Spoon-fed private pupils less able to cope at university

The Times, 30/03/15, claims teenagers from independent schools need better emotional and academic support when they start university.

Teachers are working with academics to make it easier for them to cope with going from sixth form to university.

The claim raises questions about whether the excellent pastoral care at top schools is leaving young people less able to cope with university life and a more autonomous way of learning.

Three fifths of independent school pupils say that they had better teaching at school than at university, compared with two fifths of state school pupils, according to a survey by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC). They said they enjoyed more personal attention, clearer guidelines and more detailed feedback.

State school pupils felt more motivated to learn at university than school (44 per cent compared with 38 per cent of independent school pupils). HMC said that these findings showed that fee-paying pupils experienced the greatest contrast in satisfaction.

Richard Harman, chairman of HMC and headmaster of Uppingham School, said that academics and school leaders had a duty to work together to ease the transition to university, because today’s generation had more problems and pressures than their parents.

He denied that students were being mollycoddled, saying: “They are arguably under more pressure than ever before. They are anxious about high-stakes exams, unreliable marking, 24/7 pressures of social media, lack of jobs and housing, increased debt and constant upheaval in all levels of their lives.

“And they have to live with predictions that they will be the first generation worse off than their parents. Anxiety and depression pay little attention to income or academic prowess.

“Our schools have already substantially increased our pastoral care over five years. School and college leavers do not magically turn into fully fledged adults the minute they step out of the classroom and into the lecture hall.

“Leaving school, leaving home and creating a new life at 18 is bound to be a time of acute anxiety. It’s a very important life step. Parents have a legitimate interest and as higher education becomes marketised, institutions are having to adjust.”

Mr Harman told The Times that more students than ever were going to university, and this was combined with a greater awareness of wellbeing.

Heads and academics will be drawing up initiatives to help teenagers to cope with the differences in qualifications, teaching and pastoral support between school and university. Sir David Eastwood, the vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and Sir Bob Burgess, former vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester, have given their backing.

Frank Furedi, an author and sociology professor at the University of Kent, said that normal stages were being turned into traumatic events. He said: “There is now transitional counselling to help children going from primary to secondary school. We now have the idea that 17, 18 or 19 year olds are biologically developed children. They go on gap years that are so well organised they become an predictable extension of school.”

Professor Furedi said it was as if some parents and teachers expected a “reception committee waiting to welcome their child at university”. He added: “None of this really helps — they have to make their own way and choose their own courses. I would blame a lot of independent schools. In many respects it’s the independent sector that led the way, creating the problem.”

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