all the harder after the attack by Gordon Brown in May following Magdalen College's rejection of comprehensive pupil Laura Spence.

colin lucas
Colin Lucas: "School work is something you ought to have an ambition about"
The vice-chancellor, Dr Colin Lucas, said he thought the public discussion which had followed had allowed the university to show how open it was, so it was helpful in one sense.

"What I fear of course is that it will have deterred a number of schools and potential applicants simply because it reinforced a number of stereotypes, but I hope we will get over that," he said.

The youngsters attend lectures, have guided tours and spend a night in college.

pupil
Katie Brosnan: Impressed
This summer the university will run similar courses for older pupils too, and for teachers.

Oxford believes it can only meet Gordon Brown's target of taking more state school pupils when more of them apply.

At present, although state schools educate around 80% of sixth formers they provide only half of the applications to Oxford.


With all the negative publicity recently about state schools and Oxbridge, I was expecting it to be really elitist and upper class

Pupil Heather Isaksen
Teachers think more could be persuaded to apply.

"We have a small number of students who aspire to come to Oxford and Cambridge," said Simon Heyward, a biology teacher at Thomas Beckett School in Northampton, some of whose pupils were on the Christ Church scheme.

"Giving them an experience at 14, 15 allows them to plan ahead so that they know what to expect and can sort out their agenda.

"First of all they really need to know if it is something they want to do and this sort of event gives them an opportunity to have a taster and sort that out in their own minds.

"There is this perception that Oxbridge is for the public schools."

The attempt to change that perception does seem to have succeeded with these pupils at least.

pupil
Wayne Ollerenshaw: "It opens your mind"
Heather Isaksen from Thomas Beckett School said the college seemed relaxed and friendly.

"With all the negative publicity recently about state schools and Oxbridge, I was expecting it to be really elitist and upper class," she said.

"But from what I've seen it doesn't seem to be like that at all. It seems to be much more mixed."

Wayne Ollerenshaw, from Nine Stiles school in Birmingham, said he had an open mind at this stage about whether or not to apply to university at all - but he now felt he could come to one such as Oxford or Cambridge.

"It just opens up your mind to see that people like us who go to normal schools can get here and do well," he said.

The college will continue to work with the pupils, offering advice and support up to the point where they decide whether or not they will apply to Oxford.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Mike Baker
It's about inspiring them with lofty ambitions
Wayne, Sam, Heather, Katie and Jo
What the pupils make of it
See also:

29 Jun 00 | UK Education
30 Jun 00 | UK Education
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