Contextual data | University of Oxford

Contextual data

The University of Oxford is looking for students with the highest academic potential, regardless of background. We know that factors such as socio-economic disadvantage and school performance can make it difficult for students to access their full potential before applying to university. Therefore, we use a range of contextual data to help us to better understand students’ achievements in the context of their individual background.

For UK students applying for an undergraduate course, we look at:

  • Information about the applicant’s school 
  • Information about the applicant’s neighbourhood
  • An applicant’s experience in the care system

This information helps us understand more about each student’s particular circumstances and to compare them fairly with other applicants. Applicants from the most disadvantaged backgrounds will be strongly recommended to be shortlisted for interview, provided that they are predicted to achieve the standard conditional offer for the course, and that they perform to an appropriate standard in any required pre-interview admissions test. In this way, we aim to give students from the most challenging backgrounds the opportunity to showcase their potential through the interview and admissions testing.

Care leavers

If an applicant has had been in the care system for three months or more, they will automatically be in the most disadvantaged group of applicants. This means that they will be strongly recommended to be shortlisted for interview, provided that they are predicted to achieve the standard conditional offer for the course, and that they perform to an appropriate standard in any required pre-interview admissions test. Throughout the application process, our tutors will keep in mind the challenging circumstances surrounding all of an applicant’s accomplishments. Don’t forget that, for us to know about their care experience, applicants will need to tick the care experience box on their UCAS application.

For all students who are UK domiciled when they apply to Oxford and who have been educated in the UK secondary system, we consider:

1. Information about the applicant’s school

This helps us to understand the whole school context in which an individual applicant has achieved their grades. To do this, we access information from the Department of Education in England or equivalent data from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales:

  • The performance of the applicant’s school or college at GCSE (or equivalent level in Northern Ireland). This looks at the fraction of students getting 5 or more GCSE grades at A*/A/9/8/7. We then compare this against an applicant’s own performance.
  • The performance of the applicant’s school or college at A-level or equivalent level
  • The percentage of students eligible for free school meals at the applicant’s school or college at GCSE or equivalent level.

2. Information about the applicant’s neighbourhood

We use each applicant’s home postcode to consider the environment in which each individual was raised and educated. To do this, we use two data sets which are publicly available and widely used in both the public and private sectors:

  • ACORN - a measure of socio-economic disadvantage in a given area.
This postcode-based tool categorises the UK's population by level of socio-economic advantage. ACORN uses a range of data - such as accommodation type, household income, population density and lifestyle habits - to produce estimates of the characteristics of each individual household and postcode. For example, Category 4 is described as 'financially stretched'; Category 5 as 'urban adversity.' Both of these groups are characterised by lower-than-average household incomes. You can check which ACORN category your home postcode comes under on the ACORN website. 
  •  POLAR4 - a measure of participation in higher education in a given area.

POLAR is another postcode-based system that measures how likely young people from a particular postcode are to participate in higher education. 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 this website

3. An applicant’s experience in the care system

If an applicant has been in the care system for three months or more, this is an indicator that they have faced the highest levels of disruption to their education. We obtain this information from the UCAS application in the first instance, subject to later verification checks.