University admissions are being subjected to deliberate “manipulation” in an attempt to handicap pupils from private schools, a leading headmaster warned today. This is from the Telegraph…
Reforms designed to make the higher education system more equal are effectively being achieved by “disadvantaging” the brightest children, it was claimed.
Christopher Ray, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents more than 250 top schools, criticised the Government’s new university access regulator for attempting to replace “one type of perceived unfairness with another”.
In an outspoken attack, he said Prof Les Ebdon was “firmly in favour of manipulation” to force universities into creating a more socially balanced student body.
The comments come just weeks after Prof Ebdon, head of the Office for Fair Access, said England’s most selective universities should be expected to set “challenging” targets to recruit more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. He also backed the use of differential offers for students from struggling state comprehensives – allowing them to win places with lower grade A-levels than those from high-flying schools
Addressing the HMC annual conference in Belfast, Dr Ray criticised the approach.
He also rounded on Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister enlisted by the Coalition to review the barriers to social mobility in Britain, who has repeatedly called for an overhaul of university admissions.
Dr Ray, the High Master of Manchester Grammar School, said: “We are told by Milburn, Ebdon and others, we may have to use a degree of force to persuade universities to be more representative of the social make-up of the UK.
“Such men stand firmly in favour of manipulation to achieve their ends. Equality, we are told is too important to do otherwise.
“Those less advantaged, should now be advantaged. And the advantaged may have to be disadvantaged.”
Dr Ray quoted from Welcome to the Monkey House, by the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr, in which the “United States Handicapper General” makes everyone equal in terms of intelligence, speed and strength.
He added: “I do wonder who is applying for the post of the United Kingdom Handicapper General.”
Universities wishing to charge up to £9,000 a year must draw up an “access agreement” – signed off by Prof Ebdon – setting out how they will attract and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
OFFA has the ultimate power to fine institutions £500,000 or ban them from levying tuition fees of more than £6,000 for failing to widen access to under-represented groups.