It is a worrying fact that even though we live in an era that supposedly mocks the class wars that have previously categorised British history, there is still discrimination among one of our most important institutions - education.
Every week a new article comes out about how universities are inaccessible to state school children; stories of discrimination, rejection and unequal opportunities constantly populate word space, leading some to argue that those from state schools and those of an ethnic background should be given help in order to gain places at some of the country's most prestigious institutions. Often these articles are targeted at the renowned Oxbridge.
It should firstly be noted that it is not just Oxford and Cambridge that have a large number of privately-schooled pupils. Top universities such as some London colleges, Durham, and Exeter are all just as out of reach for the average student as Oxbridge. In fact Oxbridge are two of the few universities attempting to reach out to underprivileged schools - Oxford spends almost £12million a year on outreach programs and bursaries.
However this does not mean that we should 'assist' state school kids by treating them specially when it comes to university applications. In fact, just the opposite should be done. The playing field needs to be levelled at the most basic point; quality of education delivered.
As an ex-state school pupil I think it's pretty demeaning when people suggest that universities should positively discriminate to make room for less well off students. Ideally education standards need to be raised in failing and poor schools. At this point I would like to define what I am talking about when I speak of state schools; there are plenty of state schools with annually high rates of admittance to Oxbridge and other Russell group universities. Such schools are almost on par with some private schools and thus usually come with entrance exams and miles of regulations.
The schools I am talking about are state schools in deprived areas, the schools that a lot of pupils attend because of catchment area regulations, rather than achieving a place. Ultimately pupils at these schools can be failed by a system in which you get what you pay for.
Again this is not to say that there are not great teachers within state schools. I whole heartedly feel that my gaining of a place at a good university was due to some excellent teaching. But state school pupils are failed at the most crucial points; the encouragement and support given to private school pupils at times of exams and university application is so much greater than that seen in it's counterpart. Whilst my peers at university were given training on how to apply to Oxbridge and how to write personal statements, none of the teachers at my school had ever encountered a HATs test, nor knew how best I should revise for it. Many fellow sixth formers were turned off Oxbridge and Russell group applications due to the perceived complexities in the system, as well as their lack of knowledge about entrance exams.
Furthermore when arriving at university I found that my basic knowledge of classic works across all humanities was poor in comparison to my class mates. The same was of my essay writing skills. In the time they were reading 'Politics and the English Language' I was either without a teacher or lagging behind due to the mixed ability of the class. Again, this fault lies with nobody, it is the unfortunate nature of state schools that gifted children are often limited and therefore are unable to reach their full potential. One personal example was a physics class at my old school; the class was full of A-A* GCSE students, yet these grades did not translate to A level as they were left without a teacher for large periods of time. A lot of students were ultimately left to work through syllabuses on their own, which of course is difficult enough at university, yet alone sixth form. What this left us to discover is that although smart and gifted students can take in information by themselves, writing skills, essay structuring and coursework guidance is something that requires guidance, and the quality of this guidance reflects on the pupils.
This leads to the conclusion that this is not a problem for universities to solve but one that is deeply rooted in our education system. As long as there is the option for paid education, which must by its very nature outperform the state system, there will always be a divide between the kind of teaching pupils receive. The inevitability of private schools means that I feel it is up to individually driven students and teachers to attempt to match the rounded knowledge of privately schooled pupils Any large attempt to rectify the difference will only result in private institutions taking further measures to define themselves and why their facilities are worth paying for.