A Bias against Excellence

By Johnson, Rachel | The Spectator, March 23, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Bias against Excellence


Johnson, Rachel, The Spectator


SCHOLARS at Winchester have long been regarded as the biggest swots on the planet. These Wykehamists have the kind of mind that, as Evelyn Waugh once put it, like to relax by composing Alcaics on the moving parts of their toy trains. One such scholar was recently seated in a tutor's study in Cambridge at an interview for admission. The first question was not about his subject, or his interests, or his record, but about his social class. `Do you really think you will fit in here?' the don demanded. Shortly afterwards, to the rage of his middle-class parents, he was rejected by the college and by Cambridge as a whole.

I have another howl of pain in front of me, this one sent by the two parents of a public schoolboy to John Clare, the esteemed education editor of the Daily Telegraph. `Isn't it likely that Oxbridge are operating a covert quota system that discriminates against applicants from the independent sector?' the letter ends, apropos their son - a keen maths wonk, who had more As and A stars than you've had hot dinners but who was rejected from Cambridge.

Middle-class parents across the land - usually labelled the `privileged elite' - who are forgoing holidays and working all hours to put their academic, diligent and grateful children through private education may find it too painful to read on. Oxbridge is indeed operating a quota system. It's been told to, anyway.

Following l'affaire Laura Spence, when Magdalen College, Oxford elected not to give a place to a clever girl from a comprehensive - a judgment that Gordon Brown branded 'a scandal' - the two ancient universities are now being told which of our children to admit and which to refuse. Over the next three years, the proportion of state-school pupils at Oxbridge is to rise from about 50 to 67 per cent, which means that the dons are going to have to come up with even more spurious, class-conscious reasons to exclude excellent candidates from private schools.

The admissions office at Oxford will not admit that there will be financial penalties if it fails to meet this quota, of which all admissions tutors have been informed. It will admit only that there is a `new benchmark'.

But Oxford is not hiding the fact that the Chancellor is forking out extra cash - to spend on roadshows and summer schools and student-led outreach projects - to buy out the toffs. `Oxford University's continued drive to widen participation has been strengthened with the announcement of an additional L2.5 million for access initiatives,' says my latest news release from the University's smart press office in Wellington Square. The sound of thundering and breaking glass will no longer tinkle across its honeyed, immemorial quads. So it's byebye Brideshead/teddy bears/the Bullingdon ... and hello, Laura Spence.

But, hold on: varsity's not like that any more - it hasn't been for ages. The Chancellor is not calling time for the spoonfed, privileged offspring of the upper classes. The rich and thick don't go 'up' any more. They don't get into Oxbridge, however many libraries daddy's prepared to buy. No, this new `chippy quota' will strike out thousands of more ambitious, well-prepared students who have benefited from a superior, pricier education than most of their peers.

In many ways this is laudable. I myself have two children at state schools, and, believe me, I know how it feels to see other people's children, in their woollen princess coats with velvet collars, streaming out of Poncy Prep; while I can only dream of buying the sort of secondary education for my children that my five brothers and sisters and I were lucky enough to receive.

Even I can do the maths, and the numbers don't add up. Oxford and Cambridge fill half their places with pupils from private schools that educate a mere 8 per cent of our children. It simply cannot be that this snippet of the student body is so intellectually superior that it merits every other Oxbridge place. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

A Bias against Excellence
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.