17 March 2006

Educational selection is getting more determined by wealth.

Here we are, into the ninth year of a Labour government and we still have 164 grammar schools. The number of grammar school pupils has increased from 3.1% in 1983 to 4.4% in 1997 to 4.6% in 2004. (An interesting aside, only 20% of Tory MPs went to a comprehensive. Imagine what an accomplishment it is to have recruited 80% of your MPs from the most privileged 10% of the population (and I bet the rest went to good rural comprehensives!). Better than this, 59% of Tory MPs went to a fee paying independent school, it is 39% for Lib Dem MPs and 18% for Labour MPs. Just goes to show what a decent secondary school education can do, eh? Classless society indeed! The figures are even worse for ministers - the Tories have EIGHT old Etonians in their shadow cabinet alone including their leader and 13 of the 15 Etonians in total).

Do we still believe in comprehensive education? What is going on?

The evidence is stark. The more grammar schools an area has, the lower the overall average attainment of pupils in that area (this is comparing ALL selected pupils including the results of grammar pupils, with those in non-selected areas).

Grammar schools are only the tip of this hierarchical system funded by taxpayers money. Selection goes much much deeper. The wealthier you are, the better state education you get. Haven't we got this the wrong way round? Shouldn't a Labour government target resources to the poor, not the well off. The poor pay their taxes as well (a higher proportion of their income than the rich), shouldn't they get the same level of service?

Of course selection has always been there. Nobody wants to go to a secondary modern school, but the name doesn't necessarily give the selection away.

I went to a comprehensive in the West Midlands, but I failed my 11 plus. A lot of the most able pupils who would have gone to my comprehensive were creamed off to a grammar school 3 miles away. So really my comprehensive was largely a secondary modern. Saying that I was lucky because the comprehensive I went to was fairly good, not brilliant but much better that some secondary schools in the area.

Today this school is in demand, and my parents house probably wouldn't fall into the catchment area, despite being only 15 minutes walk away. I hear it had trust status and introduced an admissions test under Tory rule. Now those with the money probably just buy into the catchment area (or more cheekily, temporarily rent). This is grossly unfair, purely selection by wealth.

From Tuesday's Guardian comes even more interesting stories on how the selection process works. Parents have to fill in complicated application forms, attend interviews, re-find religion, any hoop they can jump through to get their children into the better schools. Parents are encouraged to make six choices from a wide range of schools in the area. Some parents don't even get an offer from their sixth choice. It can be heartbreaking for children who are rejected from the school their friends are going to, this already labels them failures. All people want, is a good local school, i.e. we need to make sure every school delivers a good education. There is realistically only one way to do that, but those of you who went to grammar schools or who defend inequality are not going to like it.

We need to make sure the middle class children don't all congregate in a few 'good' schools, we need to spread them around evenly by offering the incentive that every state school (3800) is guaranteed a place for it's top pupil at Oxbridge. This goes right to the heart of those who protect privilege and the class system. The truth is that, depressingly, there isn't the political will for such an upheaval, not even in the Labour party. The privileged middle classes, not surprisingly don't want selection in state schools to end, because their children are getting a better education at the expense of all taxpayers.

The suspicion has to be that these complicated, time consuming and stressful selection procedures are designed to put off those parents from the more deprived backgrounds.

Considering all this, it seems hard to believe that the new education bill could be even worse than the current system, but apparently that is the case.

LEAs are elected and for all their failings do provide some democratic control, they do try and ensure a more level playing field and stop some of the most overt selection in schools. For example, ensuring there is a proportion of non-Catholics in a Catholic school. This bill is determined to remove control of admissions from LEAs and place them with..well almost anyone with 2 million quid. More Reg Vardy creationist schools here we come. What is Blair playing at?

Some of the new bill is to be welcomed - after some pressure from backbenchers, parent interviews will be banned and there are some reasuring noises on selection but the devil will be in the detail when it goes through committee stage. Here is hoping for the best (the bill is so complicated that is all we can do), it surely can't get much worse, but then I don't remember what it was like before 1965 when comprehensives came in, neither apparently does Blair if the worst is to be believed about this bill.

55 comments:

  1. I haven't really made my mind up either way, but I'm sympathetic to the bill, especially if the alternative is no change, and selection by postcode.

    Not that I think selection by ability/aptitude/etc. is the worst thing in the world - it's not anti-working-class, and is based on the assumption that it's a 60s-style, one-off decision that condemns one half of pupils to a life of drudgery. People only have to say "11 plus" for the debate to be closed down, such is the collective memory of people of a certain age. How can you offer the best and most suitable education to those who need it the most, irrespective of 'class', if you're not allowed to find out who needs it?

    This is quite interesting.

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  2. B4L: Interesting article.

    "Not that I think selection by ability/aptitude/etc. is the worst thing in the world - it's not anti-working-class, and is based on the assumption that it's a 60s-style, one-off decision that condemns one half of pupils to a life of drudgery."

    If only it was one half. Like I have pointed out, grammar schools cater for 3-4% of pupils. It is a might divide. Get your kid to grammar school and he/she has made it!

    OK the rich are always going to have the advantage of fee paying schools, not much can be done about that, but why should the taxes of us all pay for a few middle class to join them?

    I DO have a problem with academic selection because at 11 creaming off the top 3-4% is just a reflection of social deprivation. There is no chance of a kid from a poor background making those odds. Why should the parents of poor children pay for middle class children to have a better education than their kids?

    Of course, selection by house price is even worse, but this bill doesn't seem to want to do anything about that.

    The core question is; why is it only a tiny minority of comprehensives (mainly in wealthy rural and surburban areas) that send pupils to the top universities? The worst schools have NEVER in their history had ANY of their pupils go to Oxbridge. This is not by accident, this is DELIBERATE!

    The only way to make the middle class take an interest in EVERY school is to guarantee ONE place at Oxbridge for EVERY secondary school. There is about 3800 schools and Oxbridge takes in around 10,000 students every year, so it can easily be done. The middle class will still find a way around the system using private tuition BUT at least all pupils will go to schools that contain pupils going to the top universities. As we all know, children can learn just as much from their peers as from the teachers, it is time the poorest had the chance to make it as well.

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  3. Thing about Oxbridge is that they're more interested in the "right kind of person" than academic excellence: their interview system ensures that only those whose parents know the system (or are the "right" kind themselves), or are at the schools that are specifically geared up for conveying people into Oxbridge, get the special coaching needed to get through the interviews.

    That said, I don't have all that much sympathy for the victims of this system, even if, unfortunately, they suffered purely from going to an ordinary school - because people who continue to make a fuss about going to Oxbridge just sustain the system.

    So that's why I'd avoid giving each school one guaranteed place there. There are much better places, places which don't encourage their graduates to believe they can walk on water.

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  4. Helen Wright17/3/06 4:14 pm

    Thing about Oxbridge is that they're more interested in the "right kind of person" than academic excellence

    Blimey, that's a bit of a revelation - how'd I get in then? I went to an ordinary Welsh comp that had last sent someone to Oxford about five years before me, and my family doesn't routinely send its young to university. So I suppose I must be a bit of an exception (interviewers having an off-day? Rah-dar not functioning, perhaps?). But then again, if I think of all the people living around me in my college, on the whole they seemed to be from pretty ordinary backgrounds as well. So I guess Clare College's 1995 lot must have been a bit of a blip too. Except, hang on a sec, when I come to remember the people from other colleges who were doing the same course as me, they weren't dominated by public-school types from the south east either. What's going on? Heck, I seem to have created my own personal anomaly forcefield right here (keep back, everyone!). Either that, or Cambridge admissions, at least, are not quite so dreadful as you think.

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  5. Neil,

    I'm quite upset about that idea. As the first person *ever* from my state school to go to Cambridge University I'm exactly the sort of person this would benefit.

    The reason people from my comprehensive didn't go to Cambridge is not because they weren't clever enough but because they had the impression that

    "
    Oxbridge is that they're more interested in the "right kind of person" than academic excellence.
    "

    advice that is being perpetuated on your blog.

    Unfortunately this advice is flat out wrong, through the Target Schools campaign I'm happy to report that my state school has been dispelled of the idea that 'Oxbridge is for poshies' and now sends several applicants every year - about half of them get in.

    A contributing reason to me applying is I was aware of someone who had been accepted despite coming from a background on the poverty line, and I was aware that Cambridge University provided considerable extra funds to him for living expenses, well over and above what any other university would have provided.

    I strongly suggest any smart school leaver reading this from a poor background visit

    http://www.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/finance/support.html

    for details of how for poor students Cambridge University will give up to £3000 per year to aid in living and tuition costs. Unlike the Labour Party who introduced the tuition fees, Cambridge is attempting to protect the poorest students from paying them.

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  6. Neil, what's the problem here? Is it class envy (the smart set certainly don't go to oxbridge, it's only really suitable for blue-stockings)? Is it a hatred of egalitarnism when applyied to oppertunity, or is it wealth envy? The labour goverment has done more damage to the accessability of oxbridge than any goverment so far , by increasing fees for what used to be a free service. Or is it the idea of eliteism you object to? Should all people from a working class background be condemned to getting the same A-level results and going to the same universities because they shouldn't get above their station? The fundamental barrier to more of the "working class" whoever they are getting into oxbridge is simply that their teachers don't send them, and their parents won't let them. Oxbridge exerts a huge amount of effort on outreach programs only to be told by teachers that they won't send kids there because "it's too posh". It seems the only authentic yard stick of inverse snobbery that has validity in the labour party is to have been an NUS president. Out of interest did you apply to oxbridge?

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  7. > Unlike the Labour Party who introduced the tuition fees, Cambridge is attempting to protect the poorest students from paying them.

    Cambridge can "attempt" to do so, but it's this government that is pledged to helping the poorest by removing upfront fees and restoring limited grants - and offering generous loans to those who don't qualify as poor.

    ===

    I didn't say Oxbridge entry was about being posh, but about being prepared and coached, and I had Oxford particularly in mind here. Sending a dozen bright but unprepared 17 year-olds from the local Sixth Form College to Oxford interviews looked like (and turned out to be) taking lambs to the slaughter.

    I think the obsession with Oxbridge, as demonstrated here, is very unhealthy - from those who are there and looking down from on high, as well as from those looking up in awe. I have much more respect for people who succeed at establishments that are genuinely open, and who don't rely on recruiters who credit "prestige" above achievement.

    That's not class envy, it's a perfectly natural suspicion of elites.

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  8. Helen Wright17/3/06 5:24 pm

    I didn't say Oxbridge entry was about being posh, but about being prepared and coached, and I had Oxford particularly in mind here

    If you mean Oxford particularly, then say Oxford, not Oxbridge, because your comments about preparation and coaching do not hold for Cambridge. I am sure that coaching (or, to use a less sinister-sounding word, practice) helps for university interviews in general, not only at Oxford and Cambridge; but you do not need it to get in here.

    As an aside, I'm not "obsessed" with Cambridge, and I don't think the other commenters are either, but people are naturally interested in institutions with which they have a personal connection.

    And I do not think that elites are bad per se. Is it not desirable to have an intellectual elite of very bright people associating together for the last stage of their formal education, if we wish to develop their abilities as much as we can with the hardest material that we can in order to prepare them to go on and (for example) produce excellent research?

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  9. For the benefit of the uninitiated, what are you people talking about when you refer to "preparation", "coaching" and "practice" in relation to Oxbridge interviews?

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  10. Firstly, I should point out that I agree with many of the things you have said. Ideally, we should have two types of school in this country

    - Comprehensive schools, open to all, with a mandated core curriculum

    - Fee paying independent schools which are free to teach whatever their paying customers request, and to offer scholarships as they see fit

    Of late your support seems to be drifting away from the Labour Party as constituted, and towards some sort of Platonic Labour Party whose policies differ at pretty much every point.

    We need to make sure the middle class children don't all congregate in a few 'good' schools, we need to spread them around evenly by offering the incentive that every state school (3800) is guaranteed a place for it's top pupil at Oxbridge.

    Two questions. Firstly, how do you propose to enforce this obligation on the governing bodies of Oxford and Cambridge? Secondly, what message do you think this policy sends to academics at our other top universities (Imperial College, Durham, Leeds) who run courses which score as highly in assessment exercises as any at Oxbridge?

    If only it was one half. Like I have pointed out, grammar schools cater for 3-4% of pupils. It is a might divide. Get your kid to grammar school and he/she has made it!

    That is transparently false and does your argument no credit. Typical figures were more like 25% (no citation for this, but you can look it up).

    Certainly (and coming from Ilkley, on the edge of North Yorkshire, I have some experience of this), a figure of 3-4% for the cream-off of children from comprehensives to grammars in adjacent LEA areas is reasonable. However, an assumption that this 'cream' consists solely of the best students is not.

    b4l: Thing about Oxbridge is that they're more interested in the "right kind of person" than academic excellence...

    Where on earth did you get this idea from? I am responsible for Computer Science admissions at two Cambridge colleges; why would I be interested in anything other than finding the students who will get most out of the course and achieve the best results? If I drop a bright kid in favour of a smooth one, we go down in the rankings and I have to answer for it.

    You go on to say that

    I didn't say Oxbridge entry was about being posh, but about being prepared and coached, and I had Oxford particularly in mind here.

    which, aside from being a pretty cowardly piece of backtracking in the face of knowledgable opposition, is a completely different allegation. Are we not interested in intelligence? Or are we interested in intelligence but easily fooled by superficial polish? I assure you that you'd find it bloody hard to get through one of my interviews on the basis of smoothness alone.

    The fundamental barrier to more of the "working class" whoever they are getting into Oxbridge is simply that their teachers don't send them, and their parents won't let them. Oxbridge exerts a huge amount of effort on outreach programs only to be told by teachers that they won't send kids there because "it's too posh".

    This is an excellent point. I went on a 320 mile round trip on Wednesday, to see some great kids at a school in the north of England. In the staffroom afterwards, I was told by one teacher that he would advise students against applying to my college for exactly this reason. People like Neil and B4L, who push an unrealistic view of the Oxbridge admissions procedure from a standpoint of limited knowledge play a large part in perpetuating this attitude.

    b4l: I have much more respect for people who succeed at establishments that are genuinely open

    Would you care to nominate a few of these, with supporting citations, and clarification of loaded terms like "genuinely open"?

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  11. I should add, (a) to come clean, (b) to inform those who might think I'm talking through my hat, and (c) give a leg-up to people who'd like to give the "chip on the shoulder" argument a try, that I was involved in the Oxford admissions process in the 90s, and have personal/parental experience in both private/ex-grammar and LEA sectors.

    I'm really not obliged to impart this, but I will, just to add a personal touch. Having passed entrance exams (the test on "ability") I was spat out by a job-style interview panel. Private schools below University level have one purpose, and one pitch for parents, which is that they have it in their power to propel pupils from one stage to the other - irrespective of actual ability or achievement - culminating in a place at a top University, and a cushy start in life. By coaching, I mean, "we know, from past successes, and knowledge of the relevant tutors, exactly the sort of thing that is required at selection interviews, and we can ensure that your sprog is prepared, giving him/her a tremendous advantage over the awkward types who've struggled through on their own merits from lesser establishments". It's a stitch-up, but parents will pay the money.

    Oxford and Cambridge are just Universities, not tickets to the establishment, and thousands of excellent candidates will do just as well, if not better, going elsewhere.

    So let's cease this obsession with Oxbridge, and indeed with higher education, and concentrate our efforts at those who leave education at 16, for whom the word "CV" is a hollow laugh.

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  12. Having passed entrance exams (the test on "ability") I was spat out by a job-style interview panel.

    I should point out that, certainly in the context of the Cambridge admissions process, the personal and academic interviews play an important role in determining "ability". To quote from one of our standard presentations, we are seeking to ascertain the candidate's

    - teachability
    - scholarship and curiosity
    - capacity for critical thinking
    - intellectual independence

    These factors will determine whether a student succeeds in the stressful Cambridge environment. In my own subject, interview performance carries at least as much weight as test results (YMMV in the case of arts subjects, which often ask for written work ahead of time).

    We are very up front about this in our admissions literature, and I would be surprised if Oxford do not operate a similar policy. If we really thought that our own custom examinations told us everything about a candidate we could just ask everyone for a sheaf of STEPs, and save ourselves a lot of effort come December.

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  13. Basically, I'm in agreement with nearly all that B4L has said.

    "people who continue to make a fuss about going to Oxbridge just sustain the system."

    The point about guaranteeing ONE place for Oxbridge is not that someone from each school goes, (the pupil can turn it down if they want). It's to attract the sort of pupils who do go to the top universities to every school. This will have a knock on effect on other pupils, and of course there will be a more even spread of pupils who go to the Russell group of universities at EVERY school as well. This is what will give ALL pupils a level playing field.

    Helen: "I went to an ordinary Welsh comp that had last sent someone to Oxford about five years before me"

    The majority of comprehensives have NEVER sent a pupil to Oxbridge. Maybe your 'comp' wasn't quite as 'ordinary' as you assume.

    "when I come to remember the people from other colleges who were doing the same course as me, they weren't dominated by public-school types from the south east either."

    Nearly 50% of Cambridge students come from independent fee paying schools which educate 7% of total pupils.

    "New statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency reconfirm common conceptions of Oxbridge with the revelation that "upper or middle class" students account for 79 percent of Cambridge entrants in 1997"

    "Half of the independent school students achieving three As at A-level ended up at Oxbridge compared with less than a third of those with the same grades from state schools. It is not clear whether there is a link between this and the fact that state-school pupils are statistically less likely to be accepted to Cambridge: 35 percent of private-school applicants were successful compared with 27 percent of state-school applications."

    "The Oxford University admissions office was far more reticent than its Cambridge counterpart in giving data on applications and comprehensive school students"

    The above quotes are taken from this rather complacent article that seems to go over the top in emphasising that the situation IS improving, it is still a very poor situation, with evidence to back up what B4L is saying about the bias in interviewing comprehensive school applicants.

    eben: "Of late your support seems to be drifting away from the Labour Party as constituted, and towards some sort of Platonic Labour Party whose policies differ at pretty much every point."

    This image of me as some sort of new labour brown nose has always been far from the mark. I defend plenty of Labour policies that have been misrepresented in the media, but I also criticise plenty I dislike as well.

    "Typical figures were more like 25% [at grammar school] (no citation for this, but you can look it up)."

    No. You are wrong, it was 3.1% in 1983, and in 2004 it was 4.6% of pupils who went to grammar schools.

    "how do you propose to enforce this obligation on the governing bodies of Oxford and Cambridge?"

    Threaten to remove ALL state support and set up state funded rivals. They will cave in.

    "what message do you think this policy sends to academics at our other top universities (Imperial College, Durham, Leeds) who run courses which score as highly in assessment exercises as any at Oxbridge?"

    I'm not making any judgement on Oxbridge's superiority or otherwise, it is just a mechanism to attract middle class pupils to every school.

    Pete: "Unlike the Labour Party who introduced the tuition fees, Cambridge is attempting to protect the poorest students from paying them."

    As B4L as already pointed out, the poorest students now get maintenance grants to cover their fees because of a Labour govt. Abolishing tuition fees is regressive, it would involve a redistribution of wealth from poorer earners to support middle class students. The tuition fees are still only a fraction of the true costs of universities and the loans are only paid back after graduation according to earnings. It is only fair to make the wealthier students contribute.

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  14. No. You are wrong, it was 3.1% in 1983, and in 2004 it was 4.6% of pupils who went to grammar schools.

    Yes, and that was because most of the original group of grammars had been abolished by then. You can't say

    Like I have pointed out, grammar schools cater for 3-4% of pupils.

    as evidence of the iniquity of the system, when in most areas there are just comprehensives.

    Consider the following thought experiment. I can close grammar schools down until there is only one left in one LEA, educating say 0.025% of children. Would you say that the grammar school system is now even more unfair? Of course you wouldn't, because it would only impinge on the lives of a tiny fraction of the population.

    The number you want, to support your (correct) argument, is the proportion of students at grammar schools when the tripartite system was in full swing, or in an LEA which keeps the old system. And that (with some regional variation) 25%.

    Threaten to remove ALL state support and set up state funded rivals.

    Bloody hell. When all you have is a hammer, every problem really does start to look like a nail.

    They will cave in.

    Would you care to speculate on where else they might go to fill the funding gap? Do you think you could find, in the UK, 3000 parents of bright 18 year olds who would pay 10000 pounds a year for an Oxbridge education? How about in the US? China? India?

    The government would be gambling that a moral sentiment (that the UK tertiary education system should exist primarily for the benefit of the best EU, students), would triumph over baser instincts (institutional pride, and a personal need to put bread on the table).

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  15. On the tuition fees front, as the last year to go to university under a Tory government I'd like to point out that I paid no tuition fees, and was in receipt of a means tested grant to cover some of my living expenses, with the remainder being paid by a loan and my parents.

    The labour government which was voted in six months later abolished the means tested grant and introduced means tested tuition fees.

    Now I'm not going to pretend the Conservative government wouldn't have done something similar, and I (and others) are particularly bitter because Anne Campbell - the Cambridge MP at the time - stood on a platform of 'no top up fees' and voted in favour of them shortly after being elected.

    For a timeline of how the labour party have cut support to students and started to reintroduce it look here

    http://education.guardian.co.uk/students/tuitionfees/story/0,12757,1118543,00.html


    I'd also point out that both the Tory and Lib Dem parties have had commitments to abolish tuition fees, while Charles Clarke increased them to 3000, and introduced grants worth up to ... 3000 ... to protect the poorest students.

    In summary,
    In 1996, a poor student would receive 1710 as a grant, and a student loan of 1710, repayable after graduation on a income larger than about 20000.

    (crudely adjusting for inflation these numbers would be about 2500/2500 in todays money).

    In 2006, a poor student would receive a grant of 2700, a loan of 3200, a bursary of 300 with fees of 3000 to repay on graduating and earning over 15000.


    Under the 1996 scheme, a poor student would have 5000/year to spend, and graduate with a debt of 7500.

    Under the 2006 scheme, a poor student has 6200 to spend, and graduates owing a terrifying 18600.

    That extra 1200/year of spending money for the student, has come at a repayment cost of 11100.

    Now can we please stop the 'labour is great for students' mantra you keep repeating, the poorest students are worse off, and all the other students are much worse off because of the Labour government.

    The only case I am aware of where this is not true is a poor student applying to Cambridge University where the university would give an additional 3000 / year on top of all the government support, putting the student in a slightly better off position than his 1996 counterpart.

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  16. Pete: Looking around the institution's websites, it seems a lot of universities offer extra bursaries ranging from 1200 to 3000 on top of the grants and loans. So as you admit yourself, the poor students ARE BETTER off when this happens and that's before adjusting for the fact that Tory loans were at a commercial rate of interest, paid back in higher instalments, and were more bureaucratically difficlut to defer if you were unemployed (which you conveniently forgot to mention) and Tory grants were ending completely anyway whereas Labour loans are effectively interest free (inflation only) and grants have been reintroduced.

    The 18,000 debt figure is also disingenuous because, if the student has been ALLOWED to borrow more (at low interest) they obviously are going to owe more. The truth of the matter is that, the smaller Tory loans meant that the student had more bank debt instead which is hidden from the figures.

    Of course, a lot of these poorer students would never have gone to university in the first place under a Tory government because Labour has massively expanded the number of places. All the research shows that graduates earn 40% more than non-graduates, so a Labour govt has increased opportunities for the poorer students to get better careers.

    Finally the Lib Dems, as they have proved in Scotland, only deferred not abolished tuition fees. The Tories were being cynical in opposing tuition fees, they now support them but have always said they would restore commercial rates of interest on loans and abolish grants, this obviously would make it much much worse for poorer students.

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  17. eben: "The number you want, to support your (correct) argument, is the proportion of students at grammar schools when the tripartite system was in full swing, or in an LEA which keeps the old system. And that (with some regional variation) is 25%."

    Sorry, you are right. I misunderstood your point. I'd imagine it was around 25% who went to grammar schools before 1965. There is currently differing levels of selection going on in different areas. In Kent it might be nearer 20-25%. In Walsall, where I was, it was probably nearer 10%. Nationally it is 4.6%.

    But am I right in assuming you support the basic thrust of my argument that LEAs that have selection have lower overall results averaged across all its pupils than non-selective areas?

    "Do you think you could find, in the UK, 3000 parents of bright 18 year olds who would pay 10000 pounds a year for an Oxbridge education? How about in the US? China? India?"

    It's a bit like the G14 group of teams in football, if you let them do what they want with no threat of sanctions, they will get away with anything. Threaten to remove them from the Premier League and tell their players they will never play for their countries again and they come to a compromise with UEFA pretty quickly.

    Oxbridge gets 100s of millions of pounds of state funding, it would take more than a few thousand rich parents to find that sort of money. I would also threaten to compulsory purchase the buildings. Stick that in their posh pipe and smoke it! I'm sure they would come to an agreement with the government.

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  18. The Remittance Man19/3/06 10:12 am

    I agree with Bloggers4labour on his point that this obsession with Oxbridge smacks more of class envy than anything else. A student's selection of univesity should be based on the course he/she wishes to follow and the academic record of the establishment, plus other factors like accomodation, proximity to home or not, etc.

    On a side note I attended a small town comprehensive that had once been the Secondary Modern. The place used streaming which seemed to work quite well in guiding kids into classes where the workload was appropriate for their abilities. For the first three years (11 to 13) the sylabus was common and movement between the streams could and did occur with what appeared to be minimal disruption. From the fourth year classes were dependent on what choices one had made for one's 'O' level/CSE subjects.

    Probably the more important thing though were the expectations placed on all pupils to achieve. The Headmaster had been there since comprehensivisation and had taken a deliberate policy decision to run the place on what are probably termed traditional lines. Discipline was strict but not onerous and standards of behaviour were clearly set out and obeyed. Looking back it was probably this environment that did much to reinforce the expectations of the parents.

    Of those of my school colleagues with whom I am still in touch we all seem to have taken different paths in life but most of us seem to have achieved a reasonable level of success. This being so, I can only suggest that this particular model of school seems to have been pretty successful.

    RM

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  19. Helen Wright19/3/06 8:45 pm

    Neil: I'm responding to this only because your comment seems to imply that I am at best mistaken as to my own fairly recent experience, or at worst lying; this is a little insulting and am rather cross about it, and so would like to defend what I said. I probably shan't leave any further comments to this post because it seems unlikely that many others are reading, and in any case it is discouraging to comment on a subject of which I have relevant experience only to find my factual statements viewed with a skepticism that I do not think is warranted.

    Maybe your 'comp' wasn't quite as 'ordinary' as you assume.

    It most certainly was a comprehensive; this is the bit that I find particularly un-called-for. I think it is underhanded of you to stick odd words I've written between quotes like this, since the effect, even if it is not your intent, is to imply that I am being deliberately untruthful. I use this same sneering rhetorical device at times, but it is reserved for remarks that really deserve a sneer, rather than straightforward comments that others make about their personal experiences.

    I do insist that when I described my school as ordinary in the context of my reply to B4L's comment, that was representative of the truth, and not deserving of your suspicious single-quotes; I am sure there areways in which it was not ordinary, but these are not pertinent to the matter at hand. It was not subject to the inner-city horrors that I later realised I was fortunate to escape, but neither had it any advantages that would make it remarkable amongst provincial schools. It was not selective, other secondaries being too distant to permit this; it had no affiliation to any religious organisations or purpose-built charitable trusts; it was in an area with a mean income slightly lower than that for the UK, hence neither terribly wealthy nor grimly impoverished. It was not exactly what one might call experienced in sending pupils to Oxbridge, despite the girl who, five years before I left, had been accepted there. Teachers were familiar with neither the special application forms, nor Oxbridge's collegiate structure, nor the nature of the education provided there, nor the interview process. In short, it is not one of theschools that are specifically geared up for conveying people into Oxbridge that B4L says are one of the few ways I might have got in, and it was to this point that I limited the scope of my argument.

    Nearly 50% of Cambridge students come from independent fee paying schools which educate 7% of total pupils.

    Yes, that is true; but the fact that nearly half of Cambridge's students are from independent schools is a very long way from B4L's assertion that being from the right background is the only way to get in, and once again, this is all that I was arguing.

    (I begin to wonder whether my college still has my application records, and whether I and a few others should make data subject access requests to see why they actually admitted us. The only thing is that while it would be galling to have to admit to "solid upper-middle background, definitely our sort," I would be terrified of reading, "borderline, perhaps worth a go if a couple of the brighter ones turn us down.")

    The problem of making access to Cambridge and Oxford fair is an interesting and difficult one, and only a fool would argue that Cambridge has it pegged and that all equally bright, curious, enthusiastic sixth-formers have equal chances of getting in. But I hope that you can see why I find assertions such as B4L's difficult to stomach; while they do reflect an element of truth, they go so far beyond it that I cannot help but bridle.

    Incidentally, recent press coverage of Cambridge admissions statistics will almost certainly be based on the figures in http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2005-06/special/11/. I don't assume that this level of detail will necessarily be of interest to you, but mention it in case any of it is.

    Threaten to remove ALL state support and set up state funded rivals. They will cave in.

    One of the practical problems with this is that the Government quite likes having a Cambridge around to be in second place in those global league tables of which our Vice-Chancellor proclaims her skepticism, but to which she can't quite keep from referring; it likes the cutting-edge research, it likes the biotechnology cluster and the Silicon Fen phenomenon, and it likes all those Nobels. Setting up a plausible state-funded rival for all that would be a tall order. Cambridge's undergraduate provision is closely linked with its research and postgraduate activities and with its links to industry, so cutting off government funding for the former would be unwise.

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  20. I would also threaten to compulsory purchase the buildings

    Is that what's in store for all political opponents of the Harding regime?

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  21. But am I right in assuming you support the basic thrust of my argument that LEAs that have selection have lower overall results averaged across all its pupils than non-selective areas?

    Yes, of course. I personally don't think that's at all surprising.

    Oxbridge gets 100s of millions of pounds of state funding, it would take more than a few thousand rich parents to find that sort of money.

    A fairly typical breakdown of the University's finances is given here. From this we see that approximately half of total income comes from the government (research grants, HEFCE, teacher training, fees and support grants).

    Even in the most draconian scenario, in which the government is prepared to pervert not only HEFCE but also the (notionally independent) mechanisms for research council funding, the university need only find around 200 million pounds a year of replacement funding. With over 10000 undergraduates, genuine independence looks pretty viable.

    I would also threaten to compulsory purchase the buildings.

    God, you really are a jackbooted little fascist, aren't you? Happily, your scheme falls into the same category as the BNP's charming "nationalise the supermarkets" plan to protect small retailers; although both entail national economic suicide, neither would be implemented by anyone sane enough to attain power.

    Stick that in their posh pipe and smoke it!

    That just about sums it (and you) up. Plonk.

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  22. eben: "you really are a jackbooted little fascist, aren't you? Happily, your scheme falls into the same category as the BNP's charming "nationalise the supermarkets""

    If I have to choose between helping the poor or helping the rich and powerful, I choose helping the poor, the rich can look after themselves.

    You are right, I will never be in a position of power, but my response was to the suggestion that Oxford wouldn't allow comprehensive pupils into their establishment - that is fascist. Compulsory purchase would just be a threat to get them onside, it wouldn't have to be carried out.

    I don't think that coerciing an institution to have a fair cross section of society in it's intake is the same as the BNP's ill thought out and odd policies.

    "'Stick that in their posh pipe and smoke it'! That just about sums it (and you) up. Plonk."

    Do you deny that most people who run Oxbridge are posh? I am just stating a fact (partly in jest).

    At least you agree that grammar schools are a bad thing.

    Anon: "Is that what's in store for all political opponents of the Harding regime?"

    The funny thing is I believe in complete freedom of speech, a written constitution to protect human rights, a fair electoral system, more equality in society by having a citizen's income and fairer admission to universities by breaking the current school apartheid, I have been attacked for all of this. Who are the real fascists here? I think it is those who defend the status quo.

    helen: Oh helen, you are touchy when you have lost an argument aren't you?

    I was just lightly mocking your use of the word 'comp' not suggesting you didn't go to one. I'm sure you went to a comprehensive, I never challenged that assertion. I wasn't calling you a liar on this point.

    What I did challenge was your assumption it was 'ordinary. As you admit yourself a provincial comprehensive in Wales in far better then most urban comprehensives (which are the majority).

    You also claimed that most of the people at Cambridge were not middle class. On this I AM calling you a liar.

    By Cambridge's own admission, 79% of their students come from 'upper or middle class' backgrounds, a hell of a lot of these come from the richest 7% of the population who can afford to send their children to fee paying schools. I suspect you are from a middle class background yourself, so to you they probably weren't posh.

    It's funny how people who earn more than 30,000 a year think of themselves as 'average' or ordinary in terms of earnings, when the median is in fact 22,000. People always underestimate how well off they are, especially those at the top. It is so convenient.

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  23. I'd be delighted to learn why you think Helen's salary is at all relevant to any of this, and where you think you've dredged information on it up from.

    I know you witter on about despising bigotry, Neil, but you're really one of the worst inverse snobs I've come across. You're also not sufficiently competent to realise that you lack competence (see IQ tests passim), which is a real pisser when you're trying to argue with people smarter than you.

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  24. Neil, dharling, most people who have been through cambridge are indeed upper middle class, it's hard to be a profesional in this country and not be. The point that helen and others are patiently makeing is that the people who come into cambridge on the whole aren't. Bright working class people, and indeed bright people from any background can rise meretocratically though the british social strata at cambridge. Are you insisting again that working class people should always be forced to be working class again?

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  25. Neil, the point several people have been trying to make for some time is this :-

    Urban comprehensives, rural comprehensives, grammar schools and private schools all have smart students that deserve places at good universities, Cambridge being one of them.

    The students at urban comprehensives do not apply for places at Cambridge university, not because Cambridge won't let them in, but because people *like you* perpetuate an incorrect myth that the university will reject them because they are not posh.

    The University is actively trying to encourage poor students to apply, it sends hundreds to thousands of it's present students and fellows out to comprehensive schools every year to dispell myths about the application procedure - myths that you continue to propogate. It has considerable extra funding - more than anywhere else - to pay for poor students.

    It's main issue is an established perception propogated by the media, the parents, the schools themselves, the teachers and people like you that a Cambridge University education is only for rich posh people.

    If a smart poor student stumbles upon this blog , I hope they are able to understand through comments from Helen, Eben, myself and others that they can and should apply to Cambridge, that the university and it's students will help them to apply and give them the education they deserve.

    Should you encounter a bright poor seventeen year old, I sincerely hope you encourage them to apply for the best universities they can, and to get the education they deserve. At present it appears you would actively dissuade them from applying to Oxbridge. The barrier to them obtaining the best would not be their own ability, it would be you. As a result, that education would be given to a wealthier but less smart student.


    Lastly to counter the 'run by posh people for posh people' meme, I'd like to point out that when I was a student, Clare College was run by the Master Professor Bob Hepple, a founding member of the ANC and defence cousel for Nelson Mandela. He was charged with high treason in South Africa for attempting to disband Apartheid.


    The colleges original endowment from Lady Elizabeth de Clare states that :-

    "
    Provision was also made for ten ‘poor scholars’ (pauperes or ‘students’), who were to be maintained by the college up to the age of twenty.
    "

    You may agree that this was forward thinking for a wealthy lady in 1336.

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  26. It is sad that this contribution will be effaced from Neil's blog by a flurry of posts on irrelevant topics, designed to conceal yet another of Neil's crushing defeats at the hands of his interlocutors.

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  27. Surely the basic point here is that Neil doesn't feel that, morally, those who have had (say) a Cambridge education ought to comment on the provision of same to others? And surely everyone can agree that, in an egalitarian society, only the unprivileged may comment on the distribution of privilege?

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  28. I come to this rather late, but with some relevant experience; I'm a Cambridge graduate, I attended a "comprehensive" "school",(see how silly those scare quotes look?), and I'm not a high earner according to Neil's metric. I'm not a high earner because I work in educational publishing, specifically that area of educational publishing which relates to those with poor basic skills (literacy, language and numeracy). I am contracted directly by the DfES to write and edit materials to try to help peolple who have been failed by the comprehensive system. Cambridge has not turned me into some Mitford-type oppressor of the workers.

    This is hardly relevant. But some of Neil's rhetoric has disturbed me enormously. I'm pretty intimately involved in the looking-after of new undergraduates at the university as well, as my husband is a director of studies there (see comments above), and we are encouraged to try to be as open and family-oriented as we can. I know having spoken to some of them that they were dissuaded from applying by people like Neil, peddling an outdated and rather hysterical view of what an education at Cambridge is about; I think others in this thread have enlarged on this sufficiently, but I do wish that Neil would take a step back and try to look at the issue unclouded by his very lumpen prejudices.

    This whole discussion has been alarmingly clouded by Neil's Ladybird-book-style Marxism, where the oppressed proletariat are somehow being bled dry by a bunch of top-hatted, punting, Pimms-quaffing toffs who use their education for nefarious ends. Neil - do you honestly not understand that one of the good things about living in Britain in 2006 is that so very many of us are middle class now? That includes you. It includes call centre workers. It includes the guy who works at a garden centre who I was talking to today about a basic skills literacy package he was taking. Your outraged finger-pointing jealousy (I can't believe, reading some of this drivel, that it's anything other than that; I end up a bit worried about what the psychology behind it is) is directed at a group you are a member of.

    Social mobility is immensely important. Good education has a disproportionate amount to do with that. By scaring people away from applying here and ranting about poshness in the face of all these nice, polite people telling you otherwise, you're peddling an agenda I think you may be unaware you have.

    I was also confused by your attack on Helen (why not one of the many men who have responded?) over salary. Irrespective of what she actually earns, I find it very strange that you perceive making money (and, presumably, working hard to do so; I don't think Cambridge and Oxford graduates are awarded grants for displaying slightly enlarged craniums in tents. My belief is that they go out and do jobs) as somehow unethical and as denying someone the right to take part in a discussion of this sort.

    Finally, there's the (frankly barking) compulsory purchase idea. The problem with the political scale is that it's not a straight line; it's a continuum. You can follow your left-leaning instincts until you end up on the right of people like Norman Tebbit, and that's precisely what you've done here (it's not the first time - I seem to remember some bizzarely intemperate stuff from you over civil liberties, religion and God knows what else). I can only assume that because this was an idea you came up with all on your own, independent of Toynbee, Monbiot et al (for a change), you're going to defend it to the illogical, immoral end. Good luck with it; it's not going to make many people think much better of you.

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  29. Neil doesn't feel that, morally, those who have had [foo] can comment on the provision of same to others?


    Absolutely! This should be the guiding principle of new labour. The people who know something about the problem at hand are clearly an elite with vested interests. Discussion and policy MUST be made by those who have no experience or preducdice, only that way can a true classless egalitarian society emerge.

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  30. Let the record show that Neil is against freedom of religion and freedom of association. Want to send your kids to a religious school? Well, too bad, mate, the Catholic schools in England are doing too well for that to be permissible. Want to get together with like minded bods and provide education to people? Don't be too good at it, or we'll take your fancy buildings! Just kidding. We'll only threaten to do that, and we'll tell you in advance that the threat will be baseless. How useful!

    Neil. We've done the list of things you're prepared to sacrifice on the altar of equality.

    As a sheer time-saving measure, could you just tell us whether there is anything you're not prepared to sacrifice for equality?

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  31. Helen Wright20/3/06 7:07 pm

    Oh helen, you are touchy when you have lost an argument aren't you?

    But I thought we were still going? ;-)

    What I did challenge was your assumption it was 'ordinary. As you admit yourself a provincial comprehensive in Wales in far better then most urban comprehensives

    As I was trying to explain, what I meant in my first comment (and perhaps I was insufficiently specific, in which case my apologies) was that my school was 'ordinary' in comparison with schools that, to paraphrase B4L, sell themselves as Oxbridge entrance factories. I do not attempt to make any broader comparison, only the rather narrow one that was strictly relevant to B4L's comment. Of course you are right that provincial schools are likely to have more comfortable circumstances than schools in large conurbations, and I would not attempt to argue the contrary; I'm honestly not that unaware of the rest of the world!

    You also claimed that most of the people at Cambridge were not middle class. On this I AM calling you a liar.

    I probably would be, had I claimed that, but I didn't; again, I was making a much narrower assertion. I said that of my peers that on the whole they seemed to be from pretty ordinary backgrounds and that they weren't dominated by public-school types from the south east. Once again, this was in the context of B4L's comment about Oxbridge letting in only the right kind of person. Most of the people around me did indeed seem to be middle-class, and some seemed to me to be what I would then have called "posh", but on the whole they didn't seem to meet B4L's criterion; they weren't "establishment" or "nicely spoken" or whatever, and in that context 'ordinary' seemed to be an appropriate word to use (although given subsequent discussion you'd clearly be right to say that I should have found a much less ambiguous one). I was really trying to demonstrate one very specific claim, namely that you do not need to be the right kind of person to be admitted to Oxbridge.

    It's funny how people who earn more than 30,000 a year think of themselves as 'average' or ordinary in terms of earnings, when the median is in fact 22,000.

    If this is to suggest that I hold the opinions I do partly because I earn more than 30K--and if it isn't, then my apologies for the tangent--I can assure you that in six years of employment I have always earned thousands less than your lower figure, apart from eight glorious months of getting twenty quid a month more the mean male wage. But should I suddenly get rich, I doubt my opinions on this subject will change.

    In any case, I think we are in danger of quibbling about the meanings of words like 'ordinary' and ignoring a more interesting discussion, given that we evidently agree that the recent Cambridge admissions figures reflect a situation that is hardly equitable or satisfactory (in case it was not clear from my last comment that I agree with this, I do!). So I shall start that more interesting discussion, although I shan't necessarily expect you to agree with me that it's interesting and reply: the current admissions system is always going to be open to accusations of bias, because it involves interviews, and even if it did not the problem remains that some schools can provide preparation for extra university entrance tests and others can't. I have read your suggestion about admitting one pupil from each sixth form, but even if this could be implemented it would lead to other kinds of unfairness (if there are only twenty people in Year 13 in your school, you've got a much better chance of getting in than someone in a large sixth-form college), and it seems to be a poor second to ensuring that admission is purely on the basis of merit and of likelihood of gaining from an Oxbridge education (or, indeed, any other university education, given that the fair access problem applies not just to Oxford and Cambridge). So what is a good yardstick of intellectual capacity? Given that some sixth-formers just don't currently get the kind of education that allows them to compete on equal terms with others, how do universities identify the promising ones amongst them?

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  32. "You also claimed that most of the people at Cambridge were not middle class."

    As Helen says, she didn't claim this; however, others do. One of the things that most astonished me when I went up to University was the number of people who were just as middle class as I am, but claimed that they were working class! I found, and still find, this completely baffling, which is probably why Neil has not yet convinced me to join him on the barricades, fighting for the ultimately egalitarian society.

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  33. Anon: "I'd be delighted to learn why you think Helen's salary is at all relevant to any of this"

    I don't, it was a general comment, not necessarily directed at Helen at all. I was just making the same point that Chris Lightfoot does; that rich people generally play down their backgrounds because they are embarrassed by it. Middle class children are FIFTEEN times more likely to remain in privilege than those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are to get out of their shit existence. Some of you talk about human rights but ignore this fact. I think this is a gross breach of human rights that needs to be fixed.

    Pete Stevens: "Should you encounter a bright poor seventeen year old, I sincerely hope you encourage them to apply for the best universities they can, and to get the education they deserve. At present it appears you would actively dissuade them from applying to Oxbridge."

    I like how you have turned this around. I want as many people to apply to Oxbridge as possible. I meet lots of people who should have applied to Oxford who won't because they are put off by Oxbridge's image. I ALWAYS tell them to go for it, if only to make Oxbridge's figures for turning down poorer students even worse and highlight just as bad the problem is.

    I can't pretend that Oxbridge doesn't discriminate, it most clearly does, all the figures bear this out (which is not to say that a percentage of working class students won't make it in, it is just much harder for them). By ignoring this fact, the problem will get worse. By highlighting it, something might be done about it. It is by pretending the status quo is ok, that nothing will change and that will put people off, not by me telling the truth!

    Squeezeweasel: "I was also confused by your attack on Helen (why not one of the many men who have responded?) over salary."

    This reminds me of a meeting I was at the other day. Despite at least 40% of the audience being female, nearly all the post-speech questions were from males. This wasn't because the chair was ignoring women, but because there were few women with hands up. As I've already explained it was a general comment, It was unintentional that a female was on the receiving end.

    Helen: If 'ordinary' means middle class to you then fair enough you didn't claim that Cambridge was largely not middle class but in the context of our discussion, I think 'ordinary' was quite clearly a reference to the majority and the majority of people are not middle class, so therefore your comments were suspect.

    "I have read your suggestion about admitting one pupil from each sixth form, but even if this could be implemented it would lead to other kinds of unfairness (if there are only twenty people in Year 13 in your school, you've got a much better chance of getting in than someone in a large sixth-form college)"

    It will (as you suggest) lead to other kinds of unfairness, but it will be MUCH LESS unfair than the present system. Everyone will know that each school will have ONE automatic place, so the tendency will be to even out the quality and quantity of students at each school. This will be of enormous benefit to those poorer students who attend schools and have pupils in their class that will be going to the top universities.

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  34. Just to throw a curiosity into the mix, one of the clearest arguments on education, which encompasses both 'comprehensive' education and academic selection was made by Antonio Gramsci, of all people.

    Gramsci's argument has substantial merit today - unitary humanistic schools (i.e. comprehensives) to begin with, followed by specialist schools, then university/work.

    The key issue is not whether to allow academic selection but when - 11 is too soon and the education too generalised to properly assess ability, plus it penalised late developers - Gramsci based his idea on the Italisn system of the day, where the selection point out be 15, with three years higher education before university. This is not far from our own school - 6th form/college - university progression.

    Personally I'm coming to the view that a fairer system would be one in which pupils attend a local unitary school until age 14 before moving on the specialist schools until 16/18 with selection on ability the only criteria for selection at that point, with a mix of specialist schools with these schools specialising in either academic or vocation schooling - if you can have schools specialising in science, the arts, etc. then why not schools tied in with Trade Unions offering vocational routes into, say, engineering.

    And as per Gramsci, the nature of teaching should change markedly with the specialist schools, moving to a more university-style approach in the academic specialist schools.

    Selection on ability is not a bad thing if done at the appropriate time - in fact it is only fair way to allocate school places as the ability of the individual is the sole determinant of whether they get the school they want or not.

    Of course, this wouldn't be popular with some middle class families because it work take much of the financial edge they have at the moment out of the equation. If their precious brat's a bit dim, it doesn't matter then how much money they throw at the situation - unless they go private - they still can't buy their way into a particular school.

    Chuck in a ban on state funding for faith schools and allocation of university places only after results are in with stiff penalties for any university found allocating places on anything other than academic merit and we could be getting there, policy-wise.

    Just goes to show that Marxism isn't as bad as some in the party make out - Gramsci's ideas are infinitely clearer than anything coming out of the DfES in recent years.

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  35. Unity: Interesting suggestion. I'm not sure how it would work but I can't think of immediate objections.

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  36. I can't pretend that Oxbridge doesn't discriminate, it most clearly does, all the figures bear this out

    I know I'm flogging a dead horse here, but you wouldn't happen to actually have some of those figures, would you?

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  37. And would you mind answering *any* of the questions I asked you? One will do; I am not greedy.

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  38. squeezeweasel: If you bothered to read my earlier reply, you will know I have already answered one of your questions (picking on helen 'cos she a woman).

    There were six people asking questions, I'm sure I've not answered every single question, I picked the most relevant. Re-reading your comment, these were the only other 'sort of' questions I could find in your comment.

    "Neil - do you honestly not understand that one of the good things about living in Britain in 2006 is that so very many of us are middle class now?"

    The majority are not middle class, perhaps you need reminding of that. Our society is so segregated, you probably don't notice.

    "I seem to remember some bizzarely intemperate stuff from you over civil liberties, religion and God knows what else"

    Religion is dangerous nonsense, I don't think there is any dispute about that if you think about it properly, unfortunately most people don't think about it. They suspend logic when it comes to religion for some sort of respect for their parents or because it was hardwired into them so well when they were growing up.

    Poverty is a breach of civil liberties in my opinion. Not surprisingly, a lot of those who run this country are not poor and don't care about this sort of breach.

    If you accept holding prisoners on remand and parking/ speeding tickets then you can't pretend that 'innocent till proven guilty' is a sacrosanct principle. Blair's respect agenda is a genuine attempt to speed up and improve the justice system that is failing us all by letting the guilty go free (Blair was a lawyer so he should know something about this). The French have a different system and won't adopt our system because in their words, 'it favours the rich'.

    Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty says that when she meets liberty organisations in Europe they are puzzled at her opposition to ID cards, so don't accuse me of being 'intemperate' on that subject either.

    The 'God knows what else' you object to, is a citizen's income, proportional representation, and a fairer education system. It's quite laughable to be accused of having warped priorities for caring about the most disadvantaged in society. You lot can worry about the well off if you want, but in my opinion , the well off can look after theirselves.

    eben: "you wouldn't happen to actually have some of those figures, would you?"

    Surely you agree that the vast majority of Oxbridge's intake come from upper and middle class backgrounds?

    Oxford are very reluctant to release figures but Cambridge admit 79% of their intake are from this background. (The link is in a previous comment on this thread).

    Your reasoning for this, is that it is the working class's own fault. They just aren't clever enough, or just aren't trying hard enough, or laughably are put off because I highlight the figures on intake. Like I have said I would encourage anyone to try to get in to Oxbridge.

    These excuses you use are like blaming low turnout on apathy. These are marginal points, they are a smokescreen to avoid the fundamental problem.

    Like B4L says, the interview panel wouldn't let him in to Oxford because he didn't fit their 'profile' of what they wanted. Conveniently this profile is the sort that is encouraged by private schools and grammar schools which are filled with the 10% most privileged children.

    Take a look at the link I provide and it states that even of those who apply and have the same grades, those from private schools make a disproportionate number of the intake. This can only be explained by the interview process.

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  39. sorry, would you specify the link again, please?

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  40. Surely you agree that the vast majority of Oxbridge's intake come from upper and middle class backgrounds?

    So you don't actually have any figures that support your claim that Oxbridge actively discriminates against working class applicants? The fact that the majority of our students are middle class does not prove this to be the case.

    Like B4L says, the interview panel wouldn't let him in to Oxford because he didn't fit their 'profile' of what they wanted.

    That is his opinion. It should be pointed out that a person's opinion of his or her ability, or of his or her performance in an assessment exercise is poorly correlated with actual ability or performance*. In particular this quote

    Having passed entrance exams (the test on "ability") I was spat out by a job-style interview panel.

    indicates that he may have been poorly advised by his school about how exactly his ability was being assessed.

    * I suggest that you read this, and then perhaps indulge in a few minutes of quiet introspection.

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  41. Anon: here is a link with a whole range of figures on disadvantage.

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  42. eben: "So you don't actually have any figures that support your claim that Oxbridge actively discriminates against working class applicants?"

    I wish you would actually read my post properly. I've already posted this earlier in the thread, but here it is again.

    Read the whole article, especially the last bit.

    "new statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency reconfirm common conceptions of Oxbridge with the revelation that "upper or middle class" students account for 79 percent of Cambridge entrants in 1997. Moreover, this group constituted only 75 percent of applications, confirming the common assumption that it is easier for students from privileged backgrounds to be accepted."

    Also check this out which demonstrates how the comprehensive kids that do make it Oxbridge also come from privileged backgrounds.

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  43. eben: By the way, I totally agree with your link. "Ignorance begets confidence". Who is more confident, you or me?

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  44. Also does this "ignorance begets confidence" maxim explain why posh people have more confidence in applying to Oxbridge and the selection panels have more confidence in rejecting working class pupils?

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  45. You're still on about this?

    I should reiterate my point that selection interviews - which are subject to all manner of biases, perceptions, and which are neither monitored, nor audited, and leave no permanent record - are not a test of academic ability. Understanding? perhaps; teachability? depends upon the teachers just as much as the applicant. Anyone who has been on both sides of a selection interview will know that there are false positives and false negatives, which is fine provided people do not attach special significance to the judgement of Oxbridge examiners. They do, however.

    Interviewers also need to recognise that the ability of candidates to handle interviews comes with experience and coaching, which is disproportionately provided at private/grammar schools (and sold at a high price), and by parents who already know the system. I haven't made a fuss about people being 'posh'. Interviewers also need to reflect that assessments made at the age of 18 (17 in my case) may only be good (if indeed they are at all) for a limited time, but that they only get one shot at it. Perhaps they should monitor the progress of those they have rejected to assess whether the technique works well enough.

    Rejected candidates would be much better off concentrating their minds on the many excellent (and superior in many fields) non-Oxbridge universities than feeling they must reassess their own views of their abilities because a pair of academics sat in armchairs thought 'Nah - not right for us'.

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  46. B4L: The problem with ignoring Oxbridge is that a third of our MPs and two thirds of the House of Lords and and influential positions right throughout our society went to Oxbridge. If we get more working class people there by making the system fairer then it will make a big difference to how this country is run.

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  47. No, I have quiet a different take. Perhaps if you want to identify how 'influence' is acquired in the establishment/political world, instead of just following the money, keep a close eye on the links that are forged as a result of so many ambitious people being so concentrated. There's a rather good "Yes Minister" on this subject.

    Isn't it healthier that politicians come from a wider background?

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  48. Obviously I would prefer it if the political establishment came from right across the educational spectrum rather than all be concentrated in Oxbridge. I think if we break up the cosy upper class/Oxbridge link, we might just get that.

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  49. This notion that one needs or gets coaching to get into Oxbridge is untrue and self-serving, Mr Bloggers4Labour. I went to an expensive private school, never received coaching or anything remotely resembling it, and got into Oxbridge with no trouble at all.

    Neil, you claim to have cited your source for the 79% lie, but all you've done is identified a biased student publication at Oxbridge itself which was telling the same lie seven years ago. The government-funded agency supposedly responsible for this claim that Oxbridge discriminates against working class applications doesn't make any mention of it on its website, which is surprising as that website includes detailed figures on many other related topics going back ten years.

    If Cambridge (I think it was just that university) lets in 79% non working class people that tells us nothing useful because, as you pretend to forget, working class students do not apply to Oxbridge in proportion to their ability to succeed in getting in, due to being dissuaded by ill informed people like yourself (though, thank God, not people such as yourself as to your credit you claim that you would attempt to encourage them to apply).

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  50. Oxford refuse to publish figures. Cambridge admit 79% of their students are from upper or middle class backgrounds. The figures are quoted from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Which also show only 9% of students at Oxbridge are from social classes C2,D,E. These figures are hardly a surprise are they?

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  51. Neil, to reiterate

    Very few poor students apply to Cambridge. As a result very few poor students get in. This will not change until more poor students apply.

    Poor students keep being put off because the media and people like you in this blog reiterate myths that poor students are at an unfair disadvantage and will be discriminated against because of their social background.

    The most effective thing you can do to increase the number of poor students at Cambridge is to actively persuade poor students to apply - and then get in. This is something the university has been doing for some time now, hence the considerable rise over the last twenty years of the number of state school students.


    I believe it to be true that having a decent education is beneficial to getting in - which unfortunately naturally selects those students who's parents could afford a decent education or who have smart parents that provide extra teaching themselves. However, ruining the admissions system will not improve the education system, rather the admissions system will react happily to changes in the education system.

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  52. It should be noted that Oxbridge colleges and students spend their own money going round the country trying to counteract the sort of rubbish that you and Bloggers4Labour are spouting, telling poor students that there isn't discrimination.

    What is going on is that equally able poor and rich students do not apply to Oxbridge in the same proportions as they exist around the country; the poor apply less, so they get in less.

    Another reason there are fewer poor people at Oxbridge is that the government has screwed up the secondary education system such that academically able poor people get a bad education. Why the secondary system should suffer for this is beyond me. Proposals to force universities to accept students on the basis of being poor rather than on the basis of ability will lead to universities just failing the less able students after their first year. That's what'd happen if your "one pupil from every school gets into Oxbridge" policy were implemented.

    There aren't really any "upper class" people at Oxbridge any more, as years of persecution of the ancient Universities has driven the upper classes to send their children to better universities in America instead.

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  53. Anon: "There aren't really any "upper class" people at Oxbridge any more"

    Come on, even YOU can't believe that.

    Pete: You keep trying to blame me for people not applying to Oxbridge, but the figures I provide show that the 'myth' is true. Even of those who apply, upper and middle class pupils (75% of applicants) are MORE likely to be selected (79% of selected) and those from a disadvantaged background are more likely to be turned away (25% applicants, 21% selected).

    As I have already stated, I encourage EVERYONE to apply to Oxbridge, but there is no point lying to them.

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  54. Neil,

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,174-2112055,00.html

    Some choice quotes,


    STUDENTS from poor backgrounds have suffered the greatest financial hardship since Labour introduced university tuition fees, according to government research.



    Levels of graduate debt soared by 74% between 1998-1999.


    Students from the poorest social groups graduated with the largest debts. They owed an average of £9,842; £3,000 more than students from professional backgrounds. Lone parents fared worst, graduating with average debts of £11,101.



    Can we please stop the 'Labour is great for poor students' mantra, they've systematically fucked poor students over for the past seven years, and have been forced to rebuild the scheme to rectify some of the damage they've done.

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  55. Of course poorer students will have larger debts than the rich who have rich parents bankrolling them.

    But the gap is small because of the extra financial support poorer students get from the state and we need to compare the poor's post graduate earnings with their earnings if they never had had the chance to go to University. That is the real test.

    We also have to remember that most of their debt in under very favourable conditions (dependent on earnings) and effectively at zero interest!

    These poorer students are still better off going to university than they would have been otherwise. Tuition fees have given many more students the chance of going to university.

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