The only important thing, in the end, is to pull down the 'wall in the mind' and then help a child run with whatever they see beyond it. Good private schools do it with money, but I don't believe that's the only way.

Meraud's picture
by Meraud
 41
The child of left-wing Oxbridge-educated parents (one of whom went to Holland Park...), I went to a very ordinary, run-down, unhappy 'comprehensive' during the mid-80s, when teachers' strikes were pretty ubiquitous.

It was an ex-secondary modern, with many of the same teachers still there, and the narrow worldview and poverty of aspiration was tangible. It was a long way from being truly comprehensive - many kids in the area went private, a lot of them via assisted places. I hated every second and was desperate to get out; even at the time I felt like I had to fight to get the level of education I felt I needed. I don't believe that my school's problems were a result of its ostensible 'comprehensive' status, but in large part because it *wasn't* comprehensive, since so many families had gone private.

In the end, I did go to London University, then on to graduate study at the University of Oxford, where I got to see a different world...

Although I loved the learning and the beauty of the place, I hated the comfortable assumption of superiority which is still, unfortunately, all too common in that world. I saw the way the admissions process is unhelpful to state-educated applicants, not through *any* deliberate actions on the part of the Dons - most of whom genuinely want to attract quality of mind regardless of background - but rather, I think, because of their tendency to rely on a mode of discourse with which privately-educated kids are familiar, but which has a tendency to terrify - or at least flummox - kids who are state-educated.

From my own experiences, I believe absolutely that the closer an education system gets to being truly comprehensive, the stronger it will be, and that equality of opportunity, *not* choice, is what's needed.
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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 12:43

I believe absolutely that the closer an education system gets to being truly comprehensive, the stronger it will be...

Outside the big urban areas, education already is comprehensive. Many small market towns have one community school - and almost everyone goes to it.

Yet these are often the schools that perform badly.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 13:47

That depends what you measure Ricky.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 14:22

Counties and boroughs that still have grammar schools perform badly, as statistics in the Centre Forum research showed. Can you point us to the research that shows community schools in small market town perform badly and, if so, what the reasons may be?

A truly comprehensive system means precisley that - not the the patchwork quilt which has made up state education since the late 1940s. The small market town with one comprehensive school you claim to be more likey to be doing badly is no more representative of the comprehensive system than Mossbourne is representative of Academies. Many Academies have failed are are failing. And what if that market town is sending its most able students to nearby private or grammar schools? There should be no excuses but there are explanations. The virus of education policies, like the ones implemented by Gove and carried through by Wilshaw, which select, segregate and offer "choice" and which threaten punitive measures, has infected nations across the world and not one of them has improved their educational standards.

I went to a 'comprehensive' school in a small market town. It's still there - although much improved from my day - and still about the same size although the town has grown by quite a few thousand. Many children must still go private, since there's also a private convent school, some nearby boys' and girls' private schools plus a well-known boys' public school in the nearest city. They're all still open and not short on numbers as far as I know. So how is my old school 'comprehensive'?

I'm also drawing on the experience, as a graduate student, of meeting Europeans, Canadians, and Americans who all experienced a more socially broad education than I did. The vast majority were state-educated, even though many of them came from the kinds of wealthy families who would virtually never consider the local comprehensive here.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:57

I’m also drawing on the experience, as a graduate student, of meeting Europeans, Canadians, and Americans who all experienced a more socially broad education than I did.

I guess it depends on whom you meet.

But while 7% of England's school children attend private schools, it's 11% in the United States, and 5.6% in Canada. In Europe it all gets a bit more complicated and pluralistic.

Relatively few countries really have your ideal comprehensive system. Those that do tend to be those who have little by way of social, racial, cultural or religious diversity.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 18:33

Your attitudes could be deemed defeatist, were they not motivated by little more than to uphold the ideology of the present government despite the evidence elsewhere that they do not work. Racial diversity has grown at a fast rate in Finland over the past 10 years but this has not impacted negatively on its educational success. This is because their schools have risen to the "challenge" although I don't think the Finns themselves would view it as a challenge because they don't see as integrating non Finns as being a problem. For decades, their school system has provided for any and all educational needs and has never labelled or stigmatised them. The fact is, this country has shown that radical reform CAN work and that Gove's self-styled radical reforms are, in fact, deeply conservative and regressive.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 18:39

"Relatively few countries really have your ideal comprehensive system. Those that do tend to be "
Finland

Does anybody know of any others?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 14:25

"Although I loved the learning and the beauty of the place, I hated the comfortable assumption of superiority which is still, unfortunately, all too common in that world."

My experience of Cambridge was very different. As a northern state school girl I felt very at ease there. Some of my friends had been to private school but then hadn't been particularly privileged - perhaps a parent had been a teacher there and they'd got discounted fees or the family had managed it but at full stretch.

I felt incredibly grateful for the experience I was getting from day one and made the most of every moment and I felt my friends did too. A couple of decades later we still meet regularly and they are still people I completely respect and who totally inspire me. They carry tremendous responsibility - they are judges, senior managers, entrepreneurs, senior figures in the public sector and they carry that responsibility with dignity and dedication - working hard to ensure they care equally well for their families and, in general I think, succeeding.

The word 'superiority' seems inappropriate when I think of them. They've never had that air. They've just worked very hard to build their lives and careers gradually, ensuring they do each step well and picking themselves up when things fall apart.

I think the tutorial interview system at Clare actively selects people who are well grounded in life - certainly I was asked some pretty challenging questions about society at interview.

We also knew which kinds of people were our role models.
Here's a page about Dr Alice Welbourn, the recent alumnus of the year.
http://www.clarealumni.com/s/845/1col.aspx?sid=845&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=22...
I really recommend listening to the recording of her speech for a bit of inspiration.

I'm not trying to negate your experiences Meraud, just add a bit of variety because I think the situation is varied.

I do agree there are issues with disadvantaged students accessing Oxbridge and I've written about those here: http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.co.uk/2012_02_01_archive.html
A possible solution emerges in the comments.

I'm glad you had a good experience - I'm not saying mine was awful, simply that it threw me into a world of privately-educated people whose behaviour, I have to say, I sometimes found quite baffling. Some of the otherwise loveliest people I know nevertheless exuded the odd combination of apparent confidence and fear of being 'caught out' which seems to be the result of a private education.

I met loads of wonderful, kind, intellectually open people - I'm happy still to count many as friends - but the further I went in terms of academic level of study, the fewer state-educated people I found around me - and many of those had gone to grammars. At undergraduate level, there are clearly a decent number of state-educated people around - but on my masters there were fewer, and for my doctorate fewer still.

I'm also drawing on anecdotes and experiences of friends and acquaintances who have been involved in the admissions process. I get the impression from this that many college fellows are passionate about a fair intake, and will do whatever they can to encourage this; but I did once hear a young, macho academic bragging about how much fun it is to get to 'break' an applicant. He meant it in the spirit of a kind of sportsmanship, not as an unkindness, but it's an approach which would be unlikely to bring out the best in applicants schooled in a less adversarial environment. I see this as a *cultural* difference, which the divided school system exacerbates.

Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 14:36

My apologies for my lack of knowledge.

What, exactly, is a truly comprehensive system of education?

What does the term mean?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:10

Tim


It's a system that was pioneered by Procrustes in Ancient Attica where pupils are forced to attend a one-size-fits-all school whether they are suited to it or not, whether their parents wish them to or not, and no one has any choice or discretion in the matter.

The aim is to ensure that every local school is a social microcosm of its catchment area. Such a school will have a certain proportion of academically able children, a big chunk of middle ability kids, and a certain proportion of strugglers. Equally, socio-economic categories will be represented in the school in rough proportion to their existence in society at large.

Many of our current schools are CINOs - comprehensives in name only. They very often take a huge proportion of their intake from social housing and have high FSM in consequence. Alternatively, they are set in leafy suburbs, into which working class people are discouraged from entering by a proliferation of Neighbourhood Watch signs and a degree of partiality on the part of the local constabulary. These schools educate the children of the white collar, public sector salariat and the children of professionals who do not opt for independent schools.

Both the current arrangements and comprehensive utopianism advanced here as an improvement are sustained by the belief that schools are good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, purely as a function of their intake. Teachers can, and do, make no difference. Curriculum ditto. In the end, it is held, it's all down to IQ and parental background.

No one, of course, admits this because it smacks of snobbery, eugenics and (in some circumstances) racism.

It is the received opinion of the education establishment.

No normal person believes a word of it.

In my view it's simple. A truly comprehensive system would mean no private schools at all and strict catchment-based admissions. You go to your local school and that's it.

Of course I don't think that such an extreme arrangement would ever be put into practice - just that the nearer you get to it, the better the opportunities for the many and the greater the incentive for families who might otherwise go private to invest, instead, in the local community and the local school.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:20

Tim about 150 of use were in a meeting in Committee Room 14 of the Houses of Parliament yesterday evening.

It was a talk by Pasi Sahlberg who seems to pretty much run Finnish education which Michael Gove talks so highly of. He wrote this book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Finnish-Lessons-Educational-Change-Finland/dp/08...

Finland achieves incredible results. It has no private schools and setting by ability is banned. Every child receives a personal education - with a high level of SEN identification early on and classes taught in ways which expect that different students will have different natural abilities and that all should be developed.

There is a vast difference between proper mixed ability teaching and 'one size fits all' teaching. In fact they are probably at opposite ends of the spectrum.

I think you might find a different attitude towards a more equal education from some other countries. We've never had real comprehensive education in this country and I doubt we ever will. In answer to another of your points, whatever others may believe, I certainly don't think, myself, that the ideal of equality of education arises from the premise that schooling makes no difference, and intake is destiny. Quite the opposite.

I'm also not in favour of an inflexible education. Why should a state school be less flexible than a private one? Both have different qualities and challenges which might lead them to take a lazy one-size-fits-all approach - but the good schools in either sector are more imaginative and courageous than that.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:34

Rebecca


If you kept your eyes open, you'd know that introducing the work of Pasi Sahlberg to Tim Bidie is like shipping coals to Newcastle used to be.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:36

"Both the current arrangements and comprehensive utopianism advanced here as an improvement are sustained by the belief that schools are good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, purely as a function of their intake. Teachers can, and do, make no difference. Curriculum ditto. In the end, it is held, it’s all down to IQ and parental background.
No one, of course, admits this because it smacks of snobbery, eugenics and (in some circumstances) racism.
It is the received opinion of the education establishment.
No normal person believes a word of it."

Most teachers I know are pretty happy with FFTDs which make a small allowance for the social cohort effect in the targets teachers are held account to. They do their best by every student but there is a reality that if they are working with a cohort from a socially deprived area there is no point in holding them to account to the standards which can be achieved in a well educated and affluent area.

This is a very long way from the scenario you're describing Ricky which I don't recognise at all. Could you give my some idea where your perception of how things are comes from?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:41

Sorry Tim.

Were you at the meeting by the way? Do you know Pasi?

I found the meeting answered a lot of questions I had before I went.

eJD8owE1's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 16:10

"A truly comprehensive system would mean no private schools at all and strict catchment-based admissions."

So what you're advocating is selection purely on parental income, as house prices (and forms of tenancy) will then be the only thing that distinguishes schools from each other. How egalitarian of you.

If you want really comprehensive schools, you need to be absolutely straight about what you need to do: randomised admission to schools across an area large enough that it contains a full diversity of income and parental education. That's going to mean bussing, and on a pretty large scale. Now that might be a very good educational outcome, and I certainly wouldn't reject it out of hand (although a lot of parents might, which would be music to the ears of the private sector), but you need to be honest about what would need to be done.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 17:45

It is a shame that Michael Wilshaw left right after Pasi's speech though but perhaps he thought nothing more was to be gained since Pasi was introducing a system which is at polar opposites of what Michael Gove and he are overseeing.

Please don't be snide; I'm new to this forum and still reaching for ideas about these things. I'm saying that a totally comprehensive system is an *ideal* to be aspired to; that the *ideal* of fairness and equality of opportunity is something to strive towards, instead of the doctrine of what seems to me to be false 'choice', which has dominated in recent years. That would also, it springs to mind, mean in my ideal world that the current extremes of geographical socio-economic division in this country's cities would also be a thing of the past, thus solving your postcode problem. It's a Utopia, OK?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 18:02

I thought he left after the first question Allan - the question where Pasi was asked about the Finnish inspection system and he explained that he had got himself appointed as chief inspector and that his only act in that role had been to abolish the inspectorate.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 17:41

Hello Maraud

A very wamt welcome to Local Schools Network and I very much hope that you make more contributions and look at the resources of the site, not least past post and comments. I think you will find that many share your "Utopia".

You are quite right that, by closing the equality gap and removing the obstacles that would create a more just society, we would then be in a stronger position to tackle our education system. It is precisely what the Finns did in 1970s and their comprehensive system - no segregtaion, selection, mixed ability schools, real autonomy, support and respect for teachers and students - has put them right at, or very near, the top of international rankings.

When the Finns took steps to abolish private schools, they did so because this saw them as being a real impediment to education reform and social cohesion. It wasn't an easy process, but the Finns succeeded and and now equal access to excellent schools is available to all.

Unfortunately, there will be snide comments and eJD8oeE1, rather like Tokyo Nambu some months ago, is rather found of arguing for arguments sake - perhaps he finds this site a forum where he can indulge his fondness for convincing us all of his intellectual prowess? The state of our schools and their future remains precarious and it is great that we hear from people like you who wish to openly share their desire for equality in our system.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 18:15

I didn't realise that was when he left. Perhaps he didn't have a prior engagement then.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 18:31

I'm not entirely sure if it was before or after that question as I hadn't realised he was there until suddenly several people pointed out he'd just left. Was anybody else there? Can they recall if he left before or after the first question?

eJD8owE1's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 19:16

"I’m saying that a totally comprehensive system is an *ideal* to be aspired to; that the *ideal* of fairness and equality of opportunity is something to strive towards, instead of the doctrine of what seems to me to be false ‘choice’, which has dominated in recent years. That would also, it springs to mind, mean in my ideal world that the current extremes of geographical socio-economic division in this country’s cities would also be a thing of the past, thus solving your postcode problem"

But then the whole problem evaporates: in a world in which there aren't substantial income differentials, everyone can afford all the school, so the inequality of opportunity based on the schools people attend ceases to be a problem (or at least, ceases to be a problem for that reason). And if you propose solving the other problems of opportunity (the different extent to which parents can help their children in other ways) by hoping that parents will all be similarly equipped, then again the problem goes away.

The real question, however, is not how you run schools in a Utopia. Politics is the art of the possible, and the problems of education need to be fixed _now_. It's no use proposing the nationalisation of all property and the return to a pre-lapsarian ideal in which everyone lives happily in a world of equality, but you cannot achieve that. There are problems _now_ and for all I'm accused of erecting practical problems to other people's noble ideas, merely saying how nice it would be if the practical problems were not there doesn't make the ideas any more achievable.

Parents are not equally equipped to support their children. Even if you solve inequalities of wealth, that problem remains for many other reasons (themselves, often, the result of past education failings). How does education decouple parental wealth, aspiration and ability from the educational opportunities offered to their children, without (it goes without saying, but needs to be said) a political and social revolution that would make the Cultural Revolution look like a meeting of the Mother's Union. It's incredibly hard. Just saying "oh, but imagine it weren't hard" achieves nothing.

Everyone wants a system with equal opportunity for all and support so that everyone can be the very best that they can be. But any such system has to be achievable without a Year Zero: it has to start from where we are, today. Rather than predicating equality of opportunity on radical social change, you need to look at how you can get radical social change through equality of opportunity. Schools need to look to how they can get people to break out of the viscous circle of assuming that parental influence is destiny, and rather than whining about the lock of high court judges held by Eton, ponder how they're going to get the students in their school into top universities and top jobs. A few generations of that and we're all better off. You cannot do anything to make the private schools worse. You cannot, practically, do anything to make them less attractive other than to increase their prices by 20% by removing their VAT exemption, something whose impact may have many unintended consequences. The only thing left is to make the state system the best it can possibly be. Forget about private schools, the pernicious influence of class (which, of course triggers as much "those universities aren't for the likes of us" inverted snobbery as the "we don't want those poor people" real snobbery) and all the rest: how do we ensure that the state education system so good that no-one sane would waste money on private education?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 19:37

"Schools need to look to how they can get people to break out of the viscous circle of assuming that parental influence is destiny, and rather than whining about the lock of high court judges held by Eton, ponder how they’re going to get the students in their school into top universities and top jobs"

Schools do that all the time. But there is no link between schools and policy so what's the point.

Some of our local primaries have been talking their year 5s and 6s on aim higher trips recently. They've been brilliant.

I've spent the last 12 year working on Oxbridge access and we've made real progress but not with the most underpriveled students. This seems to be because they lack role models and self belief when the approach interview situations. I think it could be overcome if we had a system of communication between schools and interviewing universities which was designed to help students from low income homes where neither parent has been to university achieve success in the first part of their first interview.

Unfortunately Michael Gove has shut down all the process of consultation with people who know what they're talking about on the grounds they're all ignorant socialist ideologues.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:33

Meraud - welcome to this forum. Your desire to see a fully-comprehensive system is supported by research from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which found that the best-performing schools systems in the world tend to be those that are most equitable - they don't segregate pupils academically or by virtue of where they live. Finland, the top-performing European nation in the PISA tests, has a fully-comprehensive system.

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/61/2/48631582.pdf

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/34/44/46581035.pdf

You mentioned " a comfortable assumption of superiority." The latest British Social Attitudes Survey found that privately educated people were roughly twice as likely to regard themselves as being middle or upper-middle class even after statistical controls had been applied. The survey's authors said the difference could be "characterised as a 'sense of superiority bonus' which gave them "the social confidence to place themselves higher in the social pecking order than their state-educated peers."

http://ir2.flife.de/data/natcen-social-research/igb_html/pdf/1000001_e.pdf

This self-confidence, though, doesn't translate into higher degrees. State comprehensive pupils outperform their equally-qualified peers from independent or state grammar schools at university.

http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/comprehensive-pupils-outperform/

Hello,

Thank for the welcome; I seem to have waded in without my customary tact. Glad to see my own life experiences and crazy Utopian visions are backed up by social scientists everywhere, however ;-)

Can one wink in a forum nowadays? Or is that dreadfully non-U?

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 17:47

Do read Pasi Sahlberg's book! - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Finnish-Lessons-Educational-Change-Finland/dp/08...

Not a Utopia! A reality!

Thank you, I will.

eJD8owE1's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 21:42

" This seems to be because they lack role models and self belief when the approach interview situations. "

One difficulty appears to be that the mode of discourse in universities, and especially in tutorials, is that of a particular sort of middle-class dinner table. Children raised in those houses will have been exposed to, and expected to be participants in, conversations not a million miles removed from a tutorial. They'll have been taken to theatre and art galleries and cinema and expected to talk about what they thought. They'll have been raised around broadsheet (or Berliner!) newspapers, books ideas. They'll have been listened to, and often tutored in how to frame an argument. Radio 4 might be on. It's almost the very definition of cultural capital: dinner each evening is a small, incremental preparation for dealing with situations like interviews.

The Sutton Trust does fantastic work trying to overcome this sort of advantage, by essentially offering a two week crash finishing school. But that particular sort of confidence not only in your ideas, but in actually being listened to and given feed back, is built up over a lifetime, and represents the main thing that the middle classes pass to their children.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 20:42

I think that you point forms part of picture and would like to endorse your praise of the work the Sutton Trust does eJD8owE1.

Here are some two forces which I think are at play which give some insight into how the barriers you describe can be overcome:

Firstly it's important to remember that many people do successfully overcome these barriers to being leading members of society in time - so how do they do it? One dynamic which can be considered is that they tend to start to speak eloquently and confidently about things that they are expert at or passionate about. Once they've got the experience of leadership and speaking confidently in one area they are more easily able to transfer those skills into other areas.

Another dynamic which is key in the development of children is their access to role models. If they see people around them in particular roles who they respect and connect with they seem to be able to be able to believe that they may be able to fulfill those roles too in a way which allows them to jump some barriers. Of course it's not quite that simple - in reality children take aspects of what people do or how they behave far more often than they make huge leaps into the careers of those people, but I hope you'll also see there's something in this observation which points to something of value in this discussion.

eJD8owE1's picture
Sun, 20/05/2012 - 17:01

"Firstly it’s important to remember that many people do successfully overcome these barriers to being leading members of society in time"

But not that many, and not to the top. You can point to Alan Johnson and John Prescott, for example, but most of the allegedly less privileged Labour front-benchers over the years in fact came from families deeply steeped in politics, where dialectic materialism was discussed as frequently as the football was in the house next door.

It is an simple truth that having a close relative that does X is one of the best ways to end up doing X: when that's farmer's sons doing over the milking in the mornings or hotelier's daughters serving behind the bar in the family hotel we appear to regard than as less of a problem than when it's "the professions" giving work experience in their offices, but the principle is the same. People don't see overly exercised about who Nico Rosberg, Sofia Coppola, Toby Stevens, Nigel Clough, Martin Amis, Stella McCartney and Rufus Wainwright count as parents, but in each of those cases it's perfectly reasonable to suspect that had their parents not been who they are, their careers would have been distinctly harder. Some of those had privileged educations, others not so much, but their parents' names and address books opened doors not available to other drivers, directors, actors, footballers, writers, designers and singers.

Schools are just a symptom of this. Private education is where people who are already privileged gather together. Remove the private education and the same networking happens, the same social polishing happens, the same opportunity is offered, it just happens elsewhere (unless it's going to be seriously held that the mere fact of going to a comprehensive schools means having a father who is a major academic on the left who numbers many MPs amongst his dinner guests isn't helpful to becoming an MP). It is futile to attempt to wish it away, because it simply isn't possible. The question is: how do we offer that opportunity, or opportunity like it, to those whose parents work on the till at Sainsbury's. I don't know the answer to that, but merely trying to wish the problem away won't help.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 20/05/2012 - 17:38

"It is futile to attempt to wish it away, because it simply isn’t possible."

I agree.

Three points spring to mind.

Firstly I'm not wishing these things away. I'm exploring them because I think they give some clue as to how routes through barriers can be found. So for example one recommendation that I often make is that when students from low income backgrounds where neither parent has been to university are invited to interview at Oxbridge there should be some communication between the college and the school which is designed to ensure that student is put in a position where they have a good chance of showing their potential during the first part of the interview. I do also think deeply about wider issues such as how we can regenerate the democratic structures through which leadership can emerge from any part of society and I work on these and write about them in other places.

The second thing which is obvious from where I'm standing is that I and many other I know feel totally alienated from and repulsed by 'the top' as you define it. We don't want to be part of a top which feels superior or is there to lecture or dominate - unless there is very clearly a justification for and a mandate for authoritarian leadership. I don't know if you've read my older posts eJD8owE1 but for me and many leaders in the past leadership is about service and hard responsibility and we don't see anything we wish to emulate around us these days.

To put it quite simply - one of the biggest barrier to getting students to want to succeed in Oxbridge interviews is Cameron and Gove and co. We don't want to be like them. We don't respect them. We want to be like the people we respect so we've no interest in climbing that ladder and do not perceive it as being anywhere near the top of our personal aspirations in life. It should not be a ladder for the young and ambitious and good at living in a bubble and sucking up to the press. It should be a journey which is associated with the accumulation of ability, stability, credibility and peer-respect.

And the third thing is that I'm aware that having had highly academic parents has helped me but it's never opened networks to me in the way you've described. I would say I've benefited form it in two ways. Firstly it's given me a lot more confidence and expectation of myself. Secondly I have specific knowledge which I would not have had had I not been taught it by them. As a society we do not sufficiently value the specific knowledge that people from more disadvantaged backgrounds often have which we need to percolate to the heart of policy making.

Tim Bidie's picture
Sun, 20/05/2012 - 21:34

At least part of the problem is readily observable in any town in Britain. Children troop from their homes to school and then back again. For many of them, that is pretty much all that they know of the world until they leave school.

The 'harsh (!)' world of boarding school, whatever many think of it, does involve one hell of a lot more self reliance.

So, how to offer this self reliance to the homebound?

'Firstly it’s important to remember that many people do successfully overcome these barriers...... how do they do it......they tend to start to speak....confidently about things that they are expert at. Once they’ve got the experience...... they are more easily able to transfer those skills into other areas.'

Rebecca is pretty much there. We probably need some kind of state sponsored structured gap year system (absolutely NOT national military service). VSO provides at least an idea of a possible way forward.

Slap that on your C.V. and kick down the door to the university of your choice.

If you aren't prepared to kick down the door by that stage, then you will no doubt have developed other ideas about your future.

eJD8owE1's picture
Mon, 21/05/2012 - 06:10

"We probably need some kind of state sponsored structured gap year system (absolutely NOT national military service). VSO provides at least an idea of a possible way forward.
Slap that on your C.V. and kick down the door to the university of your choice."

Up to a point. There's one critical thing that's happened to university admission by stealth which militates in favour of people from a narrow social group. In the 1980s, Oxbridge had a separate admission system: you took their exam and interview, and if you passed those, you were given a nominal A Level offer (usually two Es) which was required simply so that your course was deemed "advanced work" and your LEA would pay your fees. A specific admission process plus the prevalence of "seventh term entry" in the private sector loaded the dice against state pupils unless either their school or their parents were able to offer something over and above A Level.

That ceased to be the case in the 1990s, and Oxbridge did their admission through UCCA/UCAS and A Levels, like everyone else. But what's happening now is a quiet rise of "well, you might have A Levels, but..." admissions testing: STEP for maths, BMAT for medicine, HAT for history, UCL's decision to demand GCSE in an MFL for all courses, the "good" A Level and "bad" A Level lists, etc. All of these things make good advice from schools that understand the system much more important and make the consequences of seemingly innocuous decisions taken at 14 much more serious. Gap years and post-qualification experience can't overcome that until you are old enough to get into university on the basis of your work and life history, which is much harder and happens in tiny numbers compared to the 18/19yo production line.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 23/05/2012 - 09:03

I think we need a more flexible system than that eJ8owE1.

Most areas have a frontline voluntary or paid reserve service - be it reserves of some kind or mountain rescue as it is here. Having such an organisation in a community is important - they are the people who are on the front line in a crisis. Society should be structures so there are such organisation is all communities and people gain credit for taking part.

Credit should also be given to people doing overseas work. Connecting classrooms is really coming to life now and creating more opportunities for schools and communities to link in a roots up way.

ASDAN type accreditation and work skills should also be recognised - the Modern Baccalaureate give some insight into how qualifications, personal development and work related skills can now be tracked together with mobile phone verification.

Beyond that we could move to a social profile networking system where people can accredit each other for what they've done in their community (somebody states what they've done and other can endorse it). This can link directly to systems for the unemployed which help them take part in society and be given credit for all the relevant experience they get and the positive contributions they make.

We're a generation on from DofE and VSO now. Those things are still great and should still gain credit but they need to sit within a more flexible system which uses ICT to help it fit better with society.

Tabbers's picture
Sat, 26/05/2012 - 22:27

"but rather, I think, because of their tendency to rely on a mode of discourse with which privately-educated kids are familiar, but which has a tendency to terrify – or at least flummox – kids who are state-educated."

Then the answer is for state schools to prepare their pupils in such a mode of discource.

Tabbers's picture
Sat, 26/05/2012 - 22:30

" In the 1980s, Oxbridge had a separate admission system: you took their exam and interview, and if you passed those, you were given a nominal A Level offer (usually two Es) which was required simply so that your course was deemed “advanced work” and your LEA would pay your fees. A specific admission process plus the prevalence of “seventh term entry” in the private sector loaded the dice against state pupils unless either their school or their parents were able to offer something over and above A Level.

That ceased to be the case in the 1990s, and Oxbridge did their admission through UCCA/UCAS and A Levels, like everyone else. But what’s happening now is a quiet rise of “well, you might have A Levels, but…” admissions testing: STEP for maths, BMAT for medicine, HAT for history, UCL’s decision to demand GCSE in an MFL for all courses, the “good” A Level and “bad” A Level lists, etc."

Not strictly true. Oxford went to 4th term only in 1986. Cambridge introduced STEP in 1987 (I know; I took it). Even then, when A Levels were a more robust currency than today, Oxbridge looked to a differentiator. The other element was (and is) the interview. My other half does admissions at Oxford, and the interviews are designed to weed out the polished that lack potential.

Tabbers's picture
Sat, 26/05/2012 - 22:32

"To put it quite simply – one of the biggest barrier to getting students to want to succeed in Oxbridge interviews is Cameron and Gove and co. We don’t want to be like them. We don’t respect them. We want to be like the people we respect so we’ve no interest in climbing that ladder and do not perceive it as being anywhere near the top of our personal aspirations in life."

Often one of the biggest barriers to pupils (NOT students; students study at University, pupils at schools) aspiring to enter Oxbridge is the inverted snobbery of their teachers.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 07:19

I don't know if you've worked through situations where staff are a barrier to students applying Tabbers.

The actual reasons there are barriers are not so simple as 'inverted snobbery'.
Different staff tend to have different personal reasons for not pushing students on and they can vary from student to student.

In some cases staff want to protect student from wasting time and emotional effort on applying because they've seem others try and fail and waste time and be devastated.

In some cases staff have a particular picture in their minds of what Oxbridge students are and what they become which is stereotypical and doesn't fit the ordinary gifted child in front of them.

In other cases staff are listening to the community and the community don't think it's right for the child for all sorts of reasons.

In many, many cases the child actually has a lot of reservations - they don't want to leave their family or girl/boyfriend or whatever and the convictions of the staff are simply not strong enough to overcome that.

There may be some inverted snobbery around but it's much more the issues I've described above.

This is what you see when you look below the headline and that takes time and application to do - you have to live in a school community for a long time to see what those barriers are which you often don't until the point at which they coming down.

It's possible to overcome these things if you have a strong system of support for student which reaches down the years and I've helped to turn such cultures around. But the interview issues then remains a selective barrier for our truly working class kids.

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