Positive discrimination towards students from poorer backgrounds is always a touchy issue. Recently however, the evidence towards offering lower entrance grades to pupils of lower performing school has been building.
A report published by a government funded research group of over 100,000 students showed that students from state school backgrounds were up to 8% more likely to get a 2:1 or a first compared to their private school counterparts.
Many have been using this as solid evidence that top Universities just give lower offers to students from less well off backgrounds. Personally I think this would be a positive step forward by Universities, we cannot go on pretending that 3 As from a comp with a large amount of students on free school meals and low performance on national league tables is equivalent to 3 As from a high performing private institution – when it obviously isn’t.
Of course bashing private school is a fairly easy thing to do in education, and one should not partake in it without good reason. I acknowledge that they are very good schools and that they produce brilliant results, but education isn’t all about results. Noam Chomsky once remarked that exam results were pretty low on his criteria for selecting postgraduate students.
The out performance by state school students in higher education shows that there is more to succeeding at University than your A level grades, and the admission systems should reflect this.
Now I understand that this feels like student would be cheated, they are promised that if they achieve a, b, c (well, more like AAA..) then they will get into a good University – it supposed to be a level playing field. But the point is it isn’t a level playing field to begin with, I accept it isn’t perfect and I would much rather that state schools achieved better but until this is a reality we must come up with a pragmatic alternative to level things out in the meantime.
The ideal system would be if Universities interviewed people, luckily when I first applied to University I did have a few interviews and I found them really reassuring, it also gives the admissions tutors some solid evidence of your interest in the subject. Of course there is a cost involved but if Universities really wanted to get the best students surely this is a price worth paying?
Ultimately I believe this system should not be used to push private school students out of the top Universities but to challenge their dominance. A few Universities in the Russell group already give lower offers to students from the worst 40% of schools and I would certainly be in favour of York doing so as well. I do not believe it should be the norm but I think we need to foster potential in our education system and remember that exams are not the be all and end all of education.
This is not about punishing those that achieve but understanding that not all achievements are equal. If a student perhaps gets a few grades lower but they have a good personal statement and are enthusiastic about their subject then I believe that the University should give them an interview and consider rewarding them a place.