Aim High

I was interested in the debate earlier this month on university admissions and how it is now perceived that children who are finishing their education at Private or Public schools are at a disadvantage when applying for top universities such as Oxford or Cambridge. Due to positive discrimination admissions are prioritising state educated pupils to the point where standards are reported to be reduced to enable a high take up.

Rightly Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, pointed out that we should be looking to raise all standards and that entry to university should be on merit and performance and not on the school that you attended. Unfortunately, there used to be an imbalance but in trying to compensate for this we find ourselves in a situation where we are moving too far the other way and now seeing a brain drain with some of our brightest and most talented looking to universities outside of the UK.

Growing up my parents struggled to send me to a private school in the hope it would give me the right start in life. At the time standards in state schools was sketchy and my mother, who also taught in some state schools, could see first-hand the challenges state schools had and the disadvantage the children who attended were at. Even with the best education, my parents could afford, I didn’t flourish at school and instead found myself failing at sixth form and needed to retake an A-level. Not the outcome you would expect, if you believe everything you read in the press, from someone with a private education!

Likewise, to all the private education bashers, remember what would happen if they all closed tomorrow and every child moved into a state school. I am not sure standards would increase and the financial impact for taxpayers would rise substantially.

I decided, much to my parents’ disappointment, not to continue onto university and instead chose my own path of entering the world of work. My brother however did benefit from a state education and attended a grammar school and went onto university.

Having been involved later in life in supporting the creation and building of an Early Years children’s nursery I have seen first-hand the change in standards and believe, while I have serious reservations on the performance of Ofsted, the standard of state schools is dramatically improved and if not better than a lot of private schools. Those who have worked in private schools will know it is a place where bad teachers can hide, something that is difficult with the scrutiny of state schools today.

One issue state schools still suffer from and appears to have the biggest impact on education standards in my view is the disruption that a few children make affecting the learning for the whole class. Private schools can expel troublesome young people and hence their teaching resources are not disproportionately used looking after and dealing with a minority. Happily, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is being understood better so some children that are seen as disruptive are now getting dedicated support.

Last month in Warwickshire I attended the opening of a new dedicated SEND academy who can support children needing additional care. Historically this provision has been supported privately but the county is investing in its own facilities to reduce transport times and hopefully costs over time while delivering a better service to children needing this support.

In 2020 T-Levels were launched which are new courses that follow GCSEs and one equates to 3 A Levels but offer commercial work (which equates to 20% of the 2 year programme). This is a great additional offering and hopefully will suit young people looking for alternative educational journeys.

For those wanting to go to university I would like to see UCAS adopt a more anonymous process to ensuring that all young adults are judged in the same way. Likewise giving schools more support to deal with, and support, children with needs who are disrupting the learning of others needs to be our highest priority to impact all children’s performance.

From my experience we need to be demanding higher standards, not looking to lower standards. I am a great believer in supporting those without the same opportunities to rise but we certainly shouldn’t be lowering the goal posts to make that more achievable – that is just a race to the bottom. We need to aim high.

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