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Primary Education News
News Giving pupils 'credit' for being from deprived areas is a sticking plaster
Helen Whitehouse, whose secondary and further education was in Barnsley and Rotherham, looks at the attainment gap between North and South
As a student of a comprehensive school in Barnsley, and then a college in Rotherham, I never realised the gap in statistics between students achieving GCSE grades in the North of England, and the South. I never understood the idea that, educationally, Barnsley is classed as "deprived", as is Rotherham and Doncaster.
I didn't feel deprived, but, I couldn't understand why my UCAS reference, compiled from my AS Level teachers and principle, it stated my GCSE and AS Level results and followed with the statement "Which is more impressive considering the comprehensive education Helen received, and the pass rate from her secondary school".
I worked hard at my GCSEs and I couldn't have been happier on results day- so I felt like my achievements were being belittled – it felt condescending, like in order for universities to look at my results and want to offer me a place, they had to take into account that I was from a deprived area. Is this right? Especially as, when it comes to applying for a university, students disperse all over the country. I know that I did absolutely fine at GCSE, and at my AS Levels. So why was I simply being told that my results were "impressive, considering"?
I decided to look into the statistics for schools in my local area – Barnsley. So, for anyone who doesn't know of Barnsley, here are some basic facts. The sign on the way into the town centre describes it as a "historic market town" which I personally feel is a bit picturesque for what it really is. Concrete mainly. A lot of places selling sausage rolls, and the MKAT capital of the world. The town centre, like a lot of town centres, is quite sad and depressed and very empty – there was a Nandos rumoured to be moving in, but I think it was deemed too cultural. The night life is something that should be experienced by all, but the taxi queue at the end of the night is something to be avoided at all costs. But I've got on fine, and educationally, I have been absolutely okay. I was fine at college in Rotherham too, which is very similar to Barnsley, but it has the added bonus of having a college which resembles a castle, which, looks extremely photogenic on prospectuses.
But, most schools don't exceed 40% students achieving "good" GCSE grades (which is specified, on BBC News Education as being 5 A* to C grades with at least a C in Maths and English). In 2012, the best achieving school in Barnsley was Penistone Sixth Form, with 62% of students maintaining these grades. The worst was Carlton Community College, with 37%. The school I attended, Kirk Balk Community College, gained 46%, which is pretty middle of the road by Barnsley standards. If we compare these statistics to say, schools in Kent, we can see a difference; the highest achievers being Barton Court Grammar School, with 98% of pupils achieving these grades.
So really, there is undeniably a difference. I knew that at Kirk Balk, my teachers focussed on getting C grades, and C grades only. As students in a Set 1 English lesson, we were taught how to get C grades. And when you look at the bare statistics for getting the grades, it's understandable why; they want as many students as they can to get the basic GCSEs. But, is it really healthy to constantly refer to educational backgrounds through application processes like university?
Just after I had read my reference and discovered that every student from my school, and similar schools in the local area, I found that students from certain areas can have special entry requirement adjustments if they send in a further application. This is essentially if you went to school in a certain area- ie deprived or went to college in a certain area – again, deprived. Because most people go to school and college in similar vicinities, students from Barnsley, Rotherham or Doncaster are perfect candidates. And it can mean knocking one or two grades from the standard entry requirement for certain universities, meaning entry to your dream higher education institution could become more reachable.
Do I think that this is a good thing? Yes, in a lot of circumstances, it will give people a leg up into their dream university. But did I utilise the option for myself? No.
Personally, I think the idea of accounting for past educational shortcomings in a sweeping motion cancels out the good it tries to achieve. The action would become pointless if every single applicant the scheme was made available to took the option to use it, in the same way that if every person from a school whom achieved less than 50% pass rates played upon the fact that that is where they attended in their personal statements, and this is why I think it is valueless to use it in a reference for a university application.
Yes, obviously, they help some people to get where they need to be. But not everyone needs this help, and, by handing it out to everyone, we wipe out the option for the people who need it most- the action is devaluated if everyone uses it.
As autonomous adults, college students applying for university know where they want to go, and know where they can achieve offers for, and where will provide educational careers which will stretch their intellect. By constantly saying how well someone has done considering their secondary education devaluates their achievement. If we are at the stage of applying for any university, I think that it is safe to assume that educationally, we have done okay.
When we look at statistics, it's undeniable that there is a gap in the results. But, arguably, placing special measures for everyone in order to combat this doesn't do any good in closing the gap, either. Because arguably, in the future, as well as looking at pass rates at GCSE, we could be comparing statistics from Barnsley students getting into uni with these helps compared with students from other areas.
We need to stop this culture of having to justify results in references, when the results themselves are more than adequate, and offering special schemes when the predicted grades already meet the conditional as it only builds upon an issue that isn't always relevant to an individual, simply because we are from a "deprived area" in the North. If it isn't broken, we don't have to constantly jump in and fix it.