Prescott’s Oxford Class War (from the Lords)


My old sparring partner on Twitter, @JohnPrescott, is up in arms because @StephenNolan told him about a pupil from NI who was rejected by the University with seven Grade A* A-levels. The kid has now gone on to Stanford, many congratulations.

Prescott put this down to class war on the part of Oxford. Let’s get rid of this tired old myth once and for all. I said the kid probably wasn’t good enough for Oxford, and he probably wasn’t. Which is not to deny his evident high intelligence but to say he may not have had the specific type of intelligence required for Oxford.

I want to have breakfast outside so this is a bit rushed into bullet points, but

1. Seven Grade A* A levels is not the slam dunk it would have been in 1988, say. Labour’s grade inflation was epic. Very, very many pupils apply to Oxford with large numbers of A* A-levels.

2. Oxford admissions directors go out of their way to try to recruit undergraduates from working class backgrounds. It’s always an advantage and never a disadvantage.

3. However the university refuses, thank God, to drop its academic standards. They will not admit those who are not up to Oxford’s particular teaching style no matter where they come from.

4. This is not class-ist – the interview at Oxford matters more than the grades – grades just get you through the door to the interview. Kids with amazing A level records get turned down all the time FROM ALL BACKGROUNDS. My little sister, applying in 1991, had eleven grade A GCSEs, 3 grade A A levels, and two grade 1 S-levels (Scholarship levels – one grade above A levels back then. This was pre the worst grade inflation, of course, and there were no A*). She did not get in. She was turned down by Magdalen, Oxford and went to Trinity,  St. John’s,* Cambridge (and went on to be highly successful in two careers). My sister was privileged, but had never received a B in any subject in any stage of her school career. Turned down for Oxford. Not a class thing.

5. At Oxford (as opposed to Harvard and Stanford who both wanted the kid) you have a different TYPE of learning than in America. The Ivy League has you “Major” in one subject and “Minor” in another and you must take compulsory classes in various subjects.** At Oxford, you specialise in just one, at most two, and usually one, discipline. Thus his Seven As were irrelvant. They show terrific all round intelligence, suitable for any Ivy League college. They don’t, by themselves, prove or disprove mastery in his chosen subject.  And that’s what Oxford interviewers are looking for.

6. I went to Oxford with a worse record than my sister (10 O levels – 6As two Bs two Cs, 3 grade A A-levels). But I took a risk; I elected to take the then available Oxford Colleges Entrance Examination. If you passed, and passed your interview, you could matriculate with just two grade D A levels (I got three As anyway). The OCE was tougher than A levels. I took it in English. I wanted to differentiate myself from the flood, then as now, of highly qualified applicants jostling for places. I knew I wanted to specialise in Early English and related languages and therefore I taught myself Early Middle English through an old, Victorian Morris & Skeat primer in the school library, gathering dust, and sat the entrance exam writing a paper on “The use of cinematic imagery in “The Owl and the Nightingale”, adding in some references to “King Horn” as I recall.” As this was not on any school curriculum, and is the kind of thing they set at university, I was confident they would be surprised enough to invite me for interview. It worked.

I may have got those C’s in maths and biology O level  – I am rubbish at maths and science, I have an arts/humanities brain – but for Oxford, I could prove myself to have a level of mastery in my SPECIALISED subject of early English. That’s what they were looking for and they took me. Another note – OCE papers were identified by number only. Until they selected me for interview the college did not know my school, my class background, my race or even my sex. It was absolutely meritocratic.

If Prescott wants to get worked up about class and education he needs to get foursquare behind Michael Gove’s revolutionary programme of Free Schools, academic improvement and school independence from LEA’s. Not start chucking around class-ist accusations from his ermine robed seat in the Lords, an institution he professed to despise until they offered him a title. (I see you “Sir” Bob Russell MP. When the speaker first called Russell that a Labour wit heckled “satire is dead!”. We all laughed).

The kid from NI will do tremendous stuff at Stanford and be very well suited there. Or it could be he’s Oxford material but had a bad day at i/v. Unfortunately, 13 years of Labour grade inflation means Oxbridge have more qualified applicants than they know what to do with. It’s not classist.

Oxford has never been so. Indeed I only exist because Oxford admitted my mother, the working class daughter of a Union foreman from the East End (he worked the printing presses on the Daily Mirror), and at St. Hilda’s, she met my father (ChCh), from an old Derbyshire family of landed gentry. That was social mobility, 1968. Thank you Oxford for not being class-biased. I’ve enjoyed my life, and this porridge tastes delicious. Dominus Illuminatio Mea.

photo by Sisiphus007

* I get confused by the Fenland Poly colleges. So grey, the lot of them

** this is why I made it into Oxford but would almost certainly have been turned down by Stanford, unlike the NI pupil. I don’t have all-round intelligence, I am a specialist. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.


  1. Ann Kittenplan · August 15, 2013

    Point 4 reveals that consistent clear thinking wasn’t a necessary condition of entry. Generalising from a sample of 1.

  2. botzarelli · August 15, 2013

    A small correction – if you took the Entrance Exam and got through interview, the standard offer was EE rather than DD.

    • louisemensch · August 15, 2013

      Fair enough. My memory was never that good.

      • botzarelli · August 15, 2013

        I remember because it was the clincher between applying for Oxford over Cambridge!

  3. Horatio · August 15, 2013

    This is interesting. When I applied to Oxford in 1998 I arrived at the interview dressed as a sea lion. It turns out that I had misread the letter I had received and was not ready to discuss the poetry of John Clare, and my attempts to bound around the small room in which the interview took place, making deep guttural barks, met with dismay and alarm on the faces of my interviewers. I declared in a gruff voice “Sealions don’t need to take A-Levels!”. Imagine my surprise when I received an offer to study Classics (as opposed to English Literature), an opportunity which I took up with aplomb! I am now an adviser to a Conservative MP (who I shall not name for fear of embarrassment), and rarely remove my sea lion outfit to this very day.

  4. manicfeetpreacher · August 15, 2013

    Oxford might be a meritoricacy but our society imbues only certain of it’s young with tutalage and support in developing the skills and interests that Oxford requires. Tutalage and support that most working class children don’t even know exist let alone receive. The societal system for deciding who recieves this advantage is very much classed based and utterly unfair. Nice attempt at dismissing your advantage though – it can’t be nice thinking that without your advantages you might be decidedly average…

    • OscarA · April 10, 2014

      I come from an area of multiple depravation in Scotland and would not have considered Oxford if it wasn’t for a free summer school advertised in the newspaper. However, through their great outreach programmes I applied, and now hold an offer for New College. I honestly believe that Oxford see above class and just look for students who suit their style of learning regardless of background.

  5. John Prescott (@johnprescott) · August 15, 2013

    Thanks for taking the time to right the blog. Now you’re behind a paywall, I don’t get the opportunity to enjoy your wisdom.

    Your argument seems to be predicated on that tired Tory myth that exams were ‘much harder in my day.’ I’d venture that anyone with 7A* A levels and 13 A* GCSEs would be worthy of Oxford but as you say “I got three As when it mattered.” This not only reinforces an unproven argument but also insults every student who worked hard to get their grades since you left uni.

    The idea I should support Gove’s Free Schools is frankly laughable. Most are opened in areas with no basic need, taking scant resources away from good schools and others that need the support to get there.

    We hated seeing teachers teach in portacabins and run down buildings. So when we came in in 1997, we gave schools and colleges new buildings. (This created jobs and boosted growth in the economy.)

    We also employed more teachers and teachers assistants. This improved the results, not ‘grade inflation.’ Now Gove wants to axe Teaching Assistants, even though they count for half the teaching staff. But he’s more than happy to right off the £5m debt of a private school so it can become an academy.

    As for access to Oxford, although only 7% have had a private education (like yourself) they now still get about 42.5% of the places. In fact, a recent study found bright candidates from fee-paying schools were around 25 per cent more likely to get a place than similarly talented state school students.

    No doubt you are very good in interviews. After all, you convinced Corby Conservatives to select you as a serious and committed candidate. Frankly, I don’t think interviews are everything.

    If you’d have taken the time to research the lad’s back story – his name’s Alastair Herron by the way – you’d see he received A-levels in Further Maths, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Latin and Greek and applied to Merton College, Oxford to read Chemistry. But he also had 13 A*-grade GCSEs in English Lit, English Lang, Maths, Ad MATHS, all three sciences, Latin, French, Greek, German, RE and Astronomy.

    This made him the highest performing student in Northern Ireland.

    I think when we’re trying to promote the sciences and compete in the “global race” losing one our most able students to the US is not a great thing. Especially when Stanford, who successfully offered him a place, thought he was so outstanding they gave him a $64,000 scholarship to land him.

    He’ll probably stay in America and make his fortune! He may even open his own social network!

    Oops, perhaps I shouldn’t menschn that 😉

    But seriously Louise, losing Alastair to America is a sad indictment of how much more our elite universities still need to do to reach out to those who didn’t go to public school.

    It hurts all the more when we think we lost you to Uncle Sam too. x

    • Richard Evans · August 15, 2013

      What you actually did was blow huge amounts of money on unnecessary junk like electronic whiteboards and schools with a life expectancy just longer than the time needed to pay for them.

      You spent money alright, but you certainly didn’t get value for the taxpayer.

      • Mathew Blackshaw · August 15, 2013

        Only in your mind Richard

      • Isabel Bryant · August 20, 2013

        As a student who has had electronic whiteboards in the classroom since the age of 7, I can tell you that they are not junk. They have been continually used by every teacher I have had and meant: paper isn’t wasted; documentaries are able to be shown; extracts from books can be displayed and annotated with ease; photographs and paintings can be shown for all the class to see; the teacher can write notes on the whiteboard which can then be saved and sent to students for further study. All of this is what such “unnecessary junk” has been used for. No teacher I have had could live without it, and these have been outstanding teachers as I have studied at a top-performing state college.

    • louisemensch · August 15, 2013

      Thank you for this John. I will take your “right” for “write” as a Freudian slip, and I appreciate your engaging in debate.

      The idea that there was no grade inflation under Labour is frankly laughable. It is well-established fact, and saying that grades are inflated insults nobody other than the government of the day. Hard-working students can only take the exams they are set. Labour did not start the process of dumbing down qualifications (I took O-levels, and they were harder than my sister’s GCSEs), but they accelerated it appallingly.

      You talk about Corby, which is an excellent test case for Labour’s catastrophic educational failure. In the 2001 census, nearly 40% of Corby schoolchildren left school without A SINGLE GCSE to their name. It was after the Academies programme, headed by Andrew Adonis and passed through the Commons only on Conservative votes, that we received Brooke Weston Academy and education in the town began to turn around. That was the precursor to the Free Schools movement, which follows not only the Swedish model but emulates charter schools in the States. If you do not support this you will be left behind with the rest of the dinosaurs; great schools, with great academics, are the way forward for children’s social mobility, and they are much more important than buildings.

      Of course not only has Michael had terrific success with free schools, he has also enabled thousands of schools to convert to Academy status – from 203 when we took office to over two thousand today. The majority of Oxford undergraduates already come from state schools, but as we see state education rise and improve under the Conservatives – including fixing grade inflation – that will change to an ever higher proportion.

      Finally, you have no idea whether or not Alastair is “Northern Ireland’s most outstanding pupil” and hence have missed the whole point of the blog. He has A stars in a large number of subjects, making him an outstanding all-rounder who will doubtless fit in wonderfully in the Ivy League. But there may be a pupil in Northern Ireland who is rubbish at Maths and got no better than a C in it at GCSE and yet who can write as well as James Joyce. And that level of genius may make her more outstanding than Alastair, even if she is not good at every subject.

      All-rounder is one thing, and a very fine thing it is too. But being very good at lots of subjects doesn’t make you “better” than somebody who is brilliant at just the one. I’m not sure how good Isaac Newton was at French or Shakespeare on maths. Oxford is looking for speclalists in their subjects. We have no more “lost” Alastair to America than America “lost” Bill Clinton – or Cory Booker – to England when they became Rhodes Scholars at, oh yes, Oxford University.

    • Steve Freestone · August 15, 2013

      The hypocrisy of John Prescott knows no bounds. The thing is, being from a poor, working class background myself, I got my degree, for free, thanks to John Major and his Government and have contributed to the state through tax ever since, thanks to that degree allowing me to get the wages commensurate.

      In 1997, within weeks of ‘Noo Labour’ (led by the public school boy), students, usually a natural ally of the Labour Party, had to start paying for their degrees and grants etc. They had been shafted by their natural political soulmates.

      And furthermore, Lord Prescott shouldn’t consider himself a Socialist anymore (if he ever did?). Socialists aren’t into all that pomp and ceremony.

      As I said, his hypocrisy knows no bounds.

      • Anonymous · August 16, 2013

        I hope you weren’t studying History, Steve, as Major wasn’t responsible for inventing student grants.

    • Emily Barley (@ThinkEmily) · August 15, 2013

      I don’t know about the case of this boy and don’t want to comment on university admissions in general, but I do feel able to comment on Labour’s school building program.

      The school I went to until 2007 was a failing school, with around 22% of 16 year olds achieving 5 good GCSEs incl English and Maths, year after year. The answer of your government was to move the school to a shiny new building, keeping the same local authority oversight, the same governors, and the same senior management.

      Who exactly did you help? It wasn’t those children. Several more school years went through the (new) school doors with pass rates deteriorating along with their prospects. The school was closed two years ago after OFSTED inspections. Under Gove’s leadership it re-opened as an academy and has raised the 5 good GCSE’s incl English and Maths pass rate to the mid 60%’s. There is more work to be done, but this indicates a good start.

      I really don’t think that new buildings are more important than good quality teaching. Your government made the mistake of throwing money at a problem that money could not fix, and you should be ashamed. My experience of education under Labour, in the Labour heartlands, is a key reason why I am a Conservative and Michael Gove is a hero to me.

      • Anonymous · August 15, 2013

        Great great post. Thank you.

      • Anonymous · August 20, 2013

        Blair was the one who introduced the academies so, if anyone is a hero, it was him. Creating shiny buildings means the building is at least fit for purpose as opposed to run down schools with leaking roofs where there aren’t enough resources going around for every student. More resources is the way to start improving things. At the end of the day, if the children aren’t clever enough, no amount of teaching will get them a higher grade.

    • Samuel Mack-Poole · August 15, 2013

      John, that was an excellent reply.

      Louise, I am a Director of Education at a PRU in inner London. Whilst you may have working class routes — at least on your maternal side — you have clearly enjoyed privilege, and through the socialisation you have been immersed in, you have *flowered* into who you are.

      I have taught in a top international school, with the sons of senior Arab royals amongst my pupils. This obviously contrasts with the pupils I currently teach; nevertheless, there is no difference in the levels of intelligence amongst the pupils I have taught.

      If intelligence is innate, isn’t the difference the contacts and privilege private school pupils have? If intelligence is determined by nurture, isn’t the two tier system perpetuating class divide.?

      And, like most truths, if intelligence is a quality that is partially innate and partially environmental, then we are setting pupils from inner London schools up to fail. Whilst Tories bemoan Labour’s social engineering, we should ask ourselves what society is engineering: class divide.

      The truth is, Louise, the playing field is far from fair (after all, most have been sold off because of Tory underinvestment). Yes, there are exceptions: but the statistical trends don’t lie.

      Rich, private educated children go to Oxford/ Cambridge, poor kids don’t.

      One thing you’ve never mentioned, Louise, in all your sophistry, is the Finnish model — now, why is that the case? After all, it’s #1 on the OECD index.

      • Anonymous · August 15, 2013


        Toby Young is running a Free School in London. Let’s see how his pupils do.

        (This is Louise btw)

      • OscarA · April 10, 2014

        As a “poor kid” (a definition I’m not sure I appreciate) I hold an Oxford offer. Rich, private educated children go to Oxbridge, so do ‘poor kids.

    • Anonymous · August 16, 2013

      It should probably be pointed out that this boy went to RBAI – an independent private grammar school with its own admissions system (along with a couple of other grammar schools in Northern Ireland), which has a private prep school that costs £3k+ a year, is a member of the Headmaster’s/mistress’s Conference, does intensive Oxbridge interview coaching, etc., and which regularly sends 10-15 pupils a year over to Oxbridge. Hardly a case of losing out due to going to an under-resourced state school.

    • Joe F. · August 16, 2013

      John, your use of the oft-quoted 7% statistic is a bit misleading: Oxford can only admit those who *apply*, and I’m pretty sure more than 7% of the suitably-qualified applicant pool went to fee-paying schools. This shows Oxford need to do more to encourage kids to apply, not that they are biased in who they admit.

      You also can’t single out this boy. Lots of kids get top grades, certainly more than Oxford has places. And Louise is right, Oxbridge consistently stress in their application literature that three top notch A-Levels is what they look for, and that any more A-Levels than that doesn’t really give you much more of an advantage. Quality over quantity and all that.

  6. Cal Roscow (@calroscow) · August 15, 2013

    Not only did he not get into Oxford, but Louise Mensch then told everyone he wasn’t good enough. Bad day for him!

  7. andalya · August 15, 2013

    Does it not bear mentioning that if the interview is more important than the grades, perhaps an elite or private secondary might be able to better prepare its pupils for those interviews, as opposed to a standard state secondary or college, where even a place in the (now defunct as far as I’m aware) Oxbridge programme didn’t necessarily guarantee you any interview training.

    • Richard Evans · August 15, 2013

      One of my school mates, one if the brightest people I’ve ever met, featured in a programme following the careers of doctors from their university interviews through uni and after qualification.

      I studied English with him for 5 years so was well aware of his love of poetry. The televised interview showed how nervous he was , and the interviewer in the hope of getting him to relax, mentioned the poetry and asked him which poets he liked and why. Unfortunately he was so nervous he couldn’t remember the name of a single poet.

      Now I KNOW he loved poetry and read it in his spare time. But the interviewers did not. And the look on their face after he left the room said they didn’t believe him.

      He flunked the interview, probably because he really, really wanted the place. It could happen to anyone. It may well have happened to the lad from NI.

  8. alexpenyfai · August 15, 2013

    Didn’t some of our brain-free govt go to Oxford? But then I think they went to Eton first then got into Oxford somehow

  9. The Prodigal Bum · August 15, 2013

    Wow. Being told you’re not good enough by third rate chick-lit hack, vanity politician, failed entrepreneur, serial quitter and now, professional spouse. No doubt Mr Herron will be crying all the way to California.

  10. butsurelynot · August 15, 2013

    Louise M got a C in GCSE maths, despite receiving a private education and all the advantages that go with that. There is a good chance that she would not have achieved a C grade had she gone to a mainstream comprehensive with classes of 30+. Without a C in maths many people are limited in their career choices and are unable to access higher education. Louise M should perhaps think herself extremely fortunate indeed.

    • louisemensch · August 15, 2013

      in my O level. Harder.

    • tvstudies · August 15, 2013

      I got a D twice at GCSE in Maths and it hasn’t ever effected my employment one iota.

  11. jsw40 · August 15, 2013

    Apologies for the ineloquence of this but here goes:

    Andalya – the interview allows the Director of Studies and Admissions Tutors to see how a pupil thinks, not just what they know and how polished they are as presenters. Those interviewing have the information on the student’s background and so can then take a subjective view on each applicant’s relative aptitude for Oxbridge and the subject for which they’ve applied. Whilst private/grammar schools complete with Oxbridge Tutors can of course better brief students for interview the coaching they offer cannot instil the “inherent brightness” Oxbridge is looking for (and cannot see in grades when everyone has straight As). I went to an extremely average state school and was the only person that was interviewing at my Cambridge college that day without a suit on (I didn’t own one and it hadn’t even occurred to me to buy one). Everyone there had straight A/A* grades at GCSE and were predicted straight As at A-Level; that’s how we got to interview and the DoS/ATs are supposed to, and want to, see beyond the polish and pick the best students.

    Manicfeetpreacher – I’m not saying there isn’t any sense to your viewpoint. But I had parents who didn’t finish school let alone go to University and I grew up in a council house then on a farm. I had no tutalage nor support whatsoever. But I had ambition and a sense of personal responsibility from a very early age. I worked damn hard, applied myself and never, ever listened when I was told I had ideas “above my station.” I don’t focus on where I come from I focus on where I’m going. I also think focusing on where other people come from is utterly pointless – why go through life with a massive chip on your shoulder over something that can’t be changed? Some people have an easier upbringing than others. That’s not their fault and doesn’t make their own achievements any less impressive nor less a result of hard work and drive than, say, mine.

    I wonder, has anyone done the research to see how privately educated pupils perform at Oxbridge compared to state school counterparts? I ask because I never got the impression that the private school students performed worse whatsoever (i.e. the selectors for places did a good job and admitted great pupils regardless of class).

    Also, exams WERE harder “in Louise’s day”, absolute fact. I sat my A-levels in 2001, I did linear and NOT modular courses and got an easy A in all four of the A-levels I took. For practise we did lots and lots of past papers and there was a marked difference in the quantum and depth of understanding in the curriculum when we did papers from the early 1990s (particularly referring to Chemistry and Maths). I agree interviews are not everything. But when you cannot rely on exam grades to give much of a picture at all then the relative weighting of interview increases. If only 10% students get an A-grade and 2% an A* grade for example then all of a sudden those grades truly mean something.

    • manicfeetpreacher · August 15, 2013

      You could use your argument regarding advantage to say we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport because cheats are still beaten by people with natural talent and the right personality type who don’t cheat.

      • jsw40 · August 15, 2013

        Not really. Sorry to do a bit of a Lance here (!) but to cheat is to act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage – be that in sport or exams or whatever – the key is the word act – it’s something you choose to do unlike the background you have (which may be unfair but it is what is). As for personality type, well that is always going to have a lot to do with who succeeds or doesn’t. In the case of Oxbridge for example there are many, many bright people born with all the advantages in the world that have zero interest in applying to, getting in to and dealing with the intensity of those universities.

      • manicfeetpreacher · August 15, 2013

        To voluntarily accept an advantage in a competition may not be a crime but it is morally questionable and unfair. People who received such advantages may wish to deny it, but it is the case.

  12. Caroline · August 15, 2013

    It’s not that Oxbridge purposely discriminates, but that the entrance system is flawed. Private schools have more resources and better qualified staff to coach their students for interview. Their students are thus the best candidates on the day. I worked hard at my comprehensive school in Salford and have a near spotless academic record. I received some tutoring for my interview, but not nearly as much as the people I was up against from private schools. For instance, one fellow interviewee had a teacher who was a fellow in the subject we were applying for at another college. I don’t believe tutors are actively class-ist, but differentiating between candidates is a really tough job. This is especially marked in arts subjects as opposed to science subjects where it’s easier to test aptitude.

    Ultimately, it all worked out for me and I couldn’t be happier at my university, where I am perhaps better suited as I do many extra-curricular activities. As you suggest, the solution to making Oxbridge entrance fairer is to improve the state education system. That opens a whole other can of worms though!

    • jsw40 · August 15, 2013

      Improving the state education system AND making exams tougher perhaps so you can actually see the difference between good and great in the grades…

  13. David Allen Green · August 15, 2013

    I went to Oxford. And I knew Louise when I was there, vaguely.

    The story I want to share is how I go there. I am from a working-class family. My stepfather still works as a driver. I was brought up on a council estate and (having failed my 11+) I went to a local comprehensive school, where I managed six O-level passes (1 B and six Cs). Not a promising position to be at 16, and I almost did not bother to go and do A-levels.

    I then had the strangest notion. I thought i would go to Oxford. A lecturer also thought I was good enough.

    And so I applied.

    I failed.

    I then got straight As (this was in in 1989, and I was only one of two at my sixth form college to get straight As – now they are a commonplace). I applied again. I got in.

    And then, i didn’t really enjoy it – mainly for social reasons. i was a clumsy fellow with a thick Brummie accent. i was not the sort to fit easily into college life.

    What, if anything, does my story evidence? I think it shows that Oxford can be imaginative and flexible in giving places. But it also shows the extra effort which someone from a comprehensive school background sometimes has to make to even get to an equal starting point. And it shows it is complex – there are no easy answers to the relationship between social class and Oxbridge entrance.

    • louisemensch · August 15, 2013

      very interesting post. What college were you at again? Were you at ChCh?

      • David Allen Green · August 15, 2013

        No, I was at Pembroke, the one overshadowing Ch Ch on St Aldates.

  14. Nick Reid (@Shinsei1967) · August 15, 2013

    Stepping back from arguments about exam grades the question that Mr Prescott fails to deal with is why he thinks Oxbridge admissions tutors evidently favour privately educated students. Has he ever met any Oxbridge admissions tutors ? They are academics. They like other academics. They want to teach undergraduates who are interested in the subject. They no more want a college full of upper class privileged kids than he would.

    • louisemensch · August 15, 2013

      Lord Prescott. He earned it 🙂 – but otherwise you are quite right. Admissions tutors actively prefer state school students; they already put a mental golf handicap on private school applicants.

  15. Anonymous · August 15, 2013

    There are undoubtedly a number of factors that prevent the less well off from Oxbridge entry. Larger class sizes, peer pressure and lack of education of parents are all examples of how it becomes difficult for a young person to not just ‘stand out’ but WANT to stand out. It is quite well known that NQT’s first posts are often in poor performing schools. This does not detriment from the work they do, but it is difficult, when a NQT is ‘learning the ropes’ on their first teaching job to manage pupils whom many will have an umbrella of social exclusion problems. Most NQT’s believe they will end up working in a school like that. The curriculum does not allow for the great breadth of knowledge that would allow pupils to be well rounded within a subject and perhaps find something they can truly master. Everything is designed for the teacher to teach pupils just what they need to know to pass their exams, making the school appear more successful. But who are we all to questions what our young people need to know.
    However, when I applied for university, I was asked to attend interview to ensure that I was a good fit for the course and I liked the course content, tutors et cetera. This was certainly a more successful method of choosing students than just an academic record. A number of factors in ALL schools and ALL pupils can determine the grades and do not necessarily reflect the person’s academic aptitude. I virtually flunked my A-Levels and got a great degree grade. People with all A grades may lack other skills, like common sense. It is the whole of the person, not just their academic record that should be taken into consideration.

  16. peterjukes · August 15, 2013

    Fascinating conversation. I’ll just add this about how things have changed in the last thirty years.

    I got into Cambridge, like David, the second time in the early 80s, from a pretty humble background and state school route. In those days the proportion of state school undergraduates seemed to be increasing, and those from posh public schools liked to hide the fact.

    My son has just graduated from Oxford (he was one of two kids to go to Oxbridge from his London comprehensive. He tells me that, compared to the meritocratic values still in place in the 80s, public school values (the dominance of Eton etc and dropping of names) is suffocating and repressive.

    Where the inequality was once embarrassing – it’s now glorified in

  17. charlesstokes · August 15, 2013

    My daughter went to Oxford after a fee paying day school. She had many friends from state schools when she was there. They all maintain there is an “Oxford type” not so much to do with class, but more resilience, independent mindedness and self confidence. This usually comes from the home, not only school, and from all “classes” of school. As for Academies, as has been said that was Andrew Adonis’ idea. All that Gove is doing is getting on with it. Something Tories are rather better at than Labour wingers.

  18. charlesstokes · August 15, 2013

    Meant “all classes of,home (not school). Sorry.

  19. vanoord · August 15, 2013

    The problem with education in the UK is the strange belief that everyone should be given the same “opportunities”, regardless of what they’ve achieved.

    Thankfully universities are able to decide who they let in, but the pressure to socially engineer their intake results in a system that will occasionally mean that someone who is very capable doesn’t get it.

    My wife (state school educated and a Cambridge graduate) rails against those who accuse Oxford and Cambridge of being ‘elitist’ – because that’s what they’re meant to be: they’re meant to be the best; and they have to be elitist to be the best.

    The trouble that ensuring “opportunity for all” creates is that stand-out achievement is no longer as important: if everyone should have the same “opportunities” in life and not be held back by poor grades (or social background), then why bother trying to be better than everyone else if it won’t help you to grasp those opportunities?

  20. Vincent De Silva · August 15, 2013

    When my son was he eleven. We both failed at the interview stage for entrance to a renowned secondary school. It had nothing to do with his abiity, he was wiping the floor with his teachers at chess at six years of age, his mathematical skills were a joy. I truly believe it was background that sealed his fate. The irony is he was recommended to the school by the teachers who couldn’t beat him on a chessboard. Great Britain in 1991.

  21. Eilis · August 15, 2013

    The student in question was a pupil at Royal Belfast Academical Institute which is as close to an independent school as you’ll get in Northern Ireland. From its website I see that two other pupils are going to Oxford. Its principal is an Oxford graduate. Nolan’s an Old Boy, I think he turned down his Cambridge place.

  22. Alison Charlton (@chuzzlit) · August 15, 2013

    When I got my ‘O’ levels, way back in the mists of time, I had no idea an Oxford entrance exam existed. I found out later that most pupils at the private school up the road were prepped for it. Even university was barely mentioned at the state school I attended.

    Things have moved on since then, thank God. Schools have got better at encouraging pupils to go to university, and Oxford and Cambridge have gone the extra mile in getting state students to apply.

    I eventually went to the University of London – after working so I could afford to go, and studying ‘A’ levels part time. They offered me a slightly lower grade – as a result of my background, my interview, and my self-study, I think.

    I agree A* aren’t everything. I had lower grades than some other students, but finally achieved a first. As it happens, I then applied and was accepted at Oxford as a postgraduate.

    I would never have dreamed of applying to Oxford or Cambridge at 17, we were given the impression it wasn’t ‘for us’ and I certainly had no option to take an entrance exam.

  23. omnishamble · August 15, 2013

    Dear Louise,

    I am one of your former constituents, I have to protest against your misrepresentation of Corby’s educational achievements under Labour.

    Your claim that 40% of residents had no qualifications in 2001 comes with a substantial caveat. As your readers can see here, those statistics are for everyone between the ages of 16 and 74. That means the vast majority of those recorded were educated before New Labour came to power. The starting range of these statistics is therefore 1927. Until 1980 Corby, as you know, was a steel town with very low levels of higher educational attainment. It would not be until the mid 1990s and early 2000s (under both the Major and Blair administrations) that access to university was opened up and access to higher education in the town increased. Though it ought to be noted that it remains an industrial and service oriented town where vocational education is more common than academic (for example it is notable for its higher than average number of qualified mechanics).

    As a former pupil for Lodge Park Technology College, one of the town’s schools that you have forgotten to mention, I believe the follow statistics from 2003 better demonstrate the success of many of Corby’s schools, not just Brooke Weston.While that school was and continues to be very successful thanks, as you said, to Labour in government, it was not the only one that produced good results for its pupils. You have also forgotten to mention the new facilities at Kingswood, Lodge Park built with government money and replacement of the Community College with the very successful Corby Business Academy, all began under Labour.

    Here are the figures for A* to G grades in Corby’s schools in 2003:
    Brooke Weston CTC 100%
    Corby Community College 67%
    The Kingswood School 94%
    Lodge Park Technology College 96%
    Our Ladies & Pope John 86%

    Your disparaging of the town and the success of its people is disheartening and unwarranted.

    Best wishes,

    Lee Butcher.

  24. Lee Butcher · August 15, 2013

    Dear Louise,

    I am one of your former constituents.

    Your comments regarding Corby’s educational achievements requires further comment.

    The statistics you cite, claiming that 40% of residents did not qualifications, as evidence of Labour’s failings require a substantial clarification. As your readers can see in the link below, those statistics include everyone from the age of 16 to 74. The data range therefore begins with those born in 1927, which we can all agree involves those educated before Labour to came to power in 1997. Indeed, only only those aged between 16-20 can be said to have been educated during Labour’s time in office up to 2001. Therefore the data features a majority, those aged between 22-74 whose educational achievements cannot be said to be the fault of Tony Blair’s government.

    It is worth bearing in mind why older range groups may have had less higher educational achievements. This is largely explained by the social and economy developments of the twentieth centuries that saw Corby as become a one company industrial town which employed immigrants and the children of first generation immigrants. As any history of the working class between 1927 and 1990s will tell you higher education was largely unavailable throughout that period for the people of Corby. It would not be until the reforms began under John Major and significantly expanded under Tony Blair that saw that change.

    I must also protest against your characterisation of Corby’s schools. Brooke Weston is and was a very successful school, and rightly so. That was, as you said, due to Labour in government. However there also other schools that delivered good results for their pupils. I attended Lodge Park Technology College between 1998 and 2005 and I can attest first hand to the hard work of the staff and the the benefit that education afforded me; a good degree from an ancient university in Scotland and in graduate employment since graduating.

    Here you can see the statistics from 2003 to compare against your previous statement about low educational attaintment in 2001. As you will see, while there was certainly room for improvement (which was provided by new facilities at Lodge Park, rebuilding of Kingswood and the replacement of Pope John and Corby Community College with the very successful Corby Business Academy) they were certainly not the educational basket cases that you alluded to.

    There are the 2003 statistics of Corby’s schools attaining A*-G grades:
    Brooke Weston CTC 100%
    Corby Community College 67%
    The Kingswood School 94%
    Lodge Park Technology College 96%
    Our Ladies & Pope John 86%
    You can see the full statistics here:

    I think it is clear that your view of education in Britain is skewed entirely towards those who are privately educated, from middle class backgrounds and who attend Oxbridge. Your view is entirely divorced from the experience of the vast majority of Britain’s young people.

    I think this is disappointed, and I think a place you spent two years representing parliament required a better appreciation from yourself.

    Yours sincerely,

    Lee Butcher.

  25. Lee Butcher · August 15, 2013

    Dear Louise,

    I am one of your former constituents.

    Your comments regarding Corby’s educational achievements requires further comment.

    The statistics you cite, claiming that 40% of residents did not attain qualifications, as evidence of Labour’s failings, requires a substantial clarification. As your readers can see in the link below, those statistics include everyone from the age of 16 to 74. The data range therefore begins with those born in 1927, which we can all agree involves those educated before Labour to came to power in 1997. Indeed, only only those aged between 16-20 can be said to have been educated during Labour’s time in office up to 2001. Therefore the data features a majority, those aged between 22-74, whose educational achievements cannot be said to be the fault of Tony Blair’s government.

    It is worth bearing in mind why older groups may have had fewer higher educational achievements. This is largely explained by the social and economic developments of the twentieth century that saw Corby become a one company industrial town. As any history of the working class between 1927 and 1990s will tell you higher education was largely unavailable throughout that period (Grammar schools noted as an exception). It would not be until the reforms to expand university entrance which began under John Major and significantly expanded under Tony Blair that saw that change.

    I must also protest against your characterisation of Corby’s schools. Brooke Weston is and was a very successful school, and rightly so. That was, as you said, due to Labour in government. However there are also other schools that deliver good results for their pupils. I attended Lodge Park Technology College between 1998 and 2005 and I can attest first hand to the hard work of the staff and the benefit that education afforded me; a good degree from an ancient university in Scotland and in graduate employment since graduating.

    Here you can see the statistics from 2003 to compare against your previous statement about low educational attainment in 2001. As you will see, while there was certainly room for improvement (which was partly provided by new facilities at Lodge Park, rebuilding of Kingswood and the replacement of Pope John and Corby Community College with the very successful Corby Business Academy) they were certainly not the educational basket cases that you alluded to.

    There are the 2003 statistics of Corby’s schools attaining A*-G grades:
    Brooke Weston CTC 100%
    Corby Community College 67%
    The Kingswood School 94%
    Lodge Park Technology College 96%
    Our Ladies & Pope John 86%
    You can see the full statistics here:

    I think it is clear that your view of education in Britain is skewed entirely towards those who are privately educated, from middle class backgrounds and who attend Oxbridge. Your view is entirely divorced from the experience of the vast majority of Britain’s young people.

    I think this is disappointed, and I think a place you spent two years representing parliament required a better appreciation from yourself.

    Yours sincerely,

    Lee Butcher.

    • louisemensch · August 15, 2013

      You are misleading, Lee. Why are you citing A*-G? In the hope some might read your G as a C?
      Brooke Weston – the Academy – got 99% at A-C.
      Our Lady and Pope John got 15%. FIFTEEN PERCENT!
      Kingswood and Lodge Park did a little better, but still they both had about a half to a third of all pupils failing to reach 5 C-grade GCSEs. That is not something to be proud of. That is terrible, disastrous, and appalling, and a true failing of Corby’s motivated and bright young children by an abominably bad LEA and set of schools. It was the influence of Brooke Weston and the change to Academies and more freedoms that began the educational revolution in Corby.

      Even then, the local borough council tried to stop Corby’s new Free School, with its much-needed vocational specialism, from opening. I was proud that after it was inititally turned down by an official I personally took the head and the group to meet ministers and got that decision reversed – and now those Corby youngsters who shine in vocational technical skills have a wonderful new option open to them.

      Lee, having schools where only 57%, or 15%, or 14% of the children can graduate with 5 GCSEs at a C or above is not “good” and not “OK”. It is disastrous. And that was Labour’s horrible record in Corby schools until Andrew Adonis’s much needed, Tory backed, education reforms.

      • Samuel Mack-Poole · August 18, 2013

        Louise: if a school gets good grades, you seem to instantly say, “Grade inflation!”

        However, if a school gets poor grades, “The school was rubbish!”

        You can’t have it both ways. Also, just like all of your Tory chums, you’ve turned that Biblical blind eye to Finland’s education system. I feel as if a Tory did say it, they would burst into flames. Scotland has embraced a more holistic education system, whilst England embarrasses itself over grades. Either we want exam to be more rigorous, or we want more children attaining 5 A-Cs, including English and maths. You can’t have it both ways.

        If Gove was really ballsy, instead of just a gentleman rapper with an OCD for grammar, he would go in for a percentage approach, like with IQ tests. The top 10% get an A*, the second 10% get an A, and so on and so forth. This would ensure no grade inflation was possible, and it would ensure that society was more realistic about the potential of its citizens.

  26. Lee Butcher · August 15, 2013

    I was not misleading, since I included a link to the relevant statistics. I felt it was important to include the figures for all grades, not just the best. I note that you did not provide the source for the statistics for your 40% claim, which I note you have not attempted to defend.

    The two schools who were performing worse at the top range of grades were closed and replaced by Corby Business Academy, a Labour policy which did not find many friends among Conseratives on Corby Borough or Northants County Councils.

    I think your disparaging of the results of Corby’s other schools is unwarranted. The difference between their results and Brooke Weston is because the former has selective entrance requirements and chooses many pupils from outside Corby with the best SAT grades. Lodge Park and Kingswood were required to teach a much more varied range of educational abilities, within a much more limited catchment area, and so could not focus their resources entirely on those with high grades. It is this selection that skews Brooke Weston’s results upwards. As one of those that sat their GCSEs in 2003 at a Corby school I think your catergorisation of ‘disasterous’ is without merit.

    The Free School is an interesting point to raise. As was made clear at the time school funding was withheld from Lodge Park and Kingswood in order to fund the Free School. The existing educational infrastructure was jeopardised in order to support an experiment. This was done by the Conservative administration on Northants County Council, encouraged by Gove in Whitehall and yourself.

    Your skewed view seems to exist without reference to the teaching efforts of Corby’s teachers and the experience of Corby’s pupils. Many of whom have gone on to university and have achieved significant academic results and career success.

    • louisemensch · August 15, 2013

      Lee, the statistics are the statistics. It was the same team from Brooke Weston who founded the Business Academy – as you should know – and got similar results – and as you also should know, Labour locally were virulently opposed to the opening of Brooke Weston, campaigning against it so that its catchment area was slightly widened, still Corby-based. I do not praise teachers who gave Corby children such abominable results as 14% of them getting just FIVE GCSEs at even a C grade. Time you stuck up for pupils and children.

      As we know there has been a massive renaissance and revival in Corby schools, led by Sir Peter Simpson, for whose knighthood I campaigned and wrote in support. I was so proud bringing David Cameron to Brooke Weston and Michael Gove to the Business Academy, to see what the Academy approach had done for the EXACT SAME group of pupils who were being failed at those disastrous and now closed schools. What a transformation – what a validation of the Academies and Free Schools approach. Corby children deserved better and the Conservatives gave it to them – because, as you should also know, Academies were bitterly opposed by most Labour MPs and only passed into law with the votes of David Cameron and the Tories.

      • Lee Butcher · August 15, 2013

        There is one thing that anyone familiar with statistics will tell you; they are anything but straightforward. All statistics require interpretation to understand and rarely divulge the reasons for their appearance without further analysis.

        Brooke Weston is a selective school, as you know. It is therefore a logical conclusion that selecting a high proportion of student who have the higher grades before they enter secondary school will mean they will have a much higher proportion of high grade students at the end of secondary school compared to those who cannot select. It is also logical to conclude that schools that cannot select and must accommodate students with more educational challenges at the beginning of secondary school will have a higher proportion of lower graded students at the end of it. This is reinforced by the ability of selective schools to focus resources on achieving high grades, further skewing the grades. The achievements of secondary schools (Kingswood and Lodge Park) to get the majority of their students to the end of their schooling with high grades in fact should be supported, not derided.

        As you well know ‘Corby based’ is not the same as accepting a majority of Corby based students. We know that Brooke Weston selects many who reside in the more affluent countryside outside of the town. The success of Corby Business Academy is tremendous and that was started under Labour. Your arrival and support occurred long after the process was underway.

        You focus on the worst examples (which Labour replaced), however Lodge Park and Kingswood, who could not select the high achievers but provided services to the whole community, with fewer resources, achieved very good results. My own experience provides a qualitative support for this view, as do those I went to school with.

        The renaissance you speak of did happen, and it happened because of the work of Phil Hope and the Labour government. The local Conservatives failed to support these changes. The only addition made by this government is the Free School, whose creation denied funds to Lodge Park and Kingswood causing them a great deal of recent problems.

  27. Big t · August 15, 2013

    Brooke Weston a Corby school ? i was always under the impression it took pupils in from most of the surrounding area. and not just Corby . Any idea where i could find the exact % of Corby kids who went there each year since it first opened ?

    I believe all our kids deserve an equal education there should be no second best.

    • Samuel Mack-Poole · August 18, 2013

      Big T, if you believe there should be no second best, that makes you a true socialist. I guess you would support the eradication of private schools?

  28. Patricia · August 15, 2013

    I certainly agree that the well-roundedness of 7 A* doesn’t necessarily mean much when considered for entrance to a highly specialised and focused educational program. However, I’m at a loss to understand how that highly specialised degree somehow qualifies someone for a career outside his or her field of specialty, or to run something more general.

  29. Anonymous · August 15, 2013

    Prescott has a huge chip on his shoulders, and an ignoramus like him made it to the House of Lords – God help us, it proves that anyone can make it in life.
    I have not had the privilege of going to a University, and I believe Prescott when to Cambridge,
    but what I do know is: qualifications contribute towards acceptance, but it is how the student interacts that counts, ie thinking logically “out of the box”.
    But lets not forget Prescott is now a “has been” and needs to get into the news headlines.
    He is one of many who have exploited the working classes, to get into the House of Lords, which makes him one fat hypocrite – who has a thick skin.

  30. Anonymous · August 15, 2013

    I am not anonymous – I am

  31. Terry · August 15, 2013

    Wow, what an interesting piece!

    I didn’t really know anything about going to college or university as my parents were uneducated and my school teachers didn’t think I was capable of anything and quite rightly as I really wasn’t pushed or applied myself, my highest grade an D.

    But now at 35 I earn a sensible amount(60k) and have learned that I will be pushing my children all the way, do I think they have a chance at Oxford or Cambridge? Of course they will irrespective of what school they attend.

    Piers Morgan would have a field day in here correcting spelling right/write tut tut lord(I won’t take it John)

    That is all from this uneducated man :0)

  32. Anonymous · August 15, 2013

    As a current undergraduate at Merton College, I’d like to point out that both the university, and Merton itself, do a huge amount of Access work to encourage applications from students from less privileged backgrounds (do have a look at the Access videos on Merton’s website for a better idea). Comments such as Prescott’s only serve to damage those efforts, and further discourage potential applicants.

    I came to Merton as a first year student in 2011, with 3 A’s. No one in my family had been to any sort of university, let alone Oxbridge, and my state school did very little to prepare me for the interview process. The girl that went into the interview room before me had parents who were barristers, far better exam results, and a fantastic education from Cheltenham Ladies. She was rejected, and I got an offer.

    Of the current Chemistry students at Merton, one in particular attended a very poorly performing comprehensive school, and her parents only moved to the UK 5 or so years ago, with little to no grasp of English. I’d love an explanation as to how this could possibly demonstrate elitism.

    Two years into my degree, I remain convinced that the only factor preventing state school students from obtaining places at Oxford, is the poor quality of teaching we receive. Of course, the Conservative party’s genius idea to introduce a £9000 a year fee doesn’t really do much to help prevent notions of elitism.

    The GCSE and A-Level system allows students to perform very well simply by memorising facts from a text book or learning default question types from a mark scheme, making it relatively easy for anyone who’s reasonably bright and hard-working to achieve lots of A’s and A*s, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, the Oxford interview, and indeed degree, focuses entirely on what is beyond the mark scheme and text book; indeed, in my interview, my tutor continued asking questions until he hit upon something I didn’t understand or hadn’t ever heard of, and was only interested in seeing how I could think and apply myself in that situation. In this way, every applicant is tested equally, regardless of how well or how much they have already been taught.

    Anyway, rather than getting upset about Alastair Herron, why not speak to one of the 80 or so students that confirmed their place at Merton today, who, God forbid, might even have been to a state school too.

    • Tori · March 9, 2017

      Everyone should be Team Conan. If only because Leno has the business ethics and integrity of those guys who sell knockoff handbags in Choaotnwn.Alsi, he’s horribly unfunny.

    • So true! A dull pencil in one bag and a sharpener in another could constitute a very deadly weapon, as could a dozen other everyday objects. The plastic sword is a perfect red herring. I long for the day where TSA incorporates the notion of case-by-case intelligent analysis in its internal SOPs.

    • auto insureance in Peru, IL · June 7, 2017

      its annoying – as i have my wee vpn setup from the office to azure just fine with my draytek. That doesnt support BGP which you need for amazon though. Maybe time to try rackspace…jeez.

  33. Ancien Regime · August 15, 2013

    I was a Merton man. Privately educated, but at a college that even in 1997 was >50% state intake. I asked my tutors about this very subject. Their answer was very clear, very simple: once candidates were in the room for interview nothing but their answers had any bearing on their decisions. It was truly meritocratic.

    Arguments about privileged education, etc, to the point of application merit more stringent debate.

    I received no coaching for the interview process, but then again I can spell “write”.

  34. Anonymous · August 16, 2013

    Universities will always aim to admit the best candidates – not only those who have performed well in the past and show promise for the future, but also those who tutors want to work with (Oxbridge) or who will make a significant contribution to the community (US). It cannot be denied that those from higher income brackets will have had many advantages and will most often make better candidates because of this. In the US most successful state school applicants to the Ivies are from areas with high property values where high taxes fund good state schools with high powered career departments offering lots of support in the application process. In the UK, most successful state school applicants to Oxbridge are from selective grammars. What’s the solution? Continued support for state schools – at the very least, resources and trained staff to motivate students to apply and guide them through the process. But after all that, the fact is that applying to an elite university is a highly competitive gambit. There are far more highly qualified candidates chasing places then there were in Prescott’s day, or even in the 90s. Thousands of top applicants are rejected; it’s a stressful and emotional process for the students and for parents. And there is no typical profile for any rejected or successful applicant. A case in point: my child received scholarship and bursary to large, selective private school, hovered in top 5% of the class in all subjects, rejected from Cambridge, but accepted at Oxford the next year and graduated with a first. Lower income, private school, top grades, rejected from one uni, a first from another.

  35. Anonymous · August 16, 2013

    I don’t think this is wholly a class debate, nor should class be the pertinent issue here. It is well-established and agreed upon that, through their interview system, the Oxbridge universities only accept ‘their’ type of people with the right ‘type of intelligence’. Whilst what this is is ambiguous (indeed this criterion is probably code to indirectly judge people on their class), class (mostly determined by wealth and background) is theoretically separate from this regardless of whether you believe this to be the case in practice (and recent figures show more and more lower class students are being accepted).

    The REAL issue here is, by only accepting ‘their’ type of people, Oxbridge universities are not supporting the diversity of minds and intelligence. This juxtaposes the creative element in education and in really pushing the knowledge boundary forward, which in turn does not serve the country well in the global race. As this boy shows, there are other elite institutions around the world willing to embrace such diversity, and ironically, in my opinion Oxbridge’s adherence to their anarchic admission system (not used across the board in any other UK university, or US for that matter) will one day be their downfall. Yes, these institutions have survived for a long time, but the education sector has been much more competitive in recent times with more university entrants than ever – my worry is Oxbridge may soon find itself obsolete.

    N.B. I come from a working class background and have several friends from similar backgrounds that have attended Oxbridge. I attended an “elite” university and whilst their was no class issue per se, several years after graduating my parents are still getting letters asking them to donate to the institution (we’ve never donated)!

  36. Pingback: Results, and the annual ‘Oxbridge Elitism’ debate | Joe Donlan
  37. Wajb · August 28, 2013


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s