Ysenda Maxtone Graham

How Harris Westminster conquered Oxbridge

  • From Spectator Life

Westminster School is being kept on its toes by its partner sixth-form college round the corner, Harris Westminster. There’s no imminent threat yet, in the ‘How many did you get into Oxbridge?’ stakes: last year, Westminster (private, £10,497 per term for day sixth-formers) got 71 of its pupils into Oxbridge, and Harris Westminster (state, £0 per term) got 36 in from a cohort about twice the size.

But watch those Oxbridge statistics draw closer to each other in the next few years, as Harris Westminster’s highly motivated and excellently taught students continue to soar, and Oxbridge colleges become ever more nervous of offering places to the (as they see it) over-entitled and over-advantaged privately educated middle classes.

How do I get my son or daughter into Harris Westminster? Well, you don’t. For a start, the teenagers do it themselves. Their motivation, not yours, is all. As James Handscombe, the principal, tells me, the 60-40 ratio of girls to boys is there from the moment of application because girls seem to be better at getting themselves organised to apply than boys of GCSE age. (Come on, boys, get out of bed and sort yourselves.) Applicants sit an entrance exam in two of the four subjects they want to study for A-level, and then, if they’re in the top 700 of marks for those, go for an Oxbridge-style interview. Last year, 2,500 applicants took exams for 350 places, which are conditional on getting at least six GCSEs graded 7-9 or above (A to A*).

Given up yet? It gets harder. If your son or daughter passes the exam and interview, he or she will be given priority according to disadvantage. ‘Last year,’ says Handscombe, ‘we had lots of appeals from people who’d done well enough to get in — often very well — but we hadn’t got places for them as we’re prioritising the disadvantaged.’

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