There is a danger of disadvantaged pupils feeling that they’ve been admitted to Oxbridge “because of their background”, the chair of the Independent Schools Council has warned in an interview with Independent School Management Plus.

Barnaby Lenon, who is also chair of governors at the elite state sixth form college the London Academy of Excellence in Newham, said pupils there would “absolutely hate the idea” that they had been offered an “easier route into Oxbridge.”

Professor Lenon, dean of education at the University of Buckingham and former headmaster at Harrow, made the statement in a wide-ranging interview about the changing face of Oxbridge admissions last week.

He praised efforts to increase intake of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and the concept of “contextual admissions” but criticised the “obsession” with state/independent school intake targets, saying the issue was “in danger of politicisation”.

Last year, Oxford announced a target to have 25 per cent of its undergraduates coming from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2023, using a variety of measures including Polar4 data which indicates the amount of university participation in a post code area.

And earlier this year, the Office for Students promised to halve the access gap at England’s most selective institutions in the next five years, increasing the number of disadvantaged students by 6,500 each year from 2024-25.

Professor Lenon told ISMP: “There is obviously a great danger of politicisation of admissions.

“To what extent are universities like Oxford being driven by the Office for Students or the comments that David Lammy makes every summer?

“There is a danger of disadvantaged pupils feeling that they’ve been admitted because of their background and certainly I can tell you my pupils at LAE do not want to be offered an easier route into Oxbridge because of their background, they absolutely hate that idea.”

Despite the rising proportion of students from the state sector, Lenon is philosophical about ISC schools’ prospects for the future.

“We find that our good pupils are still getting in but the marginal ones who would have got in 20 years ago don’t get in and a reasonable person might say that’s fair enough,” he says.

But he added: “I don’t think it’s helpful when universities bang on and on about how wonderful it is that they’ve been able to decrease the number of people from independent schools, I know they don’t put it quite in those words, but that’s essentially what they’re saying.

“When they say that I sometimes wonder how their classics departments, music departments, modern languages departments feel about that because those departments could not exist without the independent school students who go…

“Actively putting off some of the most able pupils, a proportion of whom are on bursaries who would do very well, seems to me an unnecessary mistake.

Read the full extended interview at www.schoolmanagementplus tomorrow.