Educational inequality

I am repeating my post on the Tutorhub website here, as I think it bears further exposure – maybe some of you will be as annoyed by it as me, who knows….

Students from high attaining comprehensive schools are far less likely to attend top universities than those from independent schools. So say the Sutton Trust in their report ‘Degree of Success’.

Just focusing on Oxbridge entrants, they found that:

“2,000 schools and colleges had two or fewer Oxbridge entrants over the three years… just under two thirds of all schools and colleges, and accounted for 5.6% of Oxbridge admissions over the three years. The total number of Oxbridge entrants from these 2,000 schools and colleges over the three years is less than the number from 4 schools and one college who produced 946 Oxbridge entrants over the period.”

What proportion of these applications are accepted?

“5.2% of independent school pupils were accepted by Oxford and Cambridge, compared with 0.8% of pupils in non selective state schools, and 4.2% in selective state schools.”

Sutton Trust conclude that “independent school pupils are nearly seven times as likely as pupils in comprehensive schools to be accepted into Oxbridge.”

The Times Educational Supplement commenting on wider university acceptance rates included in the report saythere is something terribly wrong when a comprehensive school with the same scores as a local independent sends 17% of it’s pupils to top universities compared to 66% sent by its neighbour.”

But what do we as a nation do to correct this? Surely bright children from poor backgrounds should be given the same chance as kids from more affluent backgrounds? Can we expect much to change anytime soon? My belief is that increasing tuition fees will only serve to reduce state school applications still further, and that without proactive selection procedures at Oxbridge, nothing is likely to change.


1 thought on “Educational inequality

  1. “there is something terribly wrong when a comprehensive school with the same scores as a local independent sends 17% of its pupils to top universities compared to 66% sent by its neighbour.”

    Let us suppose that there are two schools, a comprehensive and an independent, and each has 100 pupils. Suppose 20 from the comprehensive apply to top universities, and 17 are successful. Suppose 100 from the independent apply and 66 are successful.

    Using the SAME DATA
    1) Comparing those SENT from each school we get the 17% and 66% success rates
    2) Comparing those who APPLY from each school we get a 66% success rate from the independent school, and 17/20 = 85% success rate for the comprehensive.

    So using the SAME (fictitious) data you could suggest two opposite conclusions. This shows how we have to be careful interpreting the data. It is more valid to compare APPLICANTS than PROGRESSION rates, and the article in the Times compared progression rates. If they had compared APPLICANTS, they would have got different figures which would not be as far apart as 17% versus 66%. I am not suggesting 85% versus 66% discrimination in favour of the comprehensive is valid either, I merely point out that this conclusion is possible from the same data if you compare applicants instead of progression rates.

    From your article:
    What proportion of these applications are accepted?
    “5.2% of independent school pupils were accepted by Oxford and Cambridge, compared with 0.8% of pupils in non selective state schools, and 4.2% in selective state schools.”

    This is a more valid statistic than the 17% versus 66% one, as now we are getting closer to comparing like with like. Now we are looking at APPLICANTS. But the important details are still missing. Are the applicants all equal in ability? Of course not. So without this information, we cannot say if discrimination occurs.

    Even when candidates appear equal in ability, as was implied in the first quote by the phrase ‘the same scores’, when we look closer we find this is not necessarily the case. Suppose all the candidates had A**. Does this ‘prove’ they are all identical in ability, as implied by the paragraph at the top? No it does not, as if everyone has A** this covers a range of ability. Perhaps the top universities ask difficult questions in the interview to pick out the ones with higher ability.

    tutorhub and beanbaglearning are also part of the private education industry. I suggest that if you compare those who go to university with those who do not, you will find that those who have had tuition are more likely to go to university. But no-one is suggesting that the reason that those who have private tuition end up being more successful is because the universities ask the candidate if they had private tuition then favour them for that reason.

    So why does correlation of success with independent schooling prove discrimination, whereas correlation of success and independent tuition does not?

    If universities are going to be proactive in discriminating against those who went to independent schools, they should also be proactive in discriminating against those who have had private tuition, as both are forms of private education. The proactive university should ask: Have you (a) been the recipient of independent schooling? (b) Ever had significant independent schooling in the form of private tuition from websites such as tutorhub? And if the answer is ‘yes’, then by the proactive system, both should go against the candidate equally.

    Finally, pop stars and athletes also come disproportionately from independent schools. Does the music industry and the sports industry also discriminate in favour of independent schools, or are they simply choosing the best candidates? If they are simply choosing the best, and end up with the independently educated, how do we know the universities are not simply doing the same? There is nothing in the data to suggest otherwise. Having said that, perhaps it occurs to a certain extent, but the level of favouritism is more like the difference between 5.2 and 4.2 than it is between 5.2 and 0.8

    I suggest the system they should use is not proactive discrimination. I suggest that the fairest system would be to omit any reference to school on the application forms. Also, there should not be an interview, and there should instead be an additional exam that would, unlike the A levels, distinguish between the top candidates. The past questions from this exam should be available to everyone. This is the method they used to use to select the civil servants used to run India. Candidates were from all backgrounds and selected only by passing a very difficult exam. Family connections and wealth were not part of the selection process.

    By ‘the best’ in academia, or sport or music, I mean those who have been assisted to be the best by the schooling they have had, and there is no way that these are ‘the best’ in terms of raw materials, in my opinion. They are only the best in terms of what the schools do with the raw materials.

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