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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?

ReallyTired Thu 04-Oct-12 14:04:58

A gifted child will be capable of deep imaginative thinking that just cannot be coached for. I feel that proper assessment with an educational pychologist, prehaps with IQ tests, pychometric testing would help select the best minds and if I dare say it "personality type" to be sucessful in a particular course.

To do well at a degree requires a certain tenacity and resilence. The type of child who does well at an inner city comp will have shown resilence as well as a work ethic. They will work things out for themselves rather than the teacher.

I think its perfectly fair to look at the background of the student, but it should never be the only factor. Especially as some children are privately educated from 3 and then move into the sixth form of the local comp. Prehaps low achieving state schools should be given advice on how to write the reference and maybe a summer course should be given to help with interview technique.

Positive discrimination is insulting and helps no one long term. What we need is different selection proceedures which are fairer.

mirry2 Thu 04-Oct-12 14:06:16

Can anyone tell me what is the advantage of going to Oxbridge?

elportodelgato Thu 04-Oct-12 14:06:32

Applauds Aboutlastnight

Roseformeplease Thu 04-Oct-12 14:13:12

I am actually fairly uncertain about this issue. I teach in a very ordinary school in Scotland and we have had an applicant penalised at Oxbridge interview for not knowing the A Level syllabus. She had very, very good grades but in Higher and Advanced Higher, not A Level. She, perhaps, should have been cut some slack and given help, by the College, with preparation.

However, I am concerned that ex-private school pupils, aged 18 or more, now adults, are, potentially, being penalised for choices made by their parents when they were 5 or younger. There is something inherently worrying about a system that seeks to select adults based on the choices made, years before, by other adults.

However, my pupils are very disadvantaged by geography and rural deprivation is an issue. They are never going to have the confidence of pupils from much larger schools. They struggle to be in sports teams and do clubs as very few of these are on offer here. All the extra tuition available in bigger places does not take place here - there are no tutors, only the teachers. Some subjects are single teacher departments which means that progress and performance are often down to a single person's input, something that can go on in a subject for many years.

And yet, although no Oxbridge success so far (probably not helped by the fee situation from now on) we have had several pupils achieve 1sts from excellent Universities. They, presumably, would have made Oxbridge material. Indeed one was offered an interview at Cambridge but did not go as she was concerned about travel costs.

So, I can see this from both sides. However, whatever the current situation is, it is not working.

ParrotTulip Thu 04-Oct-12 14:14:10

Boo hoo, my heart bleeds.

lljkk Thu 04-Oct-12 14:17:56

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

Would this apply to every state school, or was it only for the very lowest achieving state schools to have an automatic grade boost?

margerykemp Thu 04-Oct-12 14:19:15

Mirry- an Oxbridge degree is highly advantageous for a career in politics, law, finance/banking and drama.

mirry2 Thu 04-Oct-12 14:23:23

Margerykemp - why?

I have taught in all types of university and imo the difference in quality of education between universities is far less than you might think.

losingtrust Thu 04-Oct-12 14:23:48

Mirry, I agree with politics, law, actuarial, (not so sure on Finance and business) and drama. Note no science ones in then so perhaps employment prospects should be reviewed.

wordfactory Thu 04-Oct-12 14:24:46

nosleep's link to the Guardian piece is very informative and pretty much confirms what I had thought was the case.

Highly selective universities will try to cut certain students some slack if they see huge potential. Hwever, the disadvantage has to be fairly large, not just 'he went to a comp'. And the tutors sometimes feel that whatever the potential, the student will fail to thrive on their course because there's just too much catch up.

Students who attended well thought of schools (not all private) will be expected to bring somehting exceptional to the party.

What keeps state schooled pupils out of highly selective universities is a very slippery mixture.

1. They don't apply.
2. They have the wrong GCSEs and A levels.
3. They haven't read around their subjects.
4. Their references are rubbish.
5.They are insufficiently confident and articulate at interview.

losingtrust Thu 04-Oct-12 14:33:26

This has some info Mirry

Living on the doorstep of Warwick, would I encourage DC to Warwick or Oxbridge. I don't know but may swing more in favour due to living costs as we are not mega rich.

Aboutlastnight Thu 04-Oct-12 14:34:39

I remember listening to Radio 4, when the story about the lack of students from ethnic minorities at Oxbridge came out and the overriding reason was that these young people do not apply.

Bonsoir Thu 04-Oct-12 14:37:04

Roseformeplease - your post is very interesting and highlights many issues facing pupils in deprived, isolated parts of the country where there is little on offer to provide opportunities for development besides school. With the best will in the world, I am not sure that schools can ever compensate deprived, rural pupils for lack of experience of big urban cultural and business centres. The rural-urban divide is a real one.

losingtrust Thu 04-Oct-12 14:37:12

I fell in to
1. They don't apply.
category and went to State School. It all seemed not worth the extra exam and latin/greek but I always was a bit a lazy fxxxxr and probably would not have suited the lifestyle of less group teaching and more tuition so no regrets but other children may be still worth encouraging.

sieglinde Thu 04-Oct-12 15:01:10

We like able applicants and could honestly care less about race, ethnicity, accents and all the other stuff people think we care about. We don't use interviews as the sole decider, and most people get two anyway.

Basically, I want everyone who is clever to feel bloody well entitled to try for Oxbridge. It's the lack of sense of entitlement that scuppers them. FFS give it a go. Please. if your dcs are bright and they want to get a top job, be positive! They have a good shot at it.

Of Wf's list, the following are true:

1. They don't apply. We are spending millions on outreach, but lots don't fancy it - the workload, the fact that friends are going elsewhere, and the image problems.

2. They have the wrong GCSEs and A levels. Many do. Two areas of problem - mum and dad think business studies will be useful (it won't) or the dcs think media studies sounds easy and fun (it isn't) or believe doing a subject with the same name as the one they hope to read - psychology, economics, law - will help them get a place (it won't). Also many schools try to push kids towards easier A-levels to raise them in the league tables.

3. They haven't read around their subjects. no, they haven't. A huge problem. When I say this to some state-sector teachers, I get an earful about lack of resources, but this is nuts in an age of internet and virtually free classic books. They just don't realise it matters. And it matters in sciences too. The physicists at my college expect knowledge well beyond A-level.

4. Their references are rubbish. It's true that lots of big comps turn out references with lots of boilerplate. 'Evan's french teachers say he is very hard-working and gets his set work done on time' while Westminster some big expensive places send in little lyric poems - 'Tristram's drama teachers say he lights up the stage wite his enthusiasm and artistry, as he showed in his direction of the school play ADOLF HITLER IS A GOD. This daring choice..' But frankly, we don't tend to place too much weight on references anyway.

5.They are insufficiently confident and articulate at interview. Everyone is terrified at interview, and many an overcoached product of the big London dayschools fares ill when forced off-script. Our goal is to try to find out if they can think on their feet/areteachable/can process new information/learn fast. bt it's only ever one factor among others.

Just urge your dcs to apply. Go in and try their damndest. get them a bit of coaching for the AT tests - Hat, Pat, etc. They are YOUR UNIVERSITIES, dammit. Cameron hasn't forced us to go private yet. Carpe diem.

LettyAshton Thu 04-Oct-12 15:09:18

Thanks for that reassurance, sieglinde!

Many applicants just don't have fantastically impressive referees on tap. It would be surprising if universities set much store by lyrical praise, anyway. Who would ever submit a brutally honest reference?!

It is easy to be intimidated by floppy hair and the breezy self-confidence of some public school students. On the other hand self-confidence can easily cross over into arrogance and I doubt whether that's an interview winner.

losingtrust Thu 04-Oct-12 15:09:54

Good post Seig. From all these points, parents seem to be key to encourage, to advise. Where parents cannot do this mentors good. More reason for me to encourage business leaders into the deprived state sector to give these people a level hand. When your parents just want you to get a job none of the above will apply and unfortunately many children do not have the support.

mirry2 Thu 04-Oct-12 15:21:13

Lettyashton, floppy hair and breezy self confidence isn't the preserve of public school students, nor is arrogance. Arrogance is the result of many things, not least being top of the class in a state school.
Private school pupils can also be arrogant about their ability but less so if they are from a highly selective school (eg North London Collegiate or Haberdashers Girls) because ALL the pupils there are extremely able

losingtrust Thu 04-Oct-12 15:32:38

Another element that may put state school kids off particularly from comps less so than grammar. You are one of the top dogs at comp because it is mixed ability and then all of a sudden you are mixing with other people as intelligent as you if not more intelligent and your confidence is knocked out of you. It happened to all of my friends who went. There is not alot we can do about this but resilience keeps people going. I remember meeting a very intelligent boy from my comp (one year above) As in everything - very very bright but he found it difficult at Oxford as a result. Perhaps again though that is parents - 'you are bright', I am as guilty as anyone but maybe more mixing courses at sixth form between different schools. Maybe that may be one way to prepare students like this. My DS is in this position and getting a bit arrogant.

flatpackhamster Thu 04-Oct-12 16:30:55


I believe in fairness and I believe that children should be given an equal chance. Discriminating in favour of a state school pupil is sometimes the fair and right thing to do.

Thing is, you don't believe in 'fairness' at all. You believe that the state should intervene, directly, to punish people whose parents educate them privately.

That's not an equal chance. That's a caste system.

State school pupils are doing more to coach pupils on University interviews and our state school is following the public schools and takes part in debating etc. It isn't just about the education they receive at school, private school pupils have often had completely different backgrounds and advantages right through their childhood.

At 19 I worked in alongside a university placement student who had attended a private school. I was in awe of her, she was so much more confident than me, her parents were company directors she had travelled the world etc. At a university admissions interview she would have wiped the floor with me. I grew in confidence as I got older and was just as successful at work as she was but at 19 we were poles apart.

As you've admitted above, the state schools are failing to reach the bar set by the private schools. You are seeking to punish private schools for being better.

What's 'fair' about that?

flatpackhamster Thu 04-Oct-12 16:35:40

I'd like to thank Sieglinde for injection so much useful information in to this discussion. It's nice to hear from the horse's mouth (no offence meant) how wrong the Class Warriors on the thread are.

Tailtwister Thu 04-Oct-12 16:44:29

It shouldn't matter where a person was educated. The results should speak for themselves and the school shouldn't be on the application form.

The issue of fees exclude far more students and should be addressed.

lunar1 Thu 04-Oct-12 16:51:00

As much as I think everyone should have equal opportunities, if I have to go under the surgeons knife again I want to know they are the best at what they do. I do not want to wonder if they got a c in gcse biology but were admitted due to lower expectations.

ReallyTired Thu 04-Oct-12 16:51:27

I think that not puttting the school on the application form is ridicolous. It is part of the background of the child.

This is the sort of student the UK needs at its best universities. It is hard to get top results when you miss huge chunks of the school year.

Surely the country needs to select the brightest and best for top universities. I think that more research is needed to detemine how best to do this.

Tressy Thu 04-Oct-12 16:53:32

Hi Sieglinde just out of interest, do all your students get a least 3 A grades at A level or are some students (say from low acheiving state comps) accepted with lower grades?

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