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Primary Education News
News Letters: Private schools, Oxbridge admissions and educational inequality
It is depressing but unsurprising that students from private schools are more likely to be admitted to Oxford University than their peers in state schools with equivalent grades at A-level (Report, 15 August). Attempts at inclusivity by universities are undermined by the same universities' almost routine representation on the governing bodies of private schools. Most major private schools have at least one professor from a Russell Group university on their governing body. Eton and Harrow each have three senior academics from Oxford and Cambridge. The constitutions of Eton college and Winchester college indeed enshrine this relationship, ensuring that senior academics are de facto appointed to the governing bodies of the schools (the provost of King's College, Cambridge, is, it seems, automatically appointed to the governing body of Eton; the warden of New College, Oxford, is similarly appointed to Winchester). The universities each elect further representatives to these schools. This anachronistic system ensures that publicly funded universities maintain a close relationship with private schools that few state schools could dream of achieving. If the universities are serious about access, such constitutional links should be severed.
• The Rev EJ Penny is right to argue that current government policies will worsen the educational prospects of the children of the poor (Letters, 17 August) but wrong to assert that "Fifty years ago, Tory-backed grammar schools and grants gave hope to many of the least well off of my contemporaries. They went to university and found jobs worthy of their potential." Even if this was true of Mr Penny's contemporaries, it was certainly not true in general. In the early 1960s only 4% of school leavers went to university at all and the Robbins report found that, of this 4%, only 6% came from "the least well off". This is not "many" – it is hardly any!
Campaign for State Education
• Are we sure that Rev EJ Penny is right about why parents send their children to expensive schools? I attended a well-known public school (a long time ago) and I was not conscious at all of what it was costing in fees. Nor did I feel any pressure at all to fulfil my parents' hopes in any academic sense. I think I was sent to the school for two reasons. First, to get a really useful "old school tie". Second, to maintain my parents' social position. They were in a social circle where "everyone" sent their children to boarding schools. If they had failed to follow suit they would have been downgraded socially. Good teaching and academic results were mere spin-off – a bonus – and were, anyway, just assumed to go along with the school's reputation.
• Your editorial (16 August) gives readers, and particularly prospective students, a rather misleading view of the UK's leading universities. The latest National Student Survey shows 88% of students at Russell Group universities are satisfied with their experience, compared to 85% of students overall; 89% of students at Russell Group universities have been able to contact their world-leading lecturers when needed, compared to 86% of students overall. Our graduates earn more during their careers compared to graduates from modern universities and employers rank 10 Russell Group universities in the top 30 in the world. A degree from a leading university is worth it: to imply otherwise is especially unhelpful for those young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are often the most in need of accurate information, advice and guidance.
Dr Wendy Piatt
Director general and chief executive, Russell Group