Evidence shows that, based on similar GCSE grades, students from state schools are more likely to achieve a first-class degree at Oxford University than students from independent schools, yet top universities are still favouring the students from privileged backgrounds.
Speaking earlier this week, Nick Clegg criticised universities for not accepting enough pupils from state schools. Renewing his social mobility strategy, Clegg announced that universities will be penalised if they fail to meet targets for increasing the proportion of pupils they admit from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This proposal was greeted with a predictable response from independent schools, who argued that the government is engaged in “old style communist tactics” of social engineering, and that it should focus on improving state education “rather than capping the achievements of pupils in independent schools”. On a similar note, the CPS argued that “Britain can’t afford to drag down its best schools in the name of equality”.
Before trotting out such arguments, these commentators would do well to take a look at this graph from Tom Ogg and his colleagues – it shows the probability of getting a first at Oxford University based on GCSE grades:
It shows that pupils from state schools are more likely to get a first class degree than pupils from independent schools with the same GCSE grades. The question then becomes: why are universities selecting those students who are less likely to get a First? Why are they not admitting students on the basis of their potential to succeed?
• Left-wing snobbery does state schools no favours 15 May 2012
As Jonathan Portes points out in this excellent blog, this shows there is indeed social engineering in our education system – but it works in favour of those from independent schools:
“What the data and evidence suggest is that Oxford is already engaging in ‘social engineering’ in favour of private school pupils. It has an admissions process that favours them and admits them even though they are less likely to get good degrees.”
So long as this fact holds true, Nick Clegg’s focus on university admissions will be justified.