“A” levels and HE

It’s that time of year when the “A” level results come out. The press report this in three ways.  Firstly, leggy blondes from Hertfordshire are seen jumping for joy at the receipt of their results at a private school in Hertfordshire.  Secondly, any improvement in grades is seen as a lapse in standards (just as, in any individual school or college, a fall in grades is seen as a lapse in standards also).  And then there’s the annual panic about shortage of university places, made all the more appalling by the way that admission tutors might actually accept state school pupils (i.e. your kids and mine) ahead of private school pupils (i.e. newspaper columnists’ kids).  In a world where fee-paying schools educate about 6% of our children and take 45% of the places at Oxford and Cambridge, the question about complaints of discrimination is not “what school were they at ?”, but “which planet are they on ?”.

This got to its peak a few years ago when Tom Utley, a columnist in the Times argued that it was absurd to expand universities when we were short of plumbers and electricians.  About two weeks later, the same columnist was incandescent that Oxbridge might favour poorer pupils in its admissions process at the expense of his son.  I wrote to the paper, asking why his son couldn’t take up an apprenticeship in the construction industry in line with previous views, but it remains one of my great unpublished letters.

I would write more but I don’t need to as the ground has been magnificently covered by Dawn Foster, who points out the (surely well-known) statistic that state pupils do better in higher education than their contemporaries from private education with similar grades.  Visit it – well worth a read. The conclusion ?  Preferring state school pupils would not only contribute to a fairer society, it would provide better value for money and higher levels of skill.

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