Thursday 20 September 2007

Aiming higher

Today's Sutton Trust report (pdf) showing how much the odds are stacked against bright young people from our best state schools getting to our leading universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, deserves serious consideration. For the Trust rightly concludes that this is not simply a matter of bias (albeit in a way other than the independent sector has sometimes had us believe) but it is as much about aspiration, teacher expectation and a better applications process. The OECD report earlier this week found English youngsters uniquely pessimistic about their prospects of getting to university, despite a better than average graduation rate. Such pessimism clearly extends to the ablest students having the confidence to apply to top universities rather than a safer less challenging alternative.

Clearly the excellent summer schools run by Hefce and the Sutton Trust with top universities can do a lot to redress the balance. The universities need to back a fairer applications process - A levels can be marked quicker; and university terms could change too. Plans by independent schools to work with state schools on the interview process are welcome. But the biggest change has to be in the mindset of teachers, parents and students: they need to aim higher, and have the support to do so.

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