The impact of COVID-19 on GCSEs and A-levels continues to have far-reaching implications for everyone applying to Oxford. Consequently we are regularly reviewing our contextual data policy.
The University of Oxford is looking for students with the highest academic potential, from different backgrounds. We know that factors such as socio-economic disadvantage and school performance can make it difficult for you to access your full potential before applying to university. Therefore, we use a range of contextual data to help us to better understand your achievements in the context of your individual background.
For UK students applying for an undergraduate course, we look at:
- Information about your school
- Information about your neighbourhood
- Any experience in the care system
- Eligibility for Free School Meals (FSM) since age 11
- Additional Widening Participation (WP) information
Further details on each of the above can be found on this webpage. Further details about Opportunity Oxford eligibility criteria and Astrophoria Foundation Year criteria are available via the respective webpages.
This information helps us to understand more about your particular circumstances and to compare you fairly with other applicants. Applicants from the most disadvantaged backgrounds will be strongly recommended to be shortlisted for interview, provided that evidence suggests you are likely to achieve the standard conditional offer for the course, and that you perform to a suitable standard in any required admissions test. In this way, we aim to give students from the most challenging backgrounds the opportunity to showcase your potential through the interview and admissions testing.
For all students who are living in the UK when they apply to Oxford and who have been educated in the UK secondary school system, we consider:
1. Information about your school
This helps us to understand the whole school context in which you have achieved your grades. To do this, we access the following information from the Department for Education in England or, where available, equivalent data from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales:
- The performance of your school or college at GCSE.
- Your attainment at GCSE compared to GCSE attainment at your school or college.
- The performance of your school or college at A-level or equivalent level.
- The percentage of students eligible for free school meals at your school or college at GCSE or equivalent level.
2. Information about your neighbourhood
We use your home postcode to consider the environment in which you were raised and educated in order to understand any factors which may have influenced your upbringing and opportunities. To do this, we use two data sets which are publicly available and widely used:
- ACORN - a measure of socio-economic disadvantage in a given area.
- POLAR4 - a measure showing the number of students participating in higher education in a particular area.
POLAR quintiles are calculated by dividing the number of young people in local areas who enter higher education aged 18 or 19, by the overall young population in those areas. You can check which POLAR4 quintile your home postcode comes under on the Office for Students website.
3. Any experience in the care system
If you have been in the care system, we realise that you will have faced high levels of disruption to your education. Therefore, you will automatically be identified as being within the most disadvantaged group of applicants. This means that you will be strongly recommended to be shortlisted for interview, provided that evidence suggests you are likely to achieve the standard conditional offer for the course, and that you perform to a suitable standard in any required admissions test. Throughout the application process, our tutors will keep in mind influencing factors which may have negatively impacted on your accomplishments.
We obtain care status information from the UCAS application in the first instance, and will later verify this.
Time spent in care may involve some amount of time:
- living with foster carers under an official Local Authority Care Order (formal care);
- living in residential care such as a children's home (formal care);
- being looked after at home under a supervision order (formal care);
- living with relatives or friends, either under a special guardianship order (formal care), or without local authority support through an informal arrangement (informal kinship care).
4. Free School Meals (FSM) eligibility
If you are flagged as FSM eligible, you will automatically be identified as being within the most disadvantaged group of applicants. This means that you will be strongly recommended to be shortlisted for interview, provided that evidence suggests you are likely to achieve the conditional offer for your course, and that you perform to a suitable standard in any required admissions test.
FSM eligibility data for English, Northern Irish and Welsh applicants is provided by the relevant educational authorities via UCAS. More information about the data provided can be found on UCAS's website. For Scotland the equivalent FSM eligibility data will be sought and verified by the University, until we receive it directly.
5. Additional Widening Participation (WP) information
New Widening Participation (WP) questions will be added to the UCAS application form for the 2023 UCAS cycle. These questions, as for UCAS's other contextual information questions, will be for applicants living in the UK. The questions will be optional for applicants but are designed to help universities better understand applicants' background and provide support when considering applications.
The University will take this additional information into consideration when reviewing your individual circumstances and our tutors will keep in mind influencing factors which may have negatively impacted on your accomplishments.