Record number of state school students accepted into Cambridge

Some slow but steady progress

The University admissions department have revealed that state school students have taken up more than two thirds of places at Cambridge for the 2019 academic cycle, the largest proportion since records began.

There have also been more places awarded to students from the UK’s most deprived areas, with 14% of the new cohort coming from such regions, and the university says that 1 in 4 students are now from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds.

This has coincided with a reduction in the number of places offered to private school students, with 68% of the new student body being state school educated, something the University has described as “deeply encouraging”.

Dr Sam Lucy, director of admissions for the University, said of the statistics: “We have been exploring different ways to identify talented students who will thrive on our courses and help to make our student population truly representative of the UK population”, before adding that “this has included challenging false perceptions that put off applicants. It is deeply encouraging to see that our actions to provide educational opportunity for all those who have the potential to study here are paying off”.

There is still much to be done, however, as these statistics are still unrepresentative of general entrants to University courses, with around 90% of students enrolling in higher education nationally in the past 5 years being state school educated.

Cambridge has faced significant pressure to provide a more varied student population in recent years, prompting them to pledge that a third of students admitted by 2035 will be from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, whilst also aiming to have an intake consisting of 69.1% state-school educated pupils by 2024-25.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, points out that “there is still a long way to go in improving representation given that about 93% of pupils are taught in state schools in England compared to 68% admitted this year by Cambridge”, before adding that “state school pupils are also underrepresented at some other high-tariff universities. These institutions are increasingly recognising that exam grades are a blunt instrument and can serve to entrench educational disadvantage unless they are understood in their context. They are heading in the right direction in trying to address this situation and we appreciate that it is a complex process but it is frustratingly slow.”

Executive director at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses, Conference, Mike Buchanan, who represents almost 300 private school Headteachers, said that they support “broadening access to such universities for bright students from all backgrounds, provided measures of disadvantage are sophisticated and intelligently supplied”.