Partners wanted

September 29, 2000

Middle-class students were reportedly recruited to fill empty places in summer schools because too few students from under-represented groups "met the criteria" ("Poor fail to fill access places", THES, September 1).

The problem lies with the criteria and methods of selection, rather than with potential students. The schemes, funded by the Department for Education and Employment, relied on a class-biased method of selecting students, targeting sixth-form A-level pupils, who tend to be predominantly middle class.

As a consequence, talented working-class students, who traditionally study in further education colleges, were not considered as possible recruits.

The decision to target the top 10 per cent of school achievers for summer school places ignores the social and economic conditions that contribute to academic success. This selection method will inevitably miss highly talented working-class students who have not developed their potential to the same extent as their more privileged middle-class peers.

The DFEE and organisers of the Cambridge summer school scheme justified the big recruitment of middle-class students by suggesting that the aims of widening participation would nevertheless be met. Although more middle-class students from a wider variety of schools may now perceive studying at Cambridge as a goal, the fact remains that resources have been directed away from encouraging participation among more seriously under-represented groups.

For summer schools to widen access, it is necessary to operate schemes through school/FE/HE partnerships. Those designing and running the schemes must also question their assumptions about working-class under-representation and achievement so that they recognise the reality of inequalities, rather than pathologising disadvantaged groups.

Louise Archer and Barbara Read

Research fellows

Institute for Policy Studies in Education

University of North London

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