Labour motion on private school quotas aims at HE ‘structural change’

Capping universities’ intakes from private schools would require ‘highly controversial’ legislation on admissions, says one legal expert

September 23, 2019
Eton
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Labour’s conference has passed a motion that seeks to commit the party to capping universities’ student intakes from private schools, a plan that would help to “end the steep and damaging hierarchies” between universities, according to campaigners.

Conference delegates passed a motion on 22 September that aims to commit Labour to including in its next manifesto a pledge to “integrate all private schools into the state sector”, which, if implemented, would in effect abolish private schools.

Measures to achieve that would include ending the charitable status and tax privileges of private schools, ensuring that individual universities “admit the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population (currently 7 per cent)” and, ultimately, redistributing private schools’ assets across the state system, says the motion.

Sol Gamsu, an assistant professor in sociology at Durham University and a co-founder of the Labour Against Private Schools campaign that proposed the motion, said: “Private schools provide a major access point to elite universities. Limiting their [students’] entry to elite universities will disincentivise their use during the transitional phase in which schools are integrated.”

This element of the motion was “intended to link the campaign against private schools to the structural reform of HE and HE admissions”, and with other calls to “refocus the access problem on uneven distribution of students from wealthier backgrounds [across different universities] rather than on the ‘lack’ of working-class students”, he said.

Dr Gamsu added: “I think we need to move towards a system that ends the steep and damaging hierarchies between institutions in terms of wealth and prestige. Universities that have largely middle-class intakes need to look at their ties and responsibilities to their local communities.”

Dennis Farrington, co-author of The Law of Higher Education, said current legislation is “quite clear” that “ministers may not give directions about admissions nor can an access and participation plan include provisions relating to criteria for admission”.

“Admission is and has always been solely within the power of individual universities, first at common law and subsequently under statute,” he added.

Any change to that would require primary legislation, he continued. And such legislation would “immediately affect England’s high standing in international comparisons of university autonomy, so would be highly controversial”, Dr Farrington argued.

The New Statesman quoted a Labour source as saying that the leadership would commit to removing private schools’ charitable status and tax privileges, “and ignore the rest” of the motion.

Dr Gamsu said: “The suggested university admissions policy is there to underline how educational resources are skewed towards the wealthy.

“The details and technicalities need to be and will be addressed, but the point is that we need to debate structural reform in education. Progress on access has been grindingly slow despite the committed work of many people – it’s time to talk about structural change.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Labour cap aims to reshape HE

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Reader's comments (2)

I'll get screams of derision. The best way to improve social mobility is not to ban things but acknowledge that those pupils who are not academic should be given the same life chances by tailoring their education to aptitudes. The problems with grammar schools was not grammar schools but the failure of successive governments of all parties to adequately fund and structure the secondary modern schools. Then the grammar schools would be able to effectively out perform the private sector. No need for "pass or fail" just aptitude assessments whose results can be used to modify the structure of each individuals education to their strengths.
We are all individuals in our likes and dislikes, abilities and aptitudes.By the age of 6, let alone 16, the parents we are born to and the way we have been brought up and "educated" have already made us what we are along the way. Our current educational structure moulds us into "boxes" that are no longer appropriate and attempts to filter in and filter out diffferent types of people. It gets us all to go through the same shaped hoops and tubes that favour those with a more pronounced "academic" skill set and are good at "exams", written English and working on our own. Universities are part of this process. This is what needs to be changed, the content of what we are "taught", the people doing the "teaching" and the nature, values and objectives of the organisations doing the "educating". The Labour Party should focus more on changing the system to something that makes more sense rather than setting quotas for the number of privately educated people going to specific Universities to create a slightly different elite with the same inbuilt faults.

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