Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

University Fair Access Quotas Are 'So Wrong': Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

University Fair Access Quotas Are 'So Wrong': Comment

Article excerpt

Targets favouring state school candidates trample on private sector success and ignore the many bursaries given to poorer students.

Once again, private schools will dominate the UK's exam results this summer - at GCSE, A level, Pre-U and in the International Baccalaureate. We make up 15 per cent of those taking A levels but gain a third of the top grades. Independent schools perform especially well in the harder subjects, gaining half the top grades in A-level modern languages and more than a third of the top grades in the hard sciences.

Because independent school students do so well in the subjects that the better universities are looking for, they gain a large proportion of the places available at those universities. Many university modern languages departments would be forced to close if our students were not there, filling the gap left by the collapse of languages teaching in maintained schools. Numerous top medicine, engineering, mathematics, Classics and music departments depend for their viability on our students.

And when they reach university, our students do better than those from the maintained sector. In July, the Higher Education Funding Council for England published an analysis of the degree results of the 226,000 UK students who started their degrees in 2006: 64.9 per cent of those who had come from independent schools gained a first or upper second, compared with 52.7 per cent of students from state schools.

Independent schools are also propping up sport in this country. More than a third of medal winners at the 2012 Olympic Games came from our schools, as did 30 per cent of county cricketers and the majority of the England cricket team, even though our schools educate only 7 per cent of pupils.

The Office for Fair Access requires universities to set "access targets", a concession made to the Liberal Democrats in return for their support of higher tuition fees. Many universities have been persuaded by the Higher Education Statistics Agency to target a reduction in the proportion of students coming from private schools. University College London, for example, is aiming to decrease the proportion of students from private schools (currently 35 per cent) by a further 10 per cent by 2017.

One reason that this is so wrong is that private schools now educate large numbers of bright students from lower-income backgrounds. More than a third of our students are on reduced fees, and many receive means-tested bursaries aimed at children from the lowest-income homes. When I started teaching 40 years ago, bursaries were unheard of and most scholarships went to children from wealthy homes. Today, much of that money has been diverted to means-tested bursaries.

This is why the University of Oxford refuses to use private/state school ratios in its access targets because, as its latest access agreement says: "There are students from relatively wealthy backgrounds at state schools, and students from relatively disadvantaged ones at independent schools. Thirty per cent of 2012 entrants in receipt of the full Oxford Bursary (students with a household income of Pounds 16,000 or less) were educated in the independent sector."

Another reason why the emphasis on independent/state school targets is so wrong is that it permits universities to claim they are doing their bit for social mobility when in fact they are simply taking more students from selective grammar schools and middle-class comprehensives. …

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