How do you encourage more children from underprivileged backgrounds to claim a place at some of the country’s most prestigious universities? Well, you’d think the answer would be obvious, wouldn’t you? Forget your humble background, throw yourself into your studies and work your socks off. If you work hard enough, then you’ll eventually reap the rewards. However, it seems that for one inner London Sixth Form College grit and determination is not enough: it’s gone that extra mile to ensure that its pupils can reach for the stars without fear or intimidation, and spent £10,000 recreating the study of an Oxford Don, complete with oak panelling, leather-bound books and a fine-looking chesterfield sofa. Why you may wonder? Well, it’s simple – apparently. It’s to ensure that its young students will feel comfortable and at ease should they ever have to attend an interview at either Oxford or Cambridge.
Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney didn’t just stop with the leather chesterfield sofa or the chandeliers either: it went the whole hog and made over the garden too, decorating it with replica classical statues of Julius Caesar and a Parthenon frieze. Now some may view this expenditure as unnecessary, even frivolous, but there is a point to it according to Headmaster, Ken Warman. He claimed that it will encourage more children from disadvantaged backgrounds apply for places at prestigious institutions:
‘If you go to Oxford it is a daunting experience. But if our students have already done it, they will be much more able to cope without being thrown by the unfamiliar surroundings. The pupils here really like it and are wowed every time they step inside because it’s something different to what they usually see, especially with all the books around the room and the cosy atmosphere.’
Well, they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so, has it worked? Have more students applied for and been given places at Oxford, Cambridge or Durham? Well, the short answer is no. It appears that a familiarity with books and traditional chesterfield sofas doesn’t automatically breed success. Figures from Brooke College reveal 319 students went to university last year, with 75 per cent of them the first in their family to do so. However, only one student went on to Oxford.
Still, the effort and commitment should be applauded we guess. It might not have proved to be an instant success, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the longer term. If students need further encouragement then they should take heart from the history of the chesterfield sofa. It wasn’t perhaps such a roaring success when it was first created, but just look at it now: the classic chesterfield settee is now iconic. As they say; if at first you don’t succeed, then – well you know the rest.