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Teachers reveal their Oxbridge ambitions for Welsh students; ACHIEVEMENT IS HUGELY SATISFYING, SAYS CHIEF.

Byline: GARETH EVANS gareth.evans@walesonline.co.uk

TEACHERS in Wales are ambitious for their pupils and determined to get more Welsh youngsters into the UK's leading universities, according to trade unions.

It follows claims made by former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy that Wales must raise its aspirations and "dispel myths" that universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are out of reach.

Mr Murphy, Labour MP for Torfaen and himself a graduate of Oxford University, said he wanted as many Welsh students as possible to have the opportunity to study at the UK's top-ranked higher education institutions.

Following conversation with Education Minister Leighton Andrews, Mr Murphy was last month appointed "Oxbridge Ambassador" for Wales - a "two-way role" that will involve work with Welsh schools and the universities themselves.

Mr Murphy said an article in the Western Mail - highlighting that around one in 20 applications from six South Wales education authorities to Oxbridge were successful, compared to one in five across the UK as a whole - had set the balling rolling.

"Things are starting to pick up now and we're getting down to the nitty gritty," said Mr Murphy.

"It's (Oxbridge) not for everybody and some youngsters would prefer modern universities and different facilities - but they need the chance to see what they think of it."

Statistics show just 75 of the 424 Welsh students (17.7%) applying to Oxford University in 2011 were successful - compared with the 84 of 397 applications (21.2%) made in 2007.

Approvals at Cambridge University, currently ranked the UK's best higher education institution, fell from 25% (67 students) to 23.1% (57) during the same period.

Mr Murphy said: "We need to raise the aspirations and ambitions of people - they can get there; they did get there.

"It's not the be all and end all and some courses are best studied elsewhere - but if people are good enough, they should be given the chance. There were far more people from Wales going to Oxbridge when I went than there are today - and that needs to be addressed."

Mr Murphy said it helps to have a teacher who has been to Oxbridge and his own experience of learning from an Oxford graduate in Pontypool paved the way for his enrolment.

But he stressed that all teachers, parents and pupils should set the bar high and no obstacles are insurmountable when applying to Oxford and Cambridge.

He said: "I think teachers have a part to play - I was a teacher myself and I don't think I did enough - but the world has changed and only 5% went to university a quarter of a century ago.

"It's a much higher percentage now and there are more universities - but that doesn't get away from the fact that, collectively, we've got to set ourselves ambitions. We've got hugely talented pupils in Wales and everybody has to pull together."

Mr Murphy said Wales' flagship Welsh Baccalaureate qualification - often taken at the expense of traditional A-levels - was an issue, "but not a huge one".

He said there was no reason why the Welsh Bacc should prevent admission into Oxbridge, and it was more a case of "working it through" with universities.

Mr Murphy is seeking talks with Oxbridge admissions officers and, while both Oxford and Cambridge take widening access into Wales "much more seriously now", he said there is still work to be done.

Owen Hathway, policy officer for NUT Wales, said seeing pupils gain a place at Oxford or Cambridge is hugely satisfying for teachers.

"The fact is that teachers across Wales, some of whom have attended these universities themselves, are always keen to push those who are able and willing to apply to Oxbridge institutions to do so," he said.

"We want to see more Welsh students gain places at the best universities but it is certainly not a case of lack of ambition from their teachers holding them back."

Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, who was educated at both Oxford and Cambridge, said: "The appointment of Paul Murphy shows that the Welsh Government is now taking seriously the decline in the number of Welsh youngsters entering Oxford and Cambridge.

"I have yet to find a teacher who wasn't passionate about doing the best for their children, but chronic underfunding and so many other demands may have sometimes meant that schools have not been able to focus as much as they would like on their high flying youngsters."

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 19, 2013
Words:744
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