‘Parents fear social engineering, says leading head,’ writes today’s Times (£) under an eye-catching front page headline: Private woe over rise of state pupils at Oxbridge.
Anthony Wallersteiner, head of Stowe School, told The Times that Oxbridge policies to attract state-educated students had ‘driven down the number of Oxbridge places awarded to privately educated pupils’ by taking factors such as context into account.
It’s still the case, however, that privately-educated pupils are disproportionately represented at Oxbridge. 36% of those offered places at Cambridge in 2017 were from independent schools. At Oxford, 42% of 2017 offers were to privately-educated pupils. Nevertheless, the rise in the proportion of state pupils attending Oxbridge was leading fee-paying parents to complain their children were being elbowed out by ‘social engineering’, The Times said.
Chris Millward, the director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, told The Times the OfS wanted university recruitment ‘to be more reflective of broader society’. This is not ‘social engineering’. It’s a question of fairness.
The Times wrote that heads of other ‘leading independent schools’ admitted their ‘marginal candidates’ were less likely to be offered a place at Oxbridge than in previous years. That’s as it should be if privately-educated marginal candidates were being offered places which could have been taken by better-qualified state-educated pupils.
The Independent School Council (ISC) said it was in favour of ‘contextual admissions’ but it should be used ‘intelligently’. This, it said, meant not linking ‘private school’ with ‘wealth’.
Wealthy or less wealthy (unlikely to be eligible for free school meals), parents who pay for children to be privately-educated must think their investment confers some kind of advantage – that the ‘context’ in which the children are schooled will make it more likely they enter Oxbridge (even if the candidate is ‘marginal’), for example.
The ISC is right – contextual admissions must be used with intelligence. That surely means not being overly influenced by a candidate having attended a ‘leading independent school’.
This is the second post about recent front page articles in The Times. Readers might be forgiven for thinking there’s some kind of campaigning going on – a broadside from private schools worried about losing pupils to the state sector. The first article describing how a Times claim about how much fee-paying schools save the taxpayer was found to be false is here.