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Fewer than half of state school teachers encourage Oxbridge applications

Fewer than half of state school teachers encourage Oxbridge applications

The Guardian World News

Oxford University's access programmes are being ignored by some state school teachers

57% of students admitted to Oxbridge are from state schools. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Fewer than half of state school teachers would advise bright pupils to apply to the UK’s top universities, and the numbers are falling, research suggests.

The Sutton Trust, which commissioned the study, said it was deeply concerning that the majority of teachers would not encourage gifted students to apply to Oxford and Cambridge.

It said more needed to be done in schools to “dispel the myths” about the two elite institutions and other leading universities.

The study, which questioned 730 state secondary school teachers as part of the Teacher Voice Omnibus which regularly surveys teachers’views, found that just 44% would encourage their gifted students to consider Oxford or Cambridge, down from 50% five years ago.

A breakdown of the findings shows that 16% of teachers always encourage their academically gifted pupils to apply to Oxbridge, while 28% say they usually do.

The survey also reveals that many state school teachers underestimate the proportion of pupils from state schools that study at Oxford or Cambridge.

Of the 86% that gave an answer, more than half (55%) said it was less than 30%, while just 7% said over half of the UK students at Oxbridge were from the state sector. Around 14% said they did not know.

In reality, 57% of students admitted to Oxbridge are from state schools, the Sutton Trust said.

The trust’s chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, said: “It is deeply concerning that the majority of state school teachers are not encouraging their brightest children to apply to Oxford and Cambridge.

“It is also worrying that almost all state school teachers, even the most senior school leaders, think that Oxbridge is dominated by public schools.”

He added: “The sad consequence of these findings is that Oxford and Cambridge are missing out on talented students in state schools, who are already under-represented at these institutions based on their academic achievements. We need to do much more to dispel the myths in schools about Oxbridge and other leading universities.”

These universities also needed to ensure they were accessible to bright students, regardless of background, Sir Peter said.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said pupils needed good careers advice from independent, qualified advisers.

“We agree that young people should be made aware of the opportunities available to them, which is why we have been so concerned about the removal of national funding for face-to-face careers guidance by a qualified adviser,” he said.

“This should be an entitlement for all students. Applying to Oxbridge is only one of many appropriate routes for our brightest young people. There are many good universities in the UK and other excellent employment-based routes into top careers, all of which are available to high-calibre applicants from all backgrounds. Social mobility is about far more than entry to Oxbridge.”

Lightman said teachers were not careers advisers and may not know, or have experience of, Oxbridge and their admissions processes.


Exam tip-off row forces ban on face-to-face seminars

Exam tip-off row forces ban on face-to-face seminars

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar


The ban follows allegations that examiners were tipping off teachers about the questions their pupils should expect. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Examiners will be banned from conducting face-to-face seminars with teachers after an investigation by the official regulator found incidents of “serious malpractice”.

The ban, which will come into force in August 2013, follows an inquiry into allegations that examiners were tipping off teachers about the questions their pupils should expect.

The regulator Ofqual, which examined 52 hours of audio recording handed over by the Daily Telegraph, said it did not find widespread misconduct, but “specific incidents” in which information about future exams was revealed. The newspaper sent undercover reporters to 13 seminars run for teachers by exam boards.

Under the new guidelines, face-to-face training will continue to be acceptable for teachers marking controlled assessments –supervised coursework – and for the introduction of new exam specifications. But over the next year exam boards will have to phase out seminars for named qualifications. Over 4,000 exam board seminars took place last year, with fees of up to £200 per delegate.

When the investigation was published last year, Michael Gove, the education secretary, launched a vigorous attack on the exam system. He said that exam boards had “overstepped the mark” and claimed the system was discredited.

Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual, said: “The new rules will make sure that schools and teachers have access to the information they need to understand the exams their pupils are taking. However, they should not get privileged information by attending face-to-face events with those who set the questions.

“We know the value of teachers interacting with experts from exam boards, but we have concluded that there are better ways for information to be shared, such as live online events. These methods can easily be made available to all teachers, not just those who can attend meetings.”

Ofqual is also reviewing the role of controlled assessments in GCSEs, after teachers raised concerns about the amount of school time spent doing them. The assessments were brought in to stop parents helping children with coursework and prevent plagiarism using the internet.

Exam boards conducted their own inquiries after the newspaper investigation resulted in questions in a handful of exam papers being changed. One chief examiner was allegedly recorded by the Telegraph as saying: “We’re cheating. We’re telling you the cycle [of the compulsory question]. Probably the regulator will tell us off.”

The papers that were subsequently altered were a GCSE in ICT set by the WJEC exam board, an Edexcel design and technology GCSE, a government and politics paper and two OCR Latin papers.

The Telegraph claimed that teachers were routinely given information about future questions, relevant areas of the syllabus, and specific words or facts to use in answers.

In its report, Ofqual said: “With privileged information –the inside track – there will always be the risk that those taking part could jeopardise qualifications by saying something about what will be in a future exam paper. We know that that has happened in practice, because we have seen the evidence of it.”

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: “We are disappointed that Ofqual has not consulted widely, especially with the teaching profession, in its rushed decision to end face-to-face teacher seminars. Naturally, we will continue to work with teachers to ensure that they still have access to, and are supported by, the much valued and appropriate information that we offer.”

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK, owners of Edexcel, said:“We have already taken strong action to ensure that the information shared through events and other channels is always appropriate. Many of our events will be online, and all will be recorded, to enable a high degree of transparency.”

A DfE spokesman said: “It is vital that we restore confidence in our exam system. It is outrageous that privileged information was shared at some exam seminars and we welcome the action Ofqual is taking on this.

“We want all exams in England to stand comparison with, and be as rigorous as, those in the best-performing education jurisdictions.”

Meanwhile, a group of experts has warned that A-level science exams do not contain enough maths questions, and those that are asked are often too easy.

They raised concerns that papers in biology, chemistry and physics were failing to prepare teenagers to study these subjects at university or to work in related areas.

In a new report, SCORE, a group of leading science organisations including the Royal Society, calls for a review of the maths required for each of the three sciences, and new guidelines to regulate the way maths is assessed in these subjects.

A-level sciences ‘lack the maths students need’

A-level sciences ‘lack the maths students need’

BBC |April 26, 2012

By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News

A-level science exams do not contain enough maths questions to prepare students to progress to science degrees or related jobs, says a report.

The authors claim that even those that are asked are often too easy.

The report by a group of leading science organisations calls for a new framework to regulate the way maths is assessed within science A-levels.

The government says it wants universities to be more involved in the design and development of A-levels.

The report by Score (Science community representing education) analysed the type, extent and difficulty of the mathematics in the 2010 A-level papers for biology, chemistry and physics.


The authors said the exams failed to assess the full range of maths skills needed for the subjects.

They added that the exams often also failed to meet the requirements for A-level science qualifications set out by the exams regulator Ofqual.

Professor Graham Hutchings, chairman of Score, said: “Our findings are worrying. A significant proportion of the mathematical requirements put in place by the examinations regulator, Ofqual, for each of the sciences were simply not assessed and, if they were, it was often in a very limited way.”

The report also claimed that the Ofqual requirements were themselves inadequate in that they left out areas of mathematics which underpinned the sciences.

For example the requirements for physics and chemistry A-level left out calculus and the requirements for biology A-level ignored the maths needed to convert between different units.

The authors also found a disparity between the different exam boards, with some requiring a greater proportion of maths and more complex calculations than others.

They called for a framework to ensure parity between boards, and a review of the mathematical requirements for each of the sciences at A-level.

Prof Hutchings said professional scientific bodies should play a role in the design of A-levels to ensure they were fit for purpose.

A-level change

A second report into the maths content of six other A-level subjects which depended on maths found even greater variation in mathematical content between boards.

The Nuffield Foundation examined the 2010 A-level papers for business studies, computing, economics, geography, psychology and sociology.

The report concluded that with the exception of computing, the variation in mathematical content was so great that the qualifications did not give universities or employers a meaningful indication of students’ level of mathematical skill or understanding.

The two reports were carried out in response to research last year that suggested two-thirds of science undergraduates did not have the necessary mathematical skills for their course.

A spokesman for Ofqual responded: “We intend to consult in the summer on proposals to change the A-level system. When A-levels are redesigned, universities and other learned bodies will be more involved in deciding the content to make sure they meet their needs.

“Our own research into universities’, employers’ and teachers’views of A-levels also highlighted some concerns about the mathematical content of A-levels, particularly physics.”

Cambridge Assessment, which owns the exam board OCR, said the research confirmed its own work on higher education, and added that it was already working on new qualifications to boost the mathematics skills of A-level science students.

A spokeswoman for the Edexcel exam board said: “We should take on board the expertise of employers whose views are important for building high-quality examinations that meet the demands of the global economy.”

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