UK Politics

Postcode Lottery

This article on Britain’s education system got me thinking.

Richard Morrison took his daughter to an open day at one of the “old” universities in the north of England and the new admissions procedure was explained to him

First, all students must get good A-level grades; no exceptions. Fair enough. But that doesn’t help the selection process much, since these days a mysteriously large number of applicants do flaunt good A-level results or predictions. (Let’s not get into that knotty issue right now.) So, she continued, the university then applies the following criteria. Students from deprived areas are preferred to those from middle-class areas. Students from the “local area” are preferred to those from the South — allegedly because if “local” students are not admitted to this university (which they can attend without leaving home), they could not afford to study anywhere else. I thought the whole point of going to college was to learn how to wash your own underwear, but that only shows how out of touch I am.

The list didn’t finish there. Students from schools that don’t send many children to university are preferred to those from schools that do. And lastly, children whose parents didn’t go to university are preferred to those whose parents did. To add private grief to general angst, my daughter also happens to be interested in a course for which far more girls than boys apply. So “naturally”, we were told, male applicants get “special consideration”.

I think this sort of thing is asking for trouble. Even if we ignore the implied assumption, wrong in my experience, that people from what are now called “non-traditional” backgrounds (working-class, ethnic minority etc) need the rules bent to get into university the law of unintended consequences is going to kick in if these rules become hardened with age.

Already middle-class parents are getting round the rules by yanking their children out of private education for the final school year and sending them to a state-funded sixth-form college. They know that this will be enough to have their children classified as “state-educated” and thus at an advantage when applying for university.

How long before children from the posh part of town are sent to live with Granny, or other handy relatives who live in a rougher area, for a year when they are seventeen so that they have the “right” postcode as far as the admissions procedure is concerned ?

A sex-change is probably going a bit far but even so my point is that people will always get round the rules.

Morrison is right when he argues that the social engineering foisted on universities is

a sticking-plaster remedy for a chronic national ill.

The real trouble lies with the state-funded primary and secondary education system. Our system is producing large numbers of students who are illiterate and inumerate. Talk to anyone employed in tertiary education and you’ll find that they spend a lot of time marking essays which just aren’t up to the standards of even two decades ago. No wonder Oliver Letwin recently let slip his true feelings about state-education and no wonder that Universities are being forced to alter their admissions procedures by the Government.

Our anger should be with those in charge of the state-education system. We are paying for it and we should be demanding that it produces students who can hit the ground running at university whichever social class or postcode they come from.

It’s not as if other countries can’t do it.

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