Just a short one today.
I am currently reading an article in The Independent about Cambridge University. You can find the article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/easier-entries-would-be-cruel-warns-cambridge-8120826.html . Their admissions tutor, Dr Geoff Parks, claims it would be a “cruel experiment” to lower entry requirements for students from disadvantaged backgrounds so that they can study at Cambridge.
It’s not just cruel; it’s patronising. How can we encourage kids from poorer backgrounds – and those from state schools in general – to do better in their A Levels by lowering entry requirements? By telling them that we have to make it easier for them? That they don’t need to try so hard because we don’t believe they can hack it and we’ll move the goalposts for them anyway?
It is cruel, too. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a high achiever at school. I was. I was in top sets for everything throughout my school years. Particularly during my primary years, the ‘clever kids’ were often paired with the ‘not so clever kids’ in the hopes that the achievements of the top set pupils would rub off on those lower down the pecking order. In my view this does not work well but feel free to contradict me. Those who struggled with learning just felt further marginalised by their perceived lack of ability. There is no magic transfer of talent from one pupil to another. And to place students with lower exam marks into the snakepit of cutthroat achievement a la Cambridge could be a disaster, both for the students’ career prospects and their own wellbeing.
The only solution is to improve education standards at all levels of education – primary, secondary and beyond. We must educate better – not just in academic terms, but also in the options we offer to these students. I have written before about the obsession my sixth-form college had with pushing every single student into university and this was done, in my cynical opinion, to boost the college’s reputation. Academia is not for everyone and we have to relinquish the view that it is. It is not a failure to choose a path that does not lead to Cambridge. I truly believe we all have talents. The hard bit is finding the right channel for those talents. Secondary schools and sixth-form colleges need to improve careers services within their institutions so those that do not easily take to academia can be offered different routes, whether that be vocational or something completely different.
(This was meant to be shorter than it is. Oh well.)