Nothing, surely, wrong with that. What Bristol appear to be doing is similar: finding kids from disadvantaged homes, and not making value-judgments about where they went to school.
The steps needed to ensure fair access to university seem to be leading us less in a straight line and more in a dance looking oddly like a version of the okey cokey.
Put your right leg in – a university sticks independently-educated students in its scholarship scheme for the under privileged.
Put your right leg out – get them out, cry commentators, incensed that the ‘already privileged’ are in the mix.
But now it’s time to shake it all about. Because underprivileged children come from fee paying schools too.
I know this sounds unlikely. But it really is time to shake up our pre conceptions and look at the facts.
The university in question, Bristol, has set up a scheme to broaden their social mix and identify potential among the disadvantaged, and a third of them come from the independent school sector.
It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But it isn’t.
I have looked carefully at University Access Agreements and they show that more universities are realising that disadvantage – financial, social, familial – has little to do with school type.
There are more and more pupils from disadvantaged families coming out of independent schools who have been on free or considerably discounted places.
Oxford University’s own figures tell us that a third of their undergraduates from the most underprivileged homes come from independent schools.
They are highly likely to have been deeply disadvantaged young people who received bursary funding to help them fulfill their potential at school, and are now continuing that upward curve through life at university.
The Universities of Warwick and Durham have indeed got rid of their ‘school type’ measures in reporting to government on their social mobility success. Warwick stated roundly that "the university does not believe the state school indicator provides an accurate measure of disadvantage."
After all, try telling a child who qualifies for free school meals and has had a free place at Manchester Grammar School, for example, or boarded at Christ’s Hospital because his or her home is unsafe, that they are socially elite.
And what about other forms of disadvantage?
Does an independent school education make you immune from debilitating illness, or bereavement, or family crisis, all aspects of disadvantage universities like Bristol want to allow for?
No, the sooner politicians and some journalists accept, as universities are starting to, that ‘independently educated’ does not necessarily mean ‘socially privileged’, the better.
But there is one other argument which might be troubling Bristol.
Might you argue that the disadvantaged student who was helped to gain a place at an independent school has now become privileged? That the very fact of being in a top school means they have already had their leg up?
Universities need good brains and surely help to those with tough lives but real potential shouldn’t end at school.
Or if it does, perhaps educational thinkers have unwittingly unearthed a bit of a problem for themselves.
If it were really true that going to an independent school was all the help you needed to conquer disadvantage, that it has made you into a world beater who needs no further help in life, then that’s a pretty hefty endorsement of the power of the independent sector to transform lives.
It might even be an explanation for the dominance of such students in universities and the professions. Now that would shake a few people up.
Chris Ramsey is Headmaster of The King’s School, Chester, and speaks for HMC on Higher Education.
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