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Old school 'key to student place' - is something wrong with this?

(32 Posts)
IWannaBeLikeYou Thu 20-Sep-07 09:56:57

Now this bit of news has done nothing but add gas to my current burning fire "state vs private education for my DS (3.5)".

My DH says this is all because of Britain's class structure and that countries like US offer better chances for children who don't happen to have very rich parents. Is this true?

I know there have been hundred of passionate messages exchanged on MN on this subject, but please tell me my son will still have a chance to do anything he wants (including going to a top uni) as long as he's capable enough and that will not necessarily depend on what school we can afford to send him to. Or am I just fooling myself?

Marina Thu 20-Sep-07 10:04:36

I don't think you are fooling yourself. I think a good quality education can be had in the state and the private sectors. A good school will help your ds achieve his potential but it doesn't have to be a named, fee-paying one, or a reknowned state grammar or non-selective school.
Ivy League universities can be as inaccessible as Russell Group ones, remember. I don't think there is any Western nation where there is not some kind of academic-ability hierarchy in HE - look at France, where you have solid provincial universities, several as old as Oxford and Cambridge, then you have the Sorbonne, and the Grandes Ecoles.
I've got to be honest though - most children of university potential are going to have an easier transit to HE if they attend either a high-performing state school, or an independent one. So in that sense, yes your old school is going to affect the post 18 choices of most young people.

IWannaBeLikeYou Thu 20-Sep-07 10:12:55

And on the same note ... will he be ok to start off with a good state primary and see how it goes? Or does it have to be private from beginning if you aim high?

Joash Thu 20-Sep-07 10:13:05

I don't agree at all about your childs school determining where he will be likely to get a university place. Things have changed so much in HE in the past 20 years or so (even thought there is still some room for improvement). If your DS's results are good enough for the university that he wants to go to, then he stands as much chance of getting in as any other person, regardless of where he goes to school. I went to what was one of the worst schools in the county (its been closed demolished since) leaving without one qualification to my name. I went to a local college, also with a 'bad' reputation, yet I applied to seven univertities (including 'red-brick') and was offered an unconditional place at everyone of them, without interview, because my results from college were good. I then applied to four (for my teaching qual) and was offered a place at all. I applied for a PhD at another and was successful.

Fennel Thu 20-Sep-07 10:15:04

You're not fooling yourself, there are many many children who go to the top unis from state schools. Lots of them are on mumsnet.

There are various reasons why fewer high achieving children from state schools go to Oxbridge, say. Some of them just don't want to. I went to a bog standard comp and then to Oxford, some of the other very bright children at my school chose not to. And went on to other universities and got top firsts etc.

Also there's less pressure to apply for the top unis from some state schools, but that doesn't mean that bright children who are motivated and do apply won't get in.

ladymuck Thu 20-Sep-07 10:36:05

Let me ask and answer a different question: Can the school that your dc attends give him/her an advantage in later life? The answer is yes imo.
It is not the single factor but it is an influential one. There are excellent schools and teachers in both state and private sectors. But I do think that many independent schools excel in helping to shape opportunities after that school. It is not uncommon for children prior to GCSE year at independent schools to be already seriously considering uni courses as well as getting decent job experience work during summer hols (often with parents of school friends or alumni). And the peer pressure to start to take life seriously (as well as parental pressure) is huge. And this happens at prep school level as well. From Year 4 options for secondary schools are discussed with parents. Locally we have some excellent grammar schools (some of the best results in the country) as well as independent schools. But despite "poorer" grades (and bear in mind we are still looking at an average of AABB) the independent schools get over 3 times the number of candidates into Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. What gets measured gets done and state schools are measured on A level points where as the equivalent independent schools are measured on outcome.

Friends teach in state schools in deprived areas and their main struggle is not in teaching the children - many of whom are very bright - but it is to lift the expectation and aspirations of both children and parents - especially where the parents left education early. From my own experience I was under huge pressure to leave school at 16 and get a job - it was seen as essential to the family.

There is an obvious downside to the preparation offered by independent schools of course - often a 24 year old will find themselves about to qualify as a medic or a lawyer or an accountant and realise that all along they wanted to be something else. In the same way that the bright adult who left school at 16 may suddenly realise that they want to be a teacher or a lawyer. The question there is which has the better skill set and character to manage the change.

IWannaBeLikeYou Thu 20-Sep-07 13:36:44

Ladymuck, I mostly agree with you that the school(s) one attends has a big impact on their future and maybe not just in regards to academic results.

What I don't quite understand is this:
^the proportion of university entrants going to Oxbridge from the top performing 30 independent schools was nearly twice that of the top performing 30 grammar schools - despite very similar average A-level scores^.

Is this because the independent schools prepares pupils better for the specific uni exams just as some prep schools prepare them for the 11+?

I have not been educated in this country and this is all new territory to me ...

ladymuck Thu 20-Sep-07 14:36:32

Independent schools tend to put more emphasis on Oxbridge/Russell Group universities than state schools. In many ways it is more a measure of their success than for state schools as league tables measure the exams results and not the destination of pupils (if you look on many independent school websites you will see that university destinations are often displayed prominently). They will ensure that the pupils are encouraged to go for the most prestigeous universities because, especially in the world of multinationals, larger employers will tend to selectively recruit. IME it would be very rare for an independent school to suggest to a pupil that they choose a course at say Wolverhampton university in favour of an Oxbridge place, even if the degree course at the former were more interesting. And again peer pressure has its place. It is easier to prepare for Oxbridge exams/interviews when there is a crowd of you doing the same, but harder to be the only person ever to have attempted. Of course it is far from impossible, but at the independent shool I went to proposective Oxbridge pupils were identified prior to GCSE and were well prepared for what was needed.

I think that the difficulty that grammar schools face in some respect is that they are still bound to league tables and therefore will chase the Holy Grail of UCAS points at the possible expense of looking at which A levels are most respected by universities. They also don't have the same incentive to ensure that their pupils have the fullest range of experiences for their personal statement (or whatever it is called these days), whereas independent schools, especially boarding schools will definitely ensure that the personal statement reflects breadth and epth of experiences. Independents also work very hard on maintaining contacts within university admissions which is always useful (and here even the difference between independent schools is noticable - some schools with less impressive exams results achiever "better" university admissions). Independent schools can put a lot of time and effort into the university and career process which is harder for the grammar system to match. In the latter you are relying on the teachers to inspire and motivate in addition to their teaching duties, and sometimes they can be quite derogatory about Oxbridge etc.

Last year pupils from maintained schools formed just under half of all undergraduate applicants to Oxford (47.6%), and were awarded just under half the places (47.1%). In other words the places were awarded roughly in proportion to the number of applicants (1 in 4 applicants got a place). So for me the big question is simply this - why didn't more state school pupils apply in the first place?

Blandmum Thu 20-Sep-07 14:43:30

I think that your last question is a very important one.

On the news report this morning they quoted a figue of 80% state school teachers as feeling that Oxbridge was the 'right place' for their students as they would not 'fit in'.

On the back of that I had a quick chat with my (very bright) lower sixthform class and pointed out that Oxbridge isn't all Eton Toffs, and that some of them should seriously consider looking into applying to the bigger name Unis.

I went to Oxford, I came from the Rhondda valley, from parents who left school at 14 and had unskilled jobs. I went to a rough comp. I met DH who was from a single parent family, and had free school meals and also went to a bog standard comp. Other mates of ours, who we met also came from working class backgrounds.

We need to encpurage more 'working class' kids to apply

ladymuck Thu 20-Sep-07 17:05:08

Wow - well if 80% of teachers would be against it then it isn't that surprising that there are proportionally so few candidates.

I also get the impression that after the last recession there has been a real dip in teachers coming out of Oxbridge which presumably also has an impact. I think that the universities have probably been beaten up as much as they can be in terms of their admission policies - it may be time to look at the levels of career support in 6th forms in the maintained sector. Or any other way of raising aspirations. I do think that teachers can be crucial is showing some of the alternatives open to pupils but I am under the impression that teachers in some state schools have enough challenges on their plates as it is!

scienceteacher Thu 20-Sep-07 17:24:29

Places in top university are awarded based on exam results, not the student's school.

Selective schools have the best exam results... This is because bright 11 and 13 year olds generally go on to perform well in their public exams when the time comes.

It's not rocket science.

Joppe Thu 20-Sep-07 20:22:30

I haven't read the full Sutton report, but according to the BBC report it is actually more complicated than just exam results. Here from the BBC: 'The trust found the number of pupils at the top 30 comprehensives who went to Oxbridge was just a third of what might be expected if based on ability'.

annh Thu 20-Sep-07 20:33:52

Scienceteacher, are there not also interviews for some of the top universities? Which imo, would also favour the private school students?

Fennel Thu 20-Sep-07 20:37:05

But what that report seems to be saying is that proportionately, the state school pupils with similar results *who actually apply* are as likely as the independent school pupils to be accepted. As Ladymuck posted earlier.

The difference is that the state school pupils are less likely to apply.

dayofftomorrow Fri 21-Sep-07 08:48:11

DD's friends went to oxbridge interview days from standard comps and although were keen beforehand changed their minds as they felt uncomfortable among the other girls who seemed to know one other from school. Some were offered places but were reluctant to go to spend three years of their lives as "outsiders" but went to other universities instead

IWannaBeLikeYou Fri 21-Sep-07 09:37:30

But surely parents should do most of the encouragement and support for their children. To be honest, and I don't mean to offend any teachers, I think children who have to rely only on teachers for guidance when it comes to big life choices are quite "disadvantaged".
Some of you seem to suggest that universities are clique oriented and that some students will choose uni based on where their friends are going. Well, I think this is again a problem of support and "training for life". Going to university is a big life change and I think young students should also be prepared for these changes just as much as they are prepared academically. And one of these big changes may be to part with some school friends and integrate in another group. At the end of the day they will have to do that all their life when changing jobs, etc.

Fennel Fri 21-Sep-07 09:55:42

Another issue is whether say Oxbridge is the best option. I went to Oxford and though I liked it I'd say it was pretty socially snobbish, and rather dominated by people from independent schools. And then I went to Manchester to do a Msc and PhD and was wowed by the intellectual vigour of the students on my course there, more than I had been at Oxford. And there was a much wider social and political range of students. These state school students who are choosing not to apply to or accept places at the "top" universities aren't always just intimidated by the unknown. There are positive advantages to going to other universities. I really don't know whether I'd encourage my dc to apply to Oxbridge, having experienced various universities myself (I still work in the university system).

OrmIrian Fri 21-Sep-07 10:02:36

I don't know. I had an interview at Cambridge back in the 80s. Didn't get in despite getting 3 A's at A level. I was so upset at the time. I managed to find out later they reason why - I was basically yet another middle-class girl from a moderately good private school wanting to study English. So why would they want me? I had originally applied to do law but chickened out and changed to English.

ladymuck Fri 21-Sep-07 10:16:04

Wannabe, the thing is a lot of parents, especially the vast majority who have not experienced education after the age of 16 are not terriblly well-equipped for the task of encouraging their children in their university options. If they have no experience themselves of A levels choices or university application processes then it is very diffciult for them to guide their children. My own parents were adamant that if I was bright then I didn't actually need to be in education that long - I was more than capable of leaving school early and still doing well. And I might have done so, but in reality my options would have been limited.

I've just watched some friends guide their 16yo daughter - she is very bright (all A/A* in GCSEs), and her parents want her to do well. She wants to go into journalism, and instead of doing all A levels has ended up on a BTEC in Media Studies. Her parents were a bit concerned as to whether this was the best route but all they know is that the BTEC will give a similar number of UCAS points to A levels. Now this girl is certainly bright enough to study and do well in A levels, but I'm not sure that the top universities (or even subsequent employers) will view her BTEC as being the equivalent of say A levels in English Lit, History and French regardless of UCAS points. I'm fairly sure that if she was at an independent school she would be on solid A level courses and being groomed for Oxbridge/Russell Group.

And I agree that Oxbridge isn't always the best course or even the best people, but they are always amongst the top inthe country and employers can be swayed by that - especially interenational ones. Regardless of which university they went to, independent school pupils are still over-proportionally represented in a number of careers and roles in later life.

slayerette Fri 21-Sep-07 10:17:39

And I was a middle-class girl applying to study English in the late eighties from a comprehensive with no Oxbridge history at all and I did get in despite only getting two As and a B.

I don't know what that means in light of the OP except - in light of OrmIrian's post - that maybe statistics don't tell the full story and shouldn't put you off making the decisions you think are best for your child at the time.

ladymuck Fri 21-Sep-07 10:18:31

I should point out that the 16yo in my previous note was primarily swayed by the fact that the BTEC was what was on offer from the 6th form college which her boyfriend attends. Perhaps she should be given the benefit of the doubt that this swayed her decision but she did turn down a grammar school place for it.

fembear Fri 21-Sep-07 11:30:28

I think that this is all a bit of a tautology, as scienceteacher mentioned. If a School has a reputation for getting pupils into Oxbridge then Oxbridge-minded students are going to go to that School, aren't they.
As an example, a friend's DC has been to a state school-from-hell which had no G&T provision. Being a clever lad, he managed to get outstanding GCSEs despite them and got into an independent on a 100% scholarship. If his local school had been supportive then he would have stayed there but instead he is willing to commute 2 hours a day to somewhere that will nurture his ambition to get to Oxbridge. So the independent will get another one to add to its roll of honour. D'oh.

Wannabe: where your kids end up is partly up to you. You may not have much choice (within State schools) for KS3&4 but you do for sixthform. Continue to be an interested parent and they will be OK.smile

fembear Fri 21-Sep-07 11:30:28

I think that this is all a bit of a tautology, as scienceteacher mentioned. If a School has a reputation for getting pupils into Oxbridge then Oxbridge-minded students are going to go to that School, aren't they.
As an example, a friend's DC has been to a state school-from-hell which had no G&T provision. Being a clever lad, he managed to get outstanding GCSEs despite them and got into an independent on a 100% scholarship. If his local school had been supportive then he would have stayed there but instead he is willing to commute 2 hours a day to somewhere that will nurture his ambition to get to Oxbridge. So the independent will get another one to add to its roll of honour. D'oh.

Wannabe: where your kids end up is partly up to you. You may not have much choice (within State schools) for KS3&4 but you do for sixthform. Continue to be an interested parent and they will be OK.smile

fembear Fri 21-Sep-07 11:30:57

oops sorry

IWannaBeLikeYou Fri 21-Sep-07 12:03:55

This is what worries me:
^independent school pupils are still over-proportionally represented in a number of careers and roles in later life^

Is this equivalent to "parents can afford to pay for independent education"?

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