Private schools 'handicapped by university targets'

(264 Posts)
Sonatensatz Wed 03-Oct-12 11:07:47

Just read an article in the times commenting that new government targets for universities to take more pupils from state schools is putting those in private schools at a disadvantage, essentially because if their are two equal students the universities should prioritise the state schooled child with an addition that they should lower the grade boundaries for state schooled children. (sorry can't link it's behind the pay barrier)

The article got me thinking that surely the fairest way to select students for university would be to remove the requirement for them to put their school on the application form. Each student could be provided with a reference from their school or college on a standard form which didn't reveal the school on it. That way each pupil would be assessed on their merits and not on the type of school they went to.

Also if, as it seems part of the issue is the level of extra coaching private schooled children get to get them through the exams perhaps a scheme (supported by businesses or private schools as part of the requirement for them to benefit the wider community in order to gain charitable status) could be set up to identify the most talented disadvantaged youngsters from across the country and provide them with bursaries to access extra tuition.

What do others think?

losingtrust Wed 03-Oct-12 12:01:47

I think you need to establish whether the private schools get better results as a result of coaching or selection. If it is selection, then maybe they are cleverer children and deserve to be at uni. There are also state school kids getting straight As at A'Level but on the whole for instance in a comp it will be a lower proportion to a selective grammer or private school. Without the research it would be unfair to prioritise one over the other. Having said that interviews should take this into account to ensure more state educated children get to Oxbridge should they choose this as the interview may be more of a stumbling block. I certainly think local professional firms should be helping to bring these soft skills to State schools. KPMG and Deloitte as examples are already looking at mentoring kids from deprived areas and interview and presentation skills may help more than extra tuition.

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Wed 03-Oct-12 13:29:00

I agree that not telling universes the schools their prospective students went to would be a good idea. I think it is very unfair that private school students are penalised when it comes to university admissions. We would be up in arms if students were denied places because they lived in a deprived council estate with a high anti social crime rate, and this is no different.

So what if a child has more attention in a private school? Should dyslexic students be discounted because they have had extra help with reading? Should my ds who has Aspergers be discounted because he has regular meetings with the SENCO to check his progress?

Places should go to the best possible students, that is all there is to it.

lalalonglegs Wed 03-Oct-12 14:08:51

But surely, Outraged, the point is that the huge proportion of students from independent schools that get offers from the most prestigious universities means that these places aren't necessarily going to the best people but the ones whose parents are able to afford a private education? I don't think anyone would suggest that the c 7% of students in private schools are necessarily the top 7% in the country but they account for about 45% of Oxbridge places.

There has to be some sort of correlation between expectation and achievement: if you are from a background where you know very few people who have attended university - and those that have maybe studied semi-vocational degrees at the local uni - then aiming to read Classics at Cambridge will seem daunting and possibly completely unrealistic even if you have the talent to do that. If, on the other hand, you know many people who have attended top universities, if you have parents/siblings/friends further up the school who all got into Cambridge and you know what is expected of you, then the goal seems within easier reach - still not a doddle but a plausible ambition, perhaps.

I don't know what the solution is but the UK is at its least socially mobile in decades and I don't think giving a leg up to people from different backgrounds is necessarily a bad thing. It is the head of an independent school that is accusing universities of disadvantaging his pupils but, as the UCAS woman says at the end of the article, given that such a large proportion of privately educated students get into Russell Group universities “This does not seem to me a sector at the mercy of social engineering or needing to boycott any universities."

sieglinde Wed 03-Oct-12 14:10:51

I'm an Oxford admissions tutor and I agree very strongly with the OP. For one thing it might restore public trust, and for another it would make my job a lot easier.

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Wed 03-Oct-12 14:14:46

Giving people a leg up isn't a bad thing. Until it is done to the detriment of other people who have done nothing wrong, and then it becomes unfair.

If one group of student has more of what Oxbridge want and expect from their students, then there is no good reason why they shouldn't take people from that group.

I think careers advice and support for university applications need to be improved, but state schools can provide that just as well as private schools. State school students do not need to be given a false advantage.

ParsingFancy Wed 03-Oct-12 14:17:30

Where the "leg up" is what, sending them to private school?

Or something else?

ItsAllGoingToBeFine Wed 03-Oct-12 14:35:10

The problem is state schools have enough on their plates getting the students good exam results. They don't have the time to intensively coach the students in interview techniques or entrance exams.

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Wed 03-Oct-12 14:42:28

Private schools have to work hard to ensure that students get good results too. Not all of them select, and even when they do, quite often their standard isn't particularly high.

Some of the success of private school students is down to parental support, so there is nothing stopping state school pupils providing the same.

lalalonglegs Wed 03-Oct-12 14:57:11

Outraged, do you think it is fair that almost half the places at Oxbridge are taken by privately educated students who account for about 7% of the total of all students? Do you not think there might be a teensy weensy bit of bias - not necessarily overt - in the way that students are selected? Can we agree that it would be desirable to make the intake more representative?

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Wed 03-Oct-12 15:03:46

I don't think it's about fair. School has to be fair, university has to be about the best.

So I couldn't care less whether its fair or not, I'd rather more important things were taken into consideration when training the country's future doctors, lawyers, scientists etc.

ParsingFancy Wed 03-Oct-12 15:06:30

Sorry, still not clear what the "leg up" is?

Freddos, are you complaining that the leg up that private schools give is unfair, as it is to the detriment of those going to state schools who do not have those pupil-teacher ratios, resources, etc?

ItsAllGoingToBeFine Wed 03-Oct-12 15:06:45

But the point is the universities aren't necessarily selecting the best. They may be only selecting those that appear the best due to intensive coaching

ParsingFancy Wed 03-Oct-12 15:12:33

I certainly agree with you that, for training the country's future doctors, scientists, etc, universities should definitely be looking for those who will be the best at university and afterwards, not just giving places to those who have the best exam results and most practiced interview technique at 18.

They look for potential, not for those who've had the most opportunity so far in their lives.

ParsingFancy Wed 03-Oct-12 15:12:58

Sorry, that was to Freddos.

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Wed 03-Oct-12 15:14:02

No, I wasn't the one that first mentioned a 'leg up'. I was responding to another poster.

Private schools do not routinely provide intensive coaching. Well, the one I went to didn't anyway. And from looking at my ds's two state schools, they both provide far batter careers advice than I ever had.

elportodelgato Wed 03-Oct-12 15:18:14

My FIL does admissions for a university and has been doing some research on the A level results of students and how they relate to their performance at degree level. He has consistently found that while private school pupils come to uni with higher A level results, they fail to translate this into better degree results - they have been selected, coached, taught in smaller classes etc in order to excel at A level, but this is not necessarily a sign of innate ability or an ability to study independently.

On the other hand, state school students who have good A levels have often gained them in spite of having learned in large classes, with often low expectations, no coaching, no tutoring etc. he says that these students consistently thrive at university because they have already overcome more barriers than the privately educated students - their success at A level is more likely to be a sign of innate ability and self-motivation.

Off the back of this, I don't think it's unreasonable at all to offer state school students slightly lower grades to get into uni if it means making some inroads to reverse the trend where Oxbridge is 50% privately educated students.

anotherteacher Wed 03-Oct-12 15:38:28

The article got me thinking that surely the fairest way to select students for university would be to remove the requirement for them to put their school on the application form.

But the government want more pupils from maintained schools admitted into prestigious universities and have given targets to be met. The above solution would be unlikely to help with this. It would , as Sieglinde pointed out, make admissions tutors' jobs easier as at present, they are being asked to be the agents of social change, which isn't what they signed up for. Discrimination of any sort hurts someone while helping someone else.

Cambridge this year admitted 63 % of students from maintained schools which means 37% came from independent schools. I don't know whether overseas and European students are included in that 37%.

Schools from either sector are never homogenous in their intake. There are many well to do parents at high achieving maintained schools and many less affluent in the private sector. The very disadvantaged, who reach a level by 17 that would allow an admissions tutor to offer them a place is fairly small because they fail or are failed by family or schools, far earlier. It is far too complex an area to fix through crude targets pitting maintained against independent schools.

Sonatensatz Wed 03-Oct-12 17:49:42

The problem with the government target though is it's a bit abitrary. It's not going to help the graduate sector if less able students get places in universities because they go to a maintained school and more able students don't get a place because they go to a private sector. Surely the aim should be to get the students with the most potential whichever sector they come from. Perhaps an alternative way to select the best students would be to introduce an element of the selection process for universities which allowed students to demonstrate their independent learning skills and combine the A level results with the results from these tests to identify those with the most potential.

flatpackhamster Wed 03-Oct-12 17:59:51

lalalonglegs

Outraged, do you think it is fair that almost half the places at Oxbridge are taken by privately educated students who account for about 7% of the total of all students? Do you not think there might be a teensy weensy bit of bias - not necessarily overt - in the way that students are selected? Can we agree that it would be desirable to make the intake more representative?

Perhaps we should extend this to all walks of life then. Brain surgeons to be selected via a lottery system, due to the unfairness of requiring many years of study and training. Research fellowships should be allocated through a system of random letter drops, to ensure that we get a 'more representative' mix of people doing research, rather than the ridiculous system we have now which excludes those with poorer education. We could have a phone-in system to pick people for all the really important and difficult jobs which require loads of expertise, to make it 'fair' and to remove the 'bias' inherent in the system.

The scheme to exclude pupils from higher education on the basis of the school they attended is monstrous, vile, vicious socialist social engineering.

If state schools aren't cutting the mustard, then don't blame private schools. Lay the blame where it belongs.

SmellsLikeTeenStrop Wed 03-Oct-12 19:14:13

elportodelgato other people have done similar research, one guy looked at Oxford admissions and found that among students who had similar GCSE results, state school students were more likely to get firsts than students who attended private schools.

There is an increasing amount of evidence pointing towards it being the private school students who are getting the 'helping hand' by virtue of them being private school students. Universities such as Oxford do not appear to be selecting students based on likelihood of achieving a good degree, but on good old fashioned bias towards those from privileged backgrounds.

flatpackhamster There is already social engineering going on and it is excluding people from higher education on the basis of the school they attend.

lalalonglegs Wed 03-Oct-12 19:25:12

State schools often do cut the mustard, I think a lot of them do fantastically well despite not being overly-funded and generally being entirely non-selective. No one is trying to exclude privately educated students from university, they just want to make sure a very small elite doesn't dominate some of them. You call it "vile, vicious socialist social engineering", I call it entirely desirable that certain universities do not become the preserve of the rich.

ggirl Wed 03-Oct-12 19:33:32

Sonatensatz Perhaps an alternative way to select the best students would be to introduce an element of the selection process for universities which allowed students to demonstrate their independent learning skills and combine the A level results with the results from these tests to identify those with the most potential.

yes that's a great idea...but I can imagine schools coaching kids to pass that.

My dd (state school) is in 2nd yr at university and has 4 close friends (privately educated )all of whom failed their first yr exams. they openly admit that they were not prepared for the amount of independent study and lacked motivation.
Yet to see how this affects their 2nd yr though..maybe it's a teething problem.

SundaeGirl Wed 03-Oct-12 19:48:45

'I don't think anyone would suggest that the c 7% of students in private schools are necessarily the top 7% in the country but they account for about 45% of Oxbridge places.'

The thing is, once you've put those in the 7% through ten years of the best education, they could easily transform themselves into the top 47%. That is in fact what parents are paying for.

blueemerald Wed 03-Oct-12 20:52:12

This has been happening for years now and parents of children at private schools know it. People left my school/my brother's school in droves at the end of year 11 to go to the local sixth form colleges. Parents spend the equivalent of 2 years school fees on 1-1 tuition/UCAS form advisers etc and the now ex-private school student still got the best places. I believe that any 'official' targets will just increase this practice. It is not fair on state school students. Also positive discrimination is not a good thing. It does not work. I think anonymity would be much fairer for all involved. And lower tuition fees of course.

And for every privately educated student who drops out I know a state educated student with the same story. I did an English degree (2006-2009) and the majority of my (state educated) friends were shocked and appalled that we had to write a 3,000 word essay in the first 2 weeks. They came from across the country and were nowhere near prepared for university level work.

This is from 2009:
Oxford and Cambridge are the universities with the lowest drop-out rates, with fewer than one in a hundred students leaving in their first year. In contrast, at the universities of Greenwich, Sunderland, Bolton and London Metropolitan, between 15% and 19% failed to complete their first year. At the University of Ulster, one in five dropped out.

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