States Rates

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.public vs private schools

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.

1 Comment

  1. anon
    06 May 2014 - 15:12 BST

    My parents teach, and they have multiple friends who also teach in both low standard state schools and elite public schools. What often strikes me — and may not strike someone who has only ever experienced private schooling and elite university life — is that good private schools need results, figures, exact numbers, to continue running. It’s where much of their credibility comes from. When you pay for a private school you pay for a set of excellent grades, essentially (hence why I’m surprised more people aren’t surprised by demographics of oxbridge undergrads — private schools as institutions want to dominate that arena, naturally, it helps them sell their product).

    Because of this requirement, private schools will push students very, very, very hard to ensure they reach the best possible standard. They have both the resources – in terms of books, equipment, spaces, and staff members – to monitor every single student exactly and trace their progress and keep them in line. State schools, on the other hand, don’t — because they simply lack the number of teachers and resources to give that level of tailored academic support. Thus, state school leavers who do well tend to have a good work ethic, tend to be very good at independent research — things universities coincidentally really desire in undergrads — but also, the fact that they’ve done so well under much worse conditions really deserves some credit in itself. Therefore I think affirmative action really is a sensible short-term course of action, one that corrects the current inherent inequality in our educational and economic system.

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