The Welsh government will pilot a hub scheme in response to the report from Paul Murphy, the Labour MP for Torfaen, which also calls for pupils to take part in “verbal academic argumentation” to boost confidence.
Mr Murphy, a University of Oxford graduate, says that “focusing on some of the key themes in my report – raising standards, boosting pupils’ self-esteem and sharing best practice in building up our most able and talented young people – will have gains that extend far beyond just Oxbridge application and entry levels”.
The former Secretary of State for Wales was appointed Oxbridge Ambassador in March 2013, tasked with examining the reasons behind the decline in Welsh applications and admissions to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and making recommendations on how this trend can be reversed.
“I believe that to make the necessary impact a national network of partnership hubs should be established to ensure that schools and colleges can learn from each other, and share resources to support their most academically able students,” says Mr Murphy in the report.
The report says these partnerships should focus on “maximising attainment potential”, “inspiring high-achievers to aspire to progress to Oxford, Cambridge and other leading universities, using positive role models and clear information and advice”, and “supporting this progression through academic enrichment activities, specialist support for interviews and tests, and information dissemination”.
Oxford and Cambridge would be “expected to contribute” to the hubs, Mr Murphy says. “A limited amount of funding” would be needed, he argues.
The report analyses data from the Welsh government, Oxford and Cambridge, and Ucas. In the North East of England, education attainment levels are on average below those in Wales, yet applicants from the North East are admitted to Oxford and Cambridge at the average rate for the UK – a lot higher than Welsh applicants, it says.
The report also says it is “imperative to facilitate discursive approaches to study, incorporating verbal academic argumentation and critical thinking, in order to boost the performance (and confidence) of Welsh students both in academic (admissions) tests and conversation”.
Andrew Hamilton, Oxford vice-chancellor, said the university “embraces [the report’s] recommendations” and “look[s] forward to working further with the Welsh government and schools”.
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Cambridge vice-chancellor, welcomed the report and its recommendations for “outstanding” students. The report showed “we must collectively ensure that they are appropriately encouraged, supported and most of all stretched in the sixth form”, he said.