Dropping the drawbridge; state-school intake and academic success at Cambridge

Jack Riley
caius 225x300 Dropping the drawbridge; state school intake and academic success at Cambridge

Gonville and Caius College Gate of Honour

You have to be very careful identifying causality in education. Boris Johnson’s belief that since he learned Latin and turned out alright our children should learn Latin and will, in the end, turn out alright, is one example of an inference too far, for example. Today’s story about how a spate of state school applications has seen Cambridge college Emmanuel ride to the top of the Tompkins Table may be another such case.

There is no doubt in my mind that a healthy proportion of state school students at a university (and by healthy I mean the proportionate 93%, not the 58% Cambridge average) is a good thing. It will in most cases lead to greater academic achievement, and, more importantly, greater social diversity; social diversity isn’t a very trendy concept at the moment, but there you go, I’ve said it. But looking at another set of figures relating state school applications to academic achievement from Cambridge tells a very different story. It’s the story of Gonville & Caius, a college so posh that most people can’t pronounce it’s name, which this year tumbled from 4th to 11th in the (admittedly disputed) Cambridge rankings.

When, in a past life, I was the student representative for encouraging state school admissions at another Cambridge college, Caius was considered the worst example of failing to include students from the widest possible range of backgrounds. The headline figure was 43% – that was the proportion of their intake in 2006 who were from the maintained sector, at a time when maintained schools accounted for 93% of the nation’s children (I’ve confirmed that figure with Richard Garner, our Education Editor, who wrote today’s story). Caius was regarded as up there with Trinity for social exclusion, after the latter notoriously fielded a candidate for election to the access committee campaigning on a platform of ‘lift the drawbridge and keep out the proles’.

Here are the figures for Gonville and Caius’ percentage of state school students over 2004-2007 (the numbers are transcribed from graphs from the reporter, so there’s a margin of error);

2004-2005 – 53

2005-2006 - 48 (- 5)

2006-2007 – 43 (-5)

2007-2008 – 58 (+15)

So, with the exception of linguists, engineers and others on courses longer than three years, this year’s graduations are drawn from the 2007 intake, which had 15% more state school students than the year before, and here’s the sad fact; they’ve done significantly worse than the skewed intake of the years which preceded them, coming 11th after the college came 4th for two years in a row. They’ve fallen from a score of 66.85% last year to 63.72% this year (explanation of what that means here).

There must be more to these figures than meets the eye. I’ve been unable to get in touch with the Caius admissions office to ask them what they think, and so the question stands; if it has an effect at all, why did a higher state school intake seemingly have the exact opposite effect on academic results at Caius than it had at Emmanuel? Answers on a postcard of King’s Chapel.

(Image via Jim Linwood/Flickr under CC licence)

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  • chABC

    To be honest, the ongoing failure/inability of the university to divide their statistics into Grammar and Comprehensive intake negates any hints of trends regarding “diverse backgrounds” and academic performance anyway.

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