Article excerpt

INDEPENDENT schools today called for a "blind" system of university admissions, to protect their pupils from so-called social engineering.

Under the proposal, admissions tutors considering applications for university places would not be allowed to know which school the applicant came from.

The plan would make it harder for universities such as Bristol - which some independent school heads say has discriminated against their pupils - to turn down outstandingly qualified teenagers simply because of the school they attended.

But it was also welcomed today by state school heads, who believe talented students from inner-city schools still face prejudice when applying for places at Oxford and Cambridge. A survey conducted by the Evening Standard found that despite these universities' efforts to attract more applicants from state schools, i n d e p e n d e n t school pupils still stand a better chance.

The proposal is part of a package published jointly today by the Headmasters' Conference and the Girls' Schools Association, designed to "open up" higher education. It came the day after the Government detailed its own plans for the Office for Fair Admissions, or Offa, the new regulator intended to guarantee "fair and transparent" university admissions.

But despite Government claims that regulation will be "light touch", aimed merely at encouraging applications to top universities from working-class students, suspicions persist that universities will feel under pressure to admit more such students. Offa will have the power to fine those which breach agreements on access, or forbid them to raise tuition fees.

The Government also proposes to increase the financial incentive for universities to take students from poorer backgrounds.

And ministers have proposed new "benchmarks" which would judge admissions against the education and income of students' parents.

The joint HMC and GSA proposal would also prevent this information being available to admissions tutors.

It would mean a change in the procedures of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service - Ucas - which processes applications.

Andrew Grant, head of St Albans School and also chair of the HMC's academic committee, said Ucas forms have already been changed so as not to allow universities to know where else candidates had applied.

"We are already halfway there," he said. "This would just be another step which would remove information which could be used to reject applicants unfairly. …


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