Lowering entry grades for poorest pupils ‘sets them up to fail’

Improving access to education should be measured by university dropout rates, says Russell Group chief executive

一月 29, 2018
high jump bar
Source: iStock

Lowering entry requirements to allow poorer pupils greater access and improve diversity at the UK’s most selective universities risks “setting them up to fail”, the leader of the Russell Group has warned.

Speaking on a panel debate, "Diversifying the elite: the responsibility of universities?", hosted by social mobility thinktank Reform, Tim Bradshaw warned that taking a contextual admissions strategy “too far” would ultimately result in increased dropout rates and “added pressures on society” in the long term.

His comments come in response to calls made by Durham University academics – and echoed by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust last year – for a revised admissions system to be implemented, whereby students from poorer backgrounds who achieve three Cs at A level are accepted on to courses that would normally demand As.

Meanwhile, new research from the Social Market Foundation has revealed that half of white working-class and black British students in England get into university with vocational qualification such as BTECs, not A levels.

The thinktank is calling on ministers and the new Office for Students to do more to help those who study BTEC courses gain places at university and other higher education providers.

Speaking at the Reform event, Vikki Boliver, a social scientist at Durham University, said the revised admissions strategy could be even more effective if universities such as Oxford sought to drop grade expectations for its most socially disadvantaged applicants by “five, even six grade boundaries”.

Referencing the gap between the number of rich and poor pupils admitted into the country’s highest-ranked institution last year, she added: “The best thing we can get Oxford to do for this year’s admissions cycle is to start flexing that confirmation point for kids who have missed their grades from certain backgrounds. A simple tweak to the system will have a big result.”

The University of Bristol, another Russell Group member, made headlines in December 2016 for a similar scheme allowing lower entry grades for bright pupils hoping to apply to the university from disadvantaged areas in the region.

Speaking at the debate, Professor Boliver and former education minister David Lammy both argued it was an “equally heroic” achievement for poorer pupils to receive Bs and Cs at A level as it was for their more privileged peers to score an A.

But efforts to improve access to higher education across the UK comes as a “shared responsibility”, with “no silver bullet” for best practice, Dr Bradshaw said.

“I’m not going to stand here and say it’s just the universities – it is the wider society as well,” he told panel members, adding "we’re not complacent”.

“There are still people dropping out who shouldn’t be," he said. “But I think the challenge is if you widen this whole contextualisation too far in terms of dropping five or six grades…yes, you could probably do that in some areas, but could you do it across the board? No I don’t think so.

“I think all you will end up doing is setting up pupils to fail and that will increase dropout rates…[imagine] the pressures on society that might bring.”

It was therefore unlikely that the contextual admissions practice seen at Bristol would be introduced elsewhere, he added.

Mr Lammy responded that “systemic change means ‘fessing up to privilege’”. “If we’re serious about this we need to privilege other children,” he said. “Privilege the child in Tottenham. Privilege the children on free school meals...if we are serious about this agenda.”

The MP for Tottenham accused the University of Oxford of “social apartheid” last year, after it emerged that nearly one in three Oxford colleges had failed to admit a single black British pupil in 2015.

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

登录 或者 注册 以便阅读全文。

请先注册再进行下一步

获得一个月的无限制地在线阅读网站内容。只需注册并完成您的职业简介.

注册是免费的,而且非常简单。一旦成功注册,您可以每个月免费阅读3篇文章。:

  • 获得编辑推荐文章
  • 率先获得泰晤士高等教育世界大学排名相关的新闻
  • 获得职位推荐、筛选工作和保存工作搜索结果
  • 参与读者讨论和公布评论
注册

相关文章

欢迎反馈

Log in or register to post comments

评论最多