Understanding Experiences of High Achieving Sixth-form Students Through the Oxbridge Application Process.

WINDLE, Damian (2023). Understanding Experiences of High Achieving Sixth-form Students Through the Oxbridge Application Process. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00600


This thesis seeks to understand the experiences and decision-making processes of a distinct sixth form student cohort of high achievers based in a sixth form college in the North West of England. These students are identified as having gained seven grade 7s at GCSE upon entry to the college and are therefore placed on a separate pastoral programme known for the purposes of this study as the STAR cohort. Being a pastoral manager of the STAR cohort, I have witnessed the students hopes and disappointments in applying to elite universities and was conscious that studies of such groups remained an under-researched and under-theorised area of study (Mendick and Francis 2012). Therefore, this thesis seeks to understand this lived experience of being a high achieving student, shining a light on their preparation and decision making in applying to Oxford and Cambridge universi6es and also documenting and explaining how their understanding is informed. Undertaking research during the Covid-19 pandemic and utilising ethnographic techniques of interviews and focus groups informed by Bourdieusian field theory, this thesis finds the experience of these students to be one of pressure with a systema6c and relentless focus on grades. In addition, the student experience of applying to elite universities was often an obscuration: lacking transparency and clarity at each stage of the process and more akin to an arbitrary game of chance than a fair process. The STAR cohort felt that they bore full responsibility for any failure during the application process, resulting in low confidence and a sense of being a hesitant underdog. Moreover, the research suggests that the move to online interviewing and online Widening Participation programmes by Oxbridge post-lockdown only intensified this obscuration of the application process. Therefore, this thesis will contribute a fresh understanding in explaining the experience of being a high achieving sixth form student and will also address potential issues in the application process for how students in England apply to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Thus, this study will be of use to teachers and educators in the post-16 sector and stakeholders and admissions tutors involved in the Oxbridge application process.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Pountney, Richard [0000-0002-5672-0811]
Thesis advisor - Mccaig, Colin [0000-0003-4364-5119]
Additional Information: Director of Studies - Dr Richard Pountney Supervisor- Prof Colin McCaig
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00600
Depositing User: Justine Gavin
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2024 14:40
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2024 02:01
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/33552

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