A PROMINENT Labour peer has called for Oxford University to found colleges solely for state school pupils in a ‘radical’ bid to widen access.

Former Oxford city councillor Andrew Adonis wants the institution and its rival Cambridge to set up new colleges to recruit students from schools without a tradition of sending pupils to Oxbridge.

As Oxford sent decision letters to thousands of hopeful undergraduate applicants yesterday, Lord Adonis spoke to the Oxford Times about the city’s education divide.

The former education minister, who was once a governor at The Peers School in Littlemore (now The Oxford Academy), said: “I was very struck while I was a governor that virtually no students ever went from there to Oxbridge, or from the council estates in East Oxford to Oxford University itself, even though they are side by side.

“It’s a nonsense to pretend that’s because they don’t have the ability - there is a fundamental problem of disconnect between Oxbridge and state schools in less affluent areas.

“Despite warm words over many decades, we haven’t cracked this problem – it’s a Berlin Wall of British society.”

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In response to his concerns, Oxford University revealed that it has accepted a record number of state-educated pupils this year at 63 per cent of the intake.

Professor Martin Williams, pro-vice-chancellor for education at the university, said: “We are actively developing new policies to deliver step-change in the students who consider and successfully apply for an Oxford education.

“We are clear that we will need to work across the university as a whole and increase the diversity of all our colleges.

“Oxford colleges were once segregated on the basis of gender and we don’t want to create new divisions on any grounds.

“We share Lord Adonis’s aspiration to ensure the opportunities of an Oxford education are open to all talented students, but his plan does not offer the across-the-board change we are looking for.”

Leading anti-Brexiteer Lord Adonis was a councillor for Oxford North from 1987-1991, and grew up in a Camden council estate.

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He received a council grant to study at West Oxfordshire private school Kingham Hill, before going on to Keble College.

Lord Adonis cited research published by the Sutton Trust last month, which revealed that eight top schools had fed as many pupils into Oxbridge in three years than almost 2,900 other schools combined.

He said: “These [new] colleges would bridge that divide, solely focused on recruiting from schools like The Oxford Academy, and give able students in those schools the aspiration to apply.

“For about three quarters of the state school system, Oxford and Cambridge, for all intensive purposes, does not exist.”

He said a minority of state schools regularly see pupils progress to Oxbridge but these are ‘almost exclusively in affluent areas’, giving The Cherwell School in Summertown as an example.

Lord Adonis added: “The difference in Oxford between Cherwell and The Oxford Academy is effectively a chasm in terms of aspirations - and this is within the city that actually hosts the university.

“The very fact [dedicated colleges] are there would dramatically increase aspirations to go to Oxford, because teachers and students and parents in those schools will know they only exist to serve them.”

The peer unveiled his proposal in The Guardian yesterday, claiming it will promote ‘radical change’.

He wrote that access reform at Oxbridge had stalled, adding: “Many leading figures in Oxford and Cambridge know the status quo is unjustifiable and unsustainable. They are waiting for a lead and a policy - here it is.”

Lord Adonis denied that the new colleges would be seen as ‘second class’ compared to existing colleges.

In 2016 the Oxford Times revealed that in the past 10 years, 292 people from Oxford were awarded a place at Oxford University.

Just a tiny percentage came from poorer areas and not a single place was awarded to anyone from Blackbird Leys or Northfield Brook.

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Prof Williams said that since 2013, Oxford University offers to candidates from the two most socially disadvantaged groups in the UK has risen by almost four per cent.

He added: “Our outreach teams and lecturers work incredibly hard to convey the excitement and fulfilment of Oxford education to young people of all backgrounds.

“Every year the teams reach more than 3,100 schools across the UK, engaging with students who might otherwise have never considered applying here.”

The university is currently expanding its UNIQ programme, which gives teenagers from under-represented backgrounds the chance to attend free summer schools at the university.

Prof Williams said the scheme has inspired almost 1,400 state school students to make successful applications since 2010.