Commission’s misguided and dangerous recommendation to hold back university places for access for applicants from deprived areas

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, set up the Commission on Widening Access to University education in 2014. It has now reported.

Its headline recommendation – from around 34 – is that Scottish Universities should hold back places [with less demanding entry criteria] for applicants from Scotland’s most deprived areas, with a target of 20% of available places going to candidates from 20% of Scotland’s most deprived areas by 2030.

No one would dispute the importance of closing the attainment gap between the well off and the poor – a matter which, to date, the Scottish Government has signally failed to do.

However, only the perpetually spin-focused SNP would seek to massage that gap into submission by guaranteeing university access, rather than by improving learning and performance to underpin access by right of  merit.

Already, the failure of the risible ‘curriculum for excellence’ is seeing a high percentage of pupils leave for university with less than acceptably competent literacy and numeracy.

Many Scottish universities have, some years ago, found that they have no choice but to introduce remedial classes in these foundation skills for incoming first year students who aren’t up to snuff.

And the Scottish Government has set an unhelpful example in this matter by appointing, of all things, an Education Secretary – the well astray Angela Constance. Ms Constance’s grammar has  has been known to fall at the first fence in public utterances; and she speaks as if she is reading very carefully from an autocue whose text has been written for the intellectually challenged..

There is only one honest route to closing the attainment gap in access to university for applicants from deprived areas.

That is to drive up the standards of specific attainment to be achieved in teaching and learning in Scotland’s secondary schools.

The well off send their children to private schools where the emphasis is on skills development, breadth and depth of learning and challenge in attainment.

The attainment gap is the distance to that level of competence by the end of secondary education which state schools are  not even aiming to close.

If Scotland’s state education was good enough, the attainment gap in university access would reduce sharply. This is the type of ambition we had once hoped and expected to see from the SNP in government – but they quickly sold out to the expediency of prioritising appearance over reality.

All governments do this, of course – but the SNP promised a difference in values that has simply not materialised.

And what sort of criteria would universities deploy to allocate the withheld places between a surfeit of applicants from deprived areas?

Once the objective criteria of relative merit in achievement is discounted, would places have to be allocated on the greater degree of deprivation suffered by some applicants over others from the same areas of deprivation?

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Related Articles & Comments

  • So Ms Constance doesn’t speak like you? Thank goodness.
    NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have I read such trash. Well actually that’s not really true. I read your blog for a laugh.

    SNP win.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 2 Thumb down 13

    No Cheese Here March 15, 2016 8:26 am Reply
  • What absolute drivel to suggest that only the well off achieve high standards because they send their children to private schools where the focus is skills development, breadth and depth of learning and challenge in attainment. This is the mindset of someone who knows absolutely nothing about education, and who almost certainly suffers from a lack of educational self esteem. To suggest that private education or that only the ” monied classes ” can truly be educated is just nonsense and it does make one wonder about the authors own background.
    But as Fletcher of Saltoun said, hereditary monarchs are about as useful as hereditary physicians. Or put another way, some very wealthy people have some very ordinary children, as the academic results of Royals, such as our very own Prince Charles show, from his time at Gordonstoun. A society that does not educate widely from across it’s gene pool is a very poor society and it certainly seems that the Newsroom lives in a world of Pish Tush and the Grand Poobah. Sounds very much like the Newsroom was brought up in service.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

    willie March 15, 2016 8:57 am Reply
  • NCH you beat me to it to comment on this latest ” trash “. All very suggestive of an impoverished and troubled background.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

    willie March 15, 2016 9:04 am Reply
  • NCH, W. Two reasons why Scotland will never survive by itself in the big wide world. What Newsie says is right. Spot on. As you say yourselves, money and private schools don’t necessarily lead to academic success. But the private schools at least try to make a silk purse out of a sows ear. State schools, on the other hand, seem happy to allow a fifth of their students to leave without being able to read or count to a standard acceptable by the rest of the world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

    once-ler March 15, 2016 10:32 am Reply
    • ONCE ONLY

      I assume you are part of the 1/5th. As for sows I bow to the experience of tories with regards to that issue. English Public Schoolboy thing I suppose.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 10

      No Cheese Here March 15, 2016 11:32 am Reply
    • Labours policy is to dumb down Scots and keep them Stupid.
      The SNP are on to us!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      Jackie Bayleaf March 15, 2016 3:08 pm Reply
  • One could have also said of the SG that they had “…sold out to the expediency of prioritising statistical performance of a school over actual achievement of the pupil”… ye gods save us from the statistician and politician.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

    Karl Hughes March 15, 2016 11:26 am Reply
  • It is patent nonsense to say that state schools are happy to allow one fifth of pupils to leave without an acceptable standard of reading and counting, whereas private schools at least try to make a go of education. You and Newsie are most certainly out of sync with the vast majority of people in Scotland. Clearly a couple do Wannabe Conservative Swells if I may gently opine. But tell us this Newsroom, what private school was it that you went to in Northern Ireland, and where academically did it take you. Don’t be shy. If state schools are bad, and private good, then, with only around 4% of society being educated in private schools, we’d be delighted to learn how you benefitted beyond the other 96% of sow’s ears as Once-ler puts it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

    willie March 15, 2016 11:43 am Reply
  • I wonder if the comment about the first year at Scottish universities goes back a long way. It is many years since I went to university but we were advised at school against Scottish universities because the first year would be a repeat of our final year at school because of the lower level of the output from Scottish schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    Lundavra March 15, 2016 3:04 pm Reply
    • If you were schooled in England, or in Scotland in a school that followed the English “A” level system rather than the Scottish Higher system as some private schools did, that advice was was pretty common at one time.

      The Scottish system was more broad based and a bright pupil might study 6 subjects at Higher, while the English system specialised sooner with a similarly bright pupil studying say 3 “A” levels. There are arguments for and against having one system or the other.

      While it’s certainly true that the “higher” didn’t cover the subject in the same depth as an “A” level it would be quite wrong to conclude that Scottish schools produced a lower level of output.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      jake March 16, 2016 3:24 am Reply
  • Social and educational background shouldn’t be a selection criteria for entry to university. If it’s wrong to favour those from well-off backgrounds then it’s surely wrong to favour those from so called deprived backgrounds. With the children of the rich/articulate/educated etc having the advantages that they have, and with the children from deprived areas having a quota of places set aside for them, it follows that kids from the typical ordinary middle of the road majority are going to find available places being squeezed from both ends, regardless of their academic potential. Unless of course there is some plan to increase the total number of places available and that these places aren’t then reserved for overseas students simply because they pay a premium in fees.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

    jake March 15, 2016 3:13 pm Reply
  • Well we’re certainly teasing out the pearls today with the Newsroom and supporter suggesting that only private schooling delivers results compared to the state sector. And the comment that the first year of Scottish University is only as good as the last year of English schooling is even better. Truly there is no hope for the poor thick Scot’s born who do not get private education. Better that we all move to England to secure an intellectually brighter future. You certainly get it spelled out to you on the columns of the For Argyll.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

    willie March 15, 2016 3:55 pm Reply
  • I’m not sure about some of the other conclusions drawn, but affirmative action resulted in poor outcomes, resentment and legal action in the US; copying a failed US policy decades after they abandoned it doesn’t seem like a great idea. If kids from deprived areas are disproportionately less likely to obtain the results necessary to go on to higher education, it’s probable that they aren’t going to be well equipped to take advantage of the university places because their primary and secondary education has already failed them. The extra effort needs to be at the other end of sausage machine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    db March 15, 2016 5:46 pm Reply
    • When can we get the edit function back? That should be ‘end of the sausage machine’.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      db March 16, 2016 10:39 pm Reply

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