As we approach A-level results day I have been thinking a lot about the emerging belief that private schools are – in the words of a recent Financial Times article – “losing their grip” on Oxbridge.
On the one hand, I think it is a thing to be celebrated that more pupils from state schools are getting places at Oxbridge. The universities are also becoming more diverse as more international pupils are obtaining places.
But on the other hand, independent schools are successful in their own right at educating very under privileged and disadvantaged pupils with bursary support which has increased year on year.
These pupils can now be viewed by the system as “privileged” and less likely to gain access to Oxbridge than wealthy parents who choose free education for their children.
Over twenty years ago, a student’s next step after private school was university. At the same time, places at top universities were dominated by students from independent schools and mainly privileged families.
As fees have risen faster than wages, many parents cannot continue to afford independent education. Schools have realised that at the same time they need to offer more bursarial support not least to support deserving families but to carry out their charitable objectives. Because schools are charities and don’t pay VAT, this is an ever-present spectre for our schools.
“Development offices have sprung up everywhere with the focus on raising money to allow more disadvantaged children to gain a place at our schools.”
Over the last ten years, bursarial support amongst ISC schools has risen from £175 million to £440 million, which is a huge uplift although schools know they can do more.
Development offices have been springing up all over the place with the key focus on raising money to support more disadvantaged children in gaining a place at our schools.
There are more and more organisations that are working hard such as Springboard and the Bursary Foundation to seek out very disadvantaged children to give these children the best education and great opportunities that our schools provide.
Whether they end up in a top university or not is not important, but if these children are being looked over for places because they have been lucky enough to gain a place at one of our schools, that doesn’t seem right.
I know it is possible to argue that they have had a great education that will stand them in good stead whatever their university or path after school and that competition is greater now for places at these top institutions. But it seems unfair.
“Parents need to step back and recognise the advantages of paying for an independent education which is not just for university (and a prestige name), it’s for life.”
It also made me sad to read that parents feel that they are “shelling out up to half a million pounds pre tax to get better results”. Independent schools have smaller classes in the main allowing teachers to give a more bespoke teaching experience, but Oxbridge and the like are looking for well-rounded intelligent people and that is what parents pay for.
Parents expect the top grades, but what you are really paying for is confidence, additional careers and university application support, extra-curricular opportunities (to develop those soft skills) all within a caring environment.
I was speaking with a friend about this who gained a place at Oxbridge and is schooling her girls in the independent sector having not had this benefit herself. She mentioned that for her, although she loved her time at university, she wants her girls to be happy more than anything else and that in the main the academic tunnel vision seems to be from parents within the top tier independent schools in the country. It was heartening to hear an Oxbridge graduate say this and I suspect (and hope) she represents the majority of parents.
In conclusion, my feeling is that it is absolutely right that Oxbridge and others are now taking a more diverse approach to admissions but this should not be at the detriment to excellent disadvantaged candidates from independent schools.
Finally, parents need to step back and recognise the advantages of paying for an independent education which is not just for university (and a prestige name), it’s for life.