Private schools attack ‘crude’ university access targets

In an article in the Telegraph, 16/08/13, Graeme Paton reports on recent comments by Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of ISC that it is wrong to enforce targets that discriminate between state and private school pupils.

Top universities are discriminating against private school pupils by engineering admissions in favour of teenagers from the state system, according to the head of Britain’s biggest independent schools group.

Institutions are attempting to drive down recruitment from the fee-paying sector to satisfy Government demands for a more socially-balanced student body, it is claimed.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said the creation of specific targets that discriminate between state and private school pupils were “wrong” and actually risked favouring affluent children from “middle-class comprehensives”.

An analysis by the Telegraph shows that 11 out of 20 members of the elite Russell Group want to increase admissions from state schools over the next five years.

This includes Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, King’s College London, the London School of Economics and Warwick.

One institution – University College London – has pledged to boost the number of places awarded to state-educated entrants by 10 per cent by 2016.

Other universities are barring pupils from independent schools from applying for generous bursary programmes worth thousands of pounds which are designed to ease the financial burden of a degree.

Under new rules, any university charging more than £6,000-a-year in tuition fees must draw up an “access agreement” – signed off by the Government’s Office for Fair Access – outlining targets and initiatives designed to ensure students from disadvantaged groups are not deterred by the rising cost.

Institutions are given complete freedom to choose how to measure “disadvantage”, with most aiming for students from deprived families and those living in areas with a poor history of going on to higher education.

However, figures show 11 Russell Group members have opted to use state schools as a specific target measure.

Writing in the Times Educational Supplement, Mr Lenon, the former headmaster of Harrow, attacked the system, saying it was too crude.

The targets fail to recognise the fact that large numbers of poor children attend private schools on bursaries, he said.

He added: “Another reason why the emphasis on independent/state school targets is so wrong is that it permits universities to claim they are doing their bit for social mobility when in fact they are simply taking more students from selective grammar schools and middle-class comprehensives.

"The measure fails to identify the most disadvantaged children.”

Some top universities have explicitly rued out similar targets.

In its access agreement, Oxford said that counting state school entrants was not a “helpful or meaningful target or benchmark in addressing the very complex factors related to under-representation”.

Imperial College London ruled out setting such targets because “students from state schools are not a disadvantaged group in themselves”.

Wendy Piatt director general of the Russell Group, said: “Our universities want students – wherever they went to school – who have the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed.

“State school students with good grades are currently less likely to apply to top universities than those at independent schools. We cannot offer places to those who do not apply.

"By encouraging more good state school students to apply, our universities will have a wider pool from which to select the brightest and the best

“To measure their progress in widening access, universities use a range of indicators – not only school type. Other measures include numbers of students who come from areas where few go to university or those who attend schools which have a poor record.”

By Graeme Paton, Telegraph. Click here to read the article © Telegraph.