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Thursday, 29 September 2011

How to become a student

One of today's 'shock headlines' in the UK is a report on university admissions that shows that several universities have failed to meet targets for 'fair access'.  'Fairness' in this sense means 'making places available for students with inferior results in the qualifying examinations whose relatively poor scores can be attributed to the inferior quality of the schools that they have attended'. The quota system means that students who gain satisfactory results at good schools could be disadvantaged to the extent that they do not get into their preferred universities.

The problem is principally ascribable to the fact that Britain has three parallel schools systems. One group is schools where the great majority of pupils have the cost of their education paid by their families [though almost all such schools have some scholarships for a few children from less-affluent homes]: in most such schools teaching methods are traditional, discipline is firm and there are ample resources for science and sport and out-of-class activities: many such schools are residential so that they offer a total educational environment.

Second there are a few districts where the local authority provides different sorts of schools: traditional grammar schools which are day schools with most of the attributes of private schools; a few technical schools; and 'secondary modern' schools with a less-demanding curriculum. Selection between the three school types is made at a set age - often eleven years - usually by examination.

Third are comprehensive schools, providing the only education that is available for the overwhelming majority of children over eleven years. While some of these have excellent standards of teaching and discipline, the majority do not. An establishment of politically-correct writers, university Education professors and head teachers has wantonly ignored [or actively denigrated] the example of private and grammar schools. In most comprehensives lax discipline is commonplace and this ensures that disruptive and arrogant children can deny their colleagues any serious educational opportunity. 'Hard' subjects - notably mathematics, serious science, modern and classical languages - are largely ignored in favour of simplified generalised 'science' and 'vocational' subjects like journalism, film, elementary psychology and book-keeping.

Good universities concentrate on 'hard' subjects that are likely to benefit the economy most, as well as giving their graduates the best employment opportunities. It is a simple coincidence that entrants from private and grammar schools are prepared to undertaken 'hard' courses, while most comprehensive school leavers are not qualified to embark upon them without special extra coaching within the university; which is an extra cost of their attempts at 'fair access'. The best - and most popular - universities make very serious efforts to achieve 'fair access' targets, even at the cost of diverting resources from developing the best students to remedial work for the 'disadvantaged'. Every move for greater 'fairness' has a tendency to remove resources from the education of the best-prepared students, regardless of their access route to university: and this conspires to reduce standards and thus the future quality of the national skills base and thereby disadvantage the economy.

Almost everybody in the university system agrees that remedial work is needed in the ethos and standards of comprehensive schools: but that issue is put by politicians and self-styled educationalists into the 'too-difficult' tray; so the chosen 'solution' to a real national problem of educational opportunity is to reduce the quality of the best universities and thereby further reduce the future competitiveness of the country.

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