Oxford is scrapping its fourth-term entrance exam. Applicants will now go through the same proceedure as all other students though tests may still be set at interview.
The decision was not taken to improve the chances of state-school pupils. Ruth Deech, principal of St Anne's College, who chairs the university's undergraduate admissions committee, said: "This is not social engineering or political correctness. There are no quotas or targets. We simply want the best."
Last year, Oxford admitted 43 per cent from state schools and 46 per cent from independent schools. But Mrs Deech said: "If there is 100 per cent of one or 100 per cent of the other, that doesn't bother me." She said that the new system would not lower standards, pointing out that it was always difficult to tell whether students were admitted on the exam or on conditional offer and interview or after A level.
Mrs Deech said the change has been introduced because some schools from both the private and public sectors find the timing of the fourth-term entrance examination "off-putting" and because the triple- route method of entry is considered complicated and confusing.
But some headmasters are concerned that the change will place greater emphasis on informal testing at interview. Hugh Wright, chief master of King Edward's School in Birmingham and chairman of the Headmasters' Conference, said that the short one-hour tests which are increasingly used would not leave "nervous candidates enough time to recover from a slow start". He warned that it could lead to administrative problems as dons struggle to mark scripts before interviews.