If Education Minister Chris Hipkins is overcome by an urge to join his cabinet colleagues in overseas travel but doesn’t have a good reason, we suggest he visits a state school in one of London’s poorest boroughs.
Forty-one of this school’s students have been offered a place at Oxford and Cambridge this year.
This rivals the admission rates of some of the top-performing private schools across the UK, according to the BBC
Brampton Manor is a state school in Newham in east London.
Nearly all of the students who received Oxbridge offers are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds; two-thirds will be the first in their families to attend university.
Half of them are on free school meals.
Dorcas Shodeinde, aged 17, who has been in care since she was 14, has received an offer to study Law at Oxford university.
“When I was put in care because of family difficulties all I knew was that statistically care leavers don’t do very well,” she says. “But I wanted to prove that it’s not the end of the world and show my foster-sister that you can change the outcome of negative experiences.”
Only 6% of young people leaving care attend university.
Lydia Khechine, 18, who travels for up to two hours a day to the school, has an offer to study history and politics at the University of Oxford.
She fled Algeria, arrived in the UK alone when she was 12 and unable to speak English. She now lives with her older sister.
She says participating in inter-school debating competitions has helped boost her confidence.
“A lot of people filter themselves out of the Oxbridge process because they don’t think they belong,” she says.
“But the truth is people from unconventional backgrounds like mine do have the potential and it’s about reassuring ourselves that we have a voice.”
Rama Rustom, 17, who came to the UK as a refugee from Saudi Arabia in 2013, says women in her culture women are traditionally told not to pursue education.”
She now holds an offer for English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.
“My first language is Arabic – lots of people outside of school said I couldn’t do it, but my teachers always believed in me.”
The BBC report says Brampton Manor opened its sixth form in 2012, with the aim of transforming the progression rates of disadvantaged students to the UK’s top universities.
At the entrance of the school, on bold laminated plaques, are lists of names of every former student to have attended university.
The photos of its Oxbridge students are also displayed in multiple places across the school.
The students say part of their motivation is seeing the faces of these former Brampton pupils who received Oxbridge offers on the school walls.
In 2014, only one student received an offer. Last year, 25 students received offers from Oxford and Cambridge.
This year’s 41 offers, which are conditional on the students getting the grades, is a new record.
“Every student here goes to university,” says Sam Dobin, the director of sixth form, who has worked at Brampton Manor since it opened.
“We have a very traditional approach with no gimmicks or shortcuts.“
The school buys every student their own textbooks to encourage independent study.
It does not rely on supply teachers (substitute teachers who teach a school class when the regular teacher is unavailable).
It does have an in-house team of five Oxbridge graduates solely dedicated to university access.
The school also has a study centre open from 6am until 7.30pm.
Dobin says this centre is always staffed and many students choose to work there until the school closes.
“This is where we choose to invest the money we receive from the pupil premium,” he adds, referring to the additional funding given to state schools in England to help bridge the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
“But the key is to keep telling your students that they’re capable, that they’re good enough.
“We need to shake off the idea that Oxford and Cambridge are just for an ‘elite’ couple of students and encourage everyone to apply.”
The sixth form, which is oversubscribed, annually accepts 300 students, who are interviewed before being offered a place.
Dobin predicts at least 100 of the current cohort will apply to Oxford or Cambridge this September and expects at least 50 offers.
Executive Principal Dr Dayo Olukoshi says there is a huge talent within the black, Asian and minority ethnic community.
‘With self-belief, with determination, with the added support of school and home and the community – there is no ceiling to what you can achieve.
‘We are expecting in the years to come that yet more students will win places in prestigious universities,’ he told Sky News.
Come to think of it, Hipkins doesn’t have to travel to London to learn the school’s recipe for success. He could pick up a phone and have a chat with the principal and key teachers.
It seems he will find getting disadvantaged kids to university is largely a matter of common sense.
Oh, and Hipkins most certainly should try to shake off the ideological monkey on his back – the one that had him close down charter schools before they had been able to demonstrate their worth as alternatives to state schools.
In the aftermath of their closures, we can only conjecture on what they might have achieved.