Increasingly at The Day we spend a lot of time visiting and talking to teachers. We don't notice much lack of ambition among them. In fact they seem to spent a disproportionate amount of time encouraging students to shoot for the stars and try for the top.
The biggest hindrance appears to be confidence. Whether it is about having ability, about being interesting, about having views worth listening to, about being 'allowed' to apply for top universities - a lot of children have a huge lack of confidence. That is the true barrier keeping them out of Oxbridge.
Where this comes from, we can't say. But one remedy that is beginning to show hard evidence of success is giving pupils knowledge that gets them respect from their families and from their peers. Overwhelmingly this is not traditional academic knowledge but knowledge of the wider world and of current affairs.
To make a good argument in debate or discussion and to demonstrate that you know something about what is actually going on today - all this is a tremendously powerful boost to confidence. The perception that you are bright, that you might go far, can revolutionise the intellectual life of the most lethargic student. As an end in itself it clearly isn't enough. You still need to score well in reading and maths.
But if that starts with knowing something about the Greek credit crisis or the US elections, so be it.