Leader: Schools pick up where postcodes fell down

December 13, 2002

There will be few tears shed for the demise of the postcode premium, much less for the often misleading distinction between state and independent school entrants to higher education that provides the sector's best-known performance indicator. Is a sixth-form college student who was privately educated through compulsory schooling the product of the state or independent system? Is a university really widening participation by recruiting a grammar school pupil, who may have been more rigorously selected and be just as affluent as those from the neighbouring independent school? To focus instead on the A-level results of an applicant's school or college is to address a real issue, rather than political prejudice. If universities want to spot unfulfilled potential, what matters is the standard of teaching received, not the type of school.

The proposed measures, which include parental education and income, should be better indicators of disadvantage - but will they be reliable? Universities have no way of verifying the educational achievements of those who may or may not have graduated 20 years ago, and they are unlikely to subject parents' declaration of annual income to close scrutiny. The apparent mismatch in an overwhelmingly middle-class student population, only 40 per cent of whom exceed the £20,000 household income required to pay tuition fees, suggests that the figures won't be the last word in social classification.

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