We can understand Milburn’s frustration that his mission – to get a wider social mix at top universities – appears to be stalling. But the answer is not to cripple applications from independent schools: it is to improve information and guidance at all schools, and raise aspiration.
When half the England football team come from Manchester United, we don't say well, we must handicap United: no, we ask ourselves what they are doing so well which we could all do better. And for schools, by the way, we can’t say independent schools do better because of academic selection, because most HMC schools aren't particularly selective. And we can’t say cash, because we probably educate at about the same expense as the state. We can say independence, accountability and a relentless focus on what is best for the child.
We all want a fair social mix at university, but above all we want the best students to go to the best university. No student should be penalised because of the group to which some official has decided he belongs; it is lazy thinking and unworthy of the authors of this report to assume that a ‘better’ ratio of state students will lead to better social mix.
We are in favour of contextual data, too: every individual application has its school and social context. We applaud the undertaking to do more work on developing subtler, more meaningful contextual data. We are opposed though to the use of crude binary data because it helps no-one: does Mr Milburn really want more socially privileged grammar school students at Russell Group Universities and fewer full bursary, socially disadvantaged independent school candidates?
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