David Green, 3 October 2004
This week the Higher Education Funding Council ‘named and shamed’ 17 universities for not meeting their quota of pupils from state schools. Threatened with the prospect of losing state funding if they do not discriminate against children from private schools, some universities have publicised their strategy for meeting their quota. Exeter University, for example, asks for only one A and two B’s for pupils from state schools, when it would require 3 A’s from a private school student.
The Government’s policy is a strategy of hard-line egalitarian social engineering, concealed behind a smokescreen of ostensible concern for less fortunate pupils. It is an advantage to have committed and supportive parents, but the present government sees this advantage as unfair.
However, a genuine concern for children with un-supportive parents would focus purely on how best to help them overcome their difficulty, not on penalising the others. Schools would be urged to make up for disadvantage with remedial teaching and extra support. It would also be legitimate to urge more fortunate parents to consider it their duty to try to help out in their local primary school, perhaps by volunteering to spend time giving additional reading practice to slower pupils.
But there is another inconsistency, which gives a clue to the Government’s real motivation. A determined policy of discrimination against children who had gained an advantage from having supportive parents would also penalise children whose parents had purchased private tuition. After all, the more money the parents have, the more easily they will be able to afford private tutors. Money is clearly buying results.
The trouble with targeting private tuition is that rather a lot of party comrades have resorted to it. But, in any event, the real target of the policy is to undermine independent schools. These schools, with their honour boards, ‘school spirit’ and legendary ‘old-boy’ and ‘old-girl’ networks, are the bitter enemies of the class-war zealots who now control policy making.