Former Welsh secretary and Oxford graduate Paul Murphy is now tasked with getting more Welsh students into Oxford and Cambridge universities, as figures show the numbers accepted from comprehensive schools is falling.
Mr Murphy, who was appointed by the Welsh government last month, believes that as fewer teachers are Oxbridge graduates compared with 40 years ago, a fear of elitism is now holding pupils back. The MP for Torfaen is also concerned the Welsh Baccalaureate (WBQ) might also be putting students at a disadvantage.
“I’m sure there’s lots of youngsters who would like to go but don’t know how to go about it,” he said. “It’s getting rid of the fear of the perceived elitism.”
Teaching unions say teachers strive for the best for their pupils but admit the Oxbridge admissions process is not always their top priority.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, who attended both Oxford and Cambridge, said: “Schools will welcome help in negotiating the pathways that lead to Oxford and Cambridge but I also hope that Mr Murphy will challenge both universities to do better in attracting state school pupils.”
The latest figures show the number of pupils from comprehensive schools in Wales going on to Oxbridge has fallen from 96 in 2008 to 76 in 2012. The number of students going from Wales’s independent schools has remained stable.
One reason cited by admissions staff for the fall in numbers was concerns over the WBQ. Aside from questions of quality on a practical level, it is only compulsory for students to take two A levels alongside the WBQ while Oxbridge expects students to have studied three subjects at A level.
A Welsh government spokesman said: “We are in the process of revising our WBQ to add rigour and ensure that it is robust and fit-for-purpose.”
Mr Murphy, who has written to the vice-chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge, added: “Admission tutors should do their utmost to admit those with greater potential over those with greater polish.”
Both universities held a joint conference in Swansea for students and say they have been working hard to attract Welsh pupils.