The Oxbridge Class Question – Institutional History

I and both my sons all got more than three A* A-level results. One got five A*s.

All three of us got through Cambridge selection process for interviews but all three failed to get final selection.

We’re all white male grammar school boys, taking advantage of 11-plus selection to (free) public education. (Father a surveyor / engineer, mother a teacher, in both generations, no-one in extended family with previous Oxbridge or even university education before me. Apart from that education, we’d consider the family northern working class … if asked.)

You don’t need to be ethnic or gender disadvantaged in order not to “fit in” at Oxbridge. And fitting-in is what it is about to succeed at Oxbridge. Once above a threshold, A-level results, and work-ethic predictions to achieve university grades are NOT the issue.

Not fitting-in I can admit was as much from myself as from any interviewers in my case. The historical stone and dark wood-panelling, the sense of institutional history are daunting aged 18. Preparation for interview needs to be much more than any explicit content of formal education, and specific “job” ambitions, matching courses to colleges. Call it “class” if you want, I don’t, but it is about maintaining and evolving institutional history – in the universities, the colleges and the “professions” – all establishment institutions.

Those are facts. Which aspects of that are good and bad for society, and which could be improved in the broadest sense, is a complex set of political issues beyond measurable individual and college attainment. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with A-level results or targets. More generally:

“When a measure becomes a target,
it ceases to be a good measure.”
Charles Goodhart

Personally, I don’t think fitting-in is about coming from that heritage, whatever your ethnic or class background it is possible to fit in. The question is about the individual appreciating what fitting-in means in terms of BOTH constraints and progressive opportunities for the individual and the institutions. Not sure words like posh or class help. It’s about attitudes to “establishment” in general.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.