The “hatred that dare not speak its name” for independent schools is not everyone’s experience of Oxbridge admissions

In his Sunday Times blog, 03/02/13, Andrew Halls, Headmaster of King's College School, Wimbleon argues that it is simply untrue to say that UK universities are “discriminatory”. Instead, they are “discriminating”: they try to select the best they can, as best they can.

Most aspects of educating young people are absorbing, varied and stimulating. One that isn’t, however, is the annual debate about university selection. In fact, it is barely even a debate: each year, we hear how unfair leading universities are to pupils from independent schools.

So, is it true that Cambridge and Oxford, or indeed other leading UK universities have set their faces against children educated in the private sector?

The short answer to this is No. A slightly longer answer would be that independent schools still take around 40% of all Oxbridge places – and yet we only educate 7% of Britain’s school children. The proportion of our pupils getting to Oxford and Cambridge has dropped a little in the last few years, partly because the maintained sector has improved its performance with the ablest pupils, and partly because top universities will try hard to see the real potential, the natural ability, in every boy and girl, regardless of background. This is not at all the same as saying Oxbridge colleges will take a candidate they believe to have less potential, just because they are from a state school. And the figures reflect incredibly impressively on the quality of teaching, and the excellence of candidates, from the independent sector.

At King’s, fifty-five of our Upper Sixth have been made Oxford and Cambridge offers this year. It is a record for the school, and suggests that it is simply untrue to say that UK universities are “discriminatory”. Instead, they are “discriminating”: they try to select the best they can, as best they can.

That is exactly what I, and many independent school headteachers, are doing right now as we interview hundreds of excellent children for a limited number of places at our own schools. We will probably get the call right in the great majority of cases, but we will make some mistakes, too. No doubt someone will then tell us our schools are deliberately unfair in some way or another. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.

Click here to read the blog © The Sunday Times