I’ve wanted to write this for a while. It’s an awkward one, but one I feel strongly about. Much of what is going on in the country today touches on it and my earlier blog, about the students I used to teach touches on it too.
There was a discussion on Radio 4 this morning about whether students from poor backgrounds should be given priority for university places over students from well-off backgrounds/private schools with the same qualifications.
Although there were plenty of “yes” replies, many of the responses seemed to say either “No, everyone should be treated equally” or “No, we should improve schools”.
There are so many wrong assumptions here
- Equally isn’t the same thing as fairly. If you set (say) me and my husband the same task of lifting a heavy weight he would do better than me. He is bigger, he is a man, I could have maybe made up a lot of the difference by training and becoming fitter but I doubt I could overcome that basic difference. The task would be equal. But to make it fair I would have needed some other advantage, such as a lighter weight or being allowed to use a lever.
- Schools vary. I do not honestly believe that private schools are inherently any better than state schools. There is evidence (can’t find it at the moment) that there is better teaching at state schools. Teachers in private schools have a much more captive audience. They can simply impart knowledge because the pupil’s parents have paid and the children have a different attitude to some in state schools. Classes are smaller. They are free to ignore the SATs and league tables which cripple teaching at state schools.
- Even brilliant schools cannot fix social problems. How can a child concentrate on school work (let alone homework) if they are not properly fed, or the home is unheated, or they have parents who have no understanding of why education might be important
- One of the big stumbling blocks for students from poorer backgrounds is the interview or extra-curricular activity. They haven’t had the social training to be comfortable with an interview. Some will cope but these are the exceptional ones. Relatively average students from the “right” background will sail through because they are in their comfort zone.
- There is research showing that students from comprehensives achieve better results than students from independent or grammar schools with similar results. Well of course they do. They have achieved by their own work and ability rather than from support, coaching, cramming and all the other things that come with the privilege of being wealthy.
So; what is my point?
If you went to a private school you are privileged. You have advantages not available to people from deprived backgrounds who went to state schools. Giving priority to those from poorer backgrounds with the same qualifications is not unfair. It is redressing unfairness.
I don’t want to make this too rambling so I’ll leave the rest for another day.