A few more Oxbridge places for disadvantaged children is just tinkering

A thinktank’s suggestion for how to get more students from disadvantaged backgrounds into Oxford and Cambridge – open a new generation of colleges – is the sort of solution that unwittingly tells you much about the problem. The Guardian reports.

Inequality in Britain’s education system is so entrenched that, according to the Higher Education Policy Institute, the best way for elite institutions to include disadvantaged young people is not to change but to create separate buildings.

It’s little wonder that steps to redress the balance for marginalised pupils are less than useful. We’ve long been told that working-class, disabled and ethnic minority students can excel if they put in enough effort. The fetishisation of grammar schools – just given £50m-worth of new life by the government – is testament to that. Critics of more redistributive measures have long pointed to “minority success stories” to try to prove their point, as if with enough grit, talent and determination, no child need let poverty, race, or disability hold them back.

Back in the 1990s, I started secondary school barely a year after Labour gained power. Like most state mainstream schools then, mine was largely inaccessible for pupils like me who used a wheelchair. My class ended up being taught out of only three rooms for the entirety of year 7 while a lift was being installed, with more renovations coming over the years. By the time I was in sixth form, I could get to most parts of the school like anyone else – something often taken for granted but vital for not only a child’s learning, but social development. I dread to think what would have happened with today’s funding cuts.

Disabled students are already at an academic disadvantage. In the first study of its kind in the UK, recent research from the University of Warwick and the London School of Economics found that disabled children are more likely to enter secondary education with lower educational attainment than non-disabled pupils, and are less likely to achieve good grades at GCSE. But as worrying, the minority who do manage to get qualifications are still let down: more than a quarter of disabled young people do achieve five or more A*-C grades, but they are less likely to stay on to take A-levels, and less likely to go on to university, than young people without disabilities.

None of this is simple to solve, nor does the problem come down to one or even a handful of factors. Similarly, no matter what the headlines suggest, getting more disadvantaged pupils into Oxbridge is not the holy grail of equality. From early years education all the way to university, a variety of large-scale social and economic measures are needed – as well as smaller practical ones – to begin giving disadvantaged young people a fair shot across the board.

Read the full article A few more Oxbridge places for disadvantaged children is just tinkering

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. One of my grammar schools proactively enrolled a blind girl so that it could spend a lot of its tight budget on adapting the school for her.

  2. A lamp called BooBoo

    I understand the problems of inequality, of course I do. We all do. But the elephant in the room is that every single parent in the world will do whatever it takes to ensure that their own children have the best possible start. You could create some utopian system of perfect equality and every parent would straight away start giving their own child advantages that other children don’t have.
    Now that fact of human nature is going to be far more difficult to fix than persuading a few Oxbridge colleges to take a broader range of children…

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