Access to private schools/Can you buy a place?

(67 Posts)
pithy Sat 19-Jan-13 18:35:11

You will pay fees, if not on a bursary. However, it is often suspected that the most academic schools will discretely ignore mediocre entry test scores for those whose parents' face fits in terms of wealth/contacts/influence. Any teachers willing to spill the beans?

IndridCold Tue 22-Jan-13 16:31:05

It does seem a complete mess brought about by the the political desire to get results quickly, rather than bring about a genuine improvement which takes too long (ie won't be available by the next election).

I'm not directly involved in teaching or university admissions, other than being good friends with someone who, until very recently, was head of department at a Russell Group university. His account of the near impossibility of selecting first year undergraduates are truly mind-boggling. He no longer has any faith in the UK state education system and resents having to put on classes to teach stuff that should have been covered at A-level. The upshot of all this is that last year over 40% of their first year intake were Chinese, because they pay and are a known quantity academically speaking.

I agree with Copthallresident that it's difficult to see where we are going to end up if things continue the way they are going.

Copthallresident Tue 22-Jan-13 14:35:10

The University of Buckingham has never acquired the kudos of Oxbridge, Russell and 1994 unis, and AC Graylings new private university is seen as an embarrassment by some of the big names who signed up when only 60 of the 180 places were taken up. Perhaps it will evolve into a niche that provides what some people want like Buckingham but they can't compete with universities with a more established reputation worldwide.

It is very hard to see what the future holds for the rest of our universities. Some parts of the Conservative Party may want a free market but they did not think through the consequences of the limited steps they took in that direction, increased fees and allowing unis to exceed their quotas to recruit those with AAB, as well as Gove throwing in a curved ball of grade deflation. The result was that some respected instititions took the biggest hit. Southampton and SOAS admitted to not being able to fill places but you can be sure that lots of the universities just underneath the very top rank also suffered and if it happens again this year there will be redundancies. It is rather typical of this government to put on a show of effecting change to try and placate the right wing without pushing it too far, (and appointing an admissions Tsar to placate the other wing, and as a result acting without having a long term vision and strategy, and having thought through the consequences. It would probably take a right wing government with a big majority to take us down the Ivy League route, and in this country we have a much stronger constituency that will want to see access continue to be widened, as well as it being fundamental to the ethos of many of our unis .

Of course our universities do compete in a free market, for overseas students, and they punch above their weight in terms of funding, up there and sometimes outgunning Ivy League unis.

I don't disagree with you on actual versus predicted grades but it is UCAS mainly who are querying the logistics. I am not sure it would widen access, it is often the schools who provide least support for the UCAS process that over predict, and the unis know who they are, some school references say more in the way they are written than they do in what they actually write!

pithy Tue 22-Jan-13 12:11:50

Copthallresident Yes, it is true that the Ivies differ from UK, unis in that they are independent, relying on huge endowments- in Harvard's case around £19 billion. However, they do have access to government research funding, and are only what they are because there's a federal government, state sponsored system, that educates the vast majority.
Whilst slightly off-piste,blush I agree, I believe a reasonable sequitur from that discussion, is to consider the direction in which we may be heading in this country. And there are very vocal calls for us to follow the US model. Tuition fees are capped here - but for how long? And, Ivy style institutions, like the University of Buckingham, may initially look attractive to those bent on autonomy at any cost, but may exist to the detriment of fair access.
You asked how the Cambridge admissions' system might be improved? Well, I would suggest that we remove the ludicrous system of submitting predicted grades. Allow applicants to apply with their actual grades. I have it on good authority that a meeting of leading unis had agreed to this last year, only to be stymied by one leading institution which refused to sign-up.

Copthallresident Mon 21-Jan-13 18:04:26

*maisiejoe123" Don't confuse the current dynasty of traditional rulers for Communists!! It is all about status and connections, that is how they got where they are and they do everything they need to get the same status for their families. It's called "Guanxi" www.businessweek.com/stories/2007-11-18/you-say-guanxi-i-say-schmoozing

happygardening Mon 21-Jan-13 18:00:42

"and the top dog's daughter at Harvard is under an assumed name"
I'm not convinced that going under an assumed name is a sign of average/low intelligence. Neither is having a disgraced father and Harrow has never been obsessively selective. How do you know how bright this boy was for that matter how do we now how bright any one like him is? Just because you don't like what they stand for doesn't mean they're thick. I personally don't like Boris and his policies but I know he's not thick.

Copthallresident Mon 21-Jan-13 17:57:58

*TalkinPeace" Are you particularly referring to the son of Bo Xilai, deposed leader in Chongqing, who has had the Daily Mail treatment, which alleged he got into Harrow and Oxford as a result of Neil Hayward, the "fixer" who his mother was subsequently convicted of poisoning, and from them on lived a "playboy" lifestyle? The Daily Mail version doesn't really stack up given that Neil Hayward scarcely seemed to live, or die an influential man and the son won a scholarship at Harrow and Oxford, which is hardly a sign that it was money that got him in. Nor have any corruption charges been proved against Bo Xilai, whether or not he was corrupt, it was his ambition and attempts to capitalise on a return to "redness" that led to his demise. It's a murky story and chinese justice being what it is we will probably never know the truth, but you can be absolutely sure the Daily Mail hasn't the slightest clue beyond picking up on the most scandalous of the gossip. There is certainly no proof that the son wasn't clever, his father, mother (a lawyer) and older brother undoubtedly were.

Entry to UK Boarding Schools from Hong Kong and China is highly competitive, the political Princelings have to compete with the economic ones . I do know some schools, Wycombe Abbey for one, value the connections they have with certain hot house schools favoured by the very wealthy. I suspect the top schools could actually fill themselves several times over with the children of wealthy chinese families, who are as clever if not more clever than their UK peers . Indeed non verbal reasoning test scores for Asians are on average statistically much higher than Europeans, that Asian pupils are good at Maths isn't actually a stereotype. The bar is probably higher rather than lower. Anecdote again but DDs very clever HK Chinese friend did not get into Wycombe but scored stratospherically in IB and is now at Warwick.

Or do you think we should be discriminating against the sons because of the sins of the fathers?

maisiejoe123 Mon 21-Jan-13 17:54:47

What a strange world we live in. The Chinese Communist Party sending their children to some of the most elitist schools in the world! Even in this country we have half the Labour gov sending or having attended grammar or private schools and then trying to ruining it for the rest of us..

IndridCold Mon 21-Jan-13 17:35:15

happygardening no, I don't know either. I think they must have gone in the early 90s as William is about 30 now I think.

Bo Xilai's son went to Harrow, but that was a few years ago now, and his parents did end up in a fair old pile of trouble. I wouldn't imagine that many schools would bend their admission criteria for top Chinese communists though. There seem to be quite a few hugely wealthy Chinese wanting to send their children here, why not take the cleverest ones!

TalkinPeace2 Mon 21-Jan-13 17:27:39

well its funny that ALL of them get into the schools of their choice ....
the lad at Harrow and Oxford (dad now disgraced) did not seem the brightest cookie.
(and the top dog's daughter at Harvard is under an assumed name)
Great for the UK's balance of trade though!

happygardening Mon 21-Jan-13 17:20:06

Talkin are you assuming that "the children of top Chinese Communist Party officials" are not very bright but being accepted at Westminster and others?

happygardening Mon 21-Jan-13 17:18:05

Eton has not always been as selective at it is now Im not sure when it changed but I suspect it was about 2000 would that have been after Prince William and Harry applied? Dont really follow them so have not got much idea how old they are.

TalkinPeace2 Mon 21-Jan-13 17:16:44

What about the children of top Chinese Communist Party officials (who seem to live under assumed name sin the west) - is it OK for the rules to be bent for them?

IndridCold Mon 21-Jan-13 17:12:39

Who knows if the princes had to sit the entrance test - I would imagine not. However, the more I learn about Eton the more I think that it was probably the right place to send them.

In spite of the many prejudices people have about the place, it does try and instil in the boys a great sense of duty to pay back in kind the priviliged education they get there, by going out and doing something positive and useful in the world. As one former headmaster put it 'To whom much is given, much is expected'.

Possibly the school took the view that these boys are going to be important, whether they deserve it or not, and we might as well train them up as best we can. And while they are not perfect, I think that these two do a rather better job at giving back than some other princes I could mention!

eminemmerdale Mon 21-Jan-13 16:17:57

I thought of this as happygardening mentioned 'minor royalty' and connected families not getting a place despite their wealth and connections.

Copthallresident Mon 21-Jan-13 16:11:38

eminemmerdale Didn't Prince Harry come in for some flack in the Press for getting help with Art A level? / Gcse? I obviously thought, there you go, privilege, until mine got to sitting coursework and I spoke to some art teachers and discovered it wasn't unusual, or even bending the rules.... As I say acres of newsprint pandering to prejudice.

Copthallresident Mon 21-Jan-13 16:07:43

I would add by way of another anecdote that DD now attends an elite uni, one that was actually established at the start of the 19th century to be inclusive. She loves that it is so mixed, and shares a flat with a complete social mix, there is a very posh one, two from northern comprehensives, one with a single parent, one mixed race, two on bursaries and scholarships and they are sharing for their third year and having a great time growing up together. It came as a shock to find so many clever hardworking and equally geeky Scientists on her course, and that includes those from overseas as well as state schools, it is relentless keeping up. If you were to say was it a true meritocracy she would laugh, you wouldn't survive very long if you weren't clever enough.

eminemmerdale Mon 21-Jan-13 15:49:41

Did anyone anaswer my question? Did the princes take the Eton entrance test do we expect?

marriedinwhite Mon 21-Jan-13 15:48:55

If you are in London*Copthall* I can imagine the schools you are talking about and agree with you. We moved dd somewhere more holistic. She wouldn't have got into a top 10 indy anyway which is why we took a chance on the top 100 comp.

Copthallresident Mon 21-Jan-13 15:44:54

marriedinwhite I could repeat your paragraph almost word for word except my DD2 left for other sixth forms with 25% of her year and it was a private school that often features in the top 10 and they weren't chavs. Being at a private school doesn't necessarily mean all DCs have benefited from good parenting or not had traumatic lives. And bullying and bad behaviour by amoral attention seeking clever girls with terrible issues of their own to deal with is very hard to deal with. I could also quote DD1 after a week away with her cousins who live on a Council estate and attend a school in the bottom 100, possibly the bottom 10 (as one cousin said "I were reet good at Maths, I got a C") "I would much rather have spent a week with nice funny down to earth people like that than have to put up with some of the stuck up bitches at school who would look down on them" (and she was in a nice year). The issue of poor behaviour not being dealt with can be an issue in all schools. I don't doubt we bought privilege for our DDs in terms of a school focused on equipping them to do well in exams but that doesn't necessarily equate to an ideal education, or immunity from DCs with serious problems.

pithy I thought I had made it clear I do want a meritocratic system and an education system that doesn't tolerate huge differences in the quality of education on offer. The admissions Tsar is stepping in to a process that has been going on for years. Short of quotas unis are employing every strategy they can think of and pouring money into outreach etc. in order to level the playing field. I work with a mentoring charity that helps bright black west indian children to be provided with positive role models. All the universities are falling over themselves to help, not least because with the right support these DCs get firsts. However in London it can only scratch the surface of all the bright DCs in schools who are not given the right support, channelled into making the wrong exam choices, discouraged from applying to elite universities etc. Sadly acres of newsprint are given up to reinforcing prejudice and stereotypes and cashing in on the chips on people's shoulders, whether that is because they feel that private school pupils are being discriminated against or Universities are bastions of influence and priviledge. Did you read the link I posted, that is what is a fair picture of what goes on at Cambridge. How would you do that differently?

loveyouradvice Mon 21-Jan-13 15:38:28

I think there is a "fudge" line here... they have discretion to admit who they want ... if highly academic, they know someone unacademic would not flourish there and dont take them... but we all know that there are a fair number just above and below the line (which is a mix of exam/interview/head's ref/general feel/siblings/etc)... and I have know a couple of instances where someone just below the line was nudged above it because of influence.... to a highly selective London girls school.

That said, I believe they should be accountable as they are run as "charities" and are therefore subsidised by taxpayers money ... so are not a law unto their own...

And do remember they all say they are looking for those with most "promise/ability" and pride themselves on weeding out overtutored kids... which gives them masses of wiggle room!

pithy Mon 21-Jan-13 14:52:27

Where is the prejudice in wishing society to be more meritocratic? I am simply trying to ascertain whether access to elite educational establishments, is fair and without prejudice! Please give examples of affect and prejudice in any of the above.
Our current government has appointed an access tzar to our top universities, so feels the subject is worthy of scrutiny. Acres of newsprint is devoted to the topic. A transparent and accessible education system is central to the democratic process, and of interest to many people, don't you think?

Miggsie Mon 21-Jan-13 14:08:36

I know someone who spoke of "influence" who couldn't get his child into their school of choice.
I know someone whose child passed the very high entrance test but said cild was later asked to leave as they didn't like the child's attitude - even though they were the cleverest in the school by a long way.
I know a headmaster who selects primarily on interview - the academic tests do not guarantee a place even if you achieve the nominal pass mark
I have been told that my DD will have "no trouble" getting into a certain 6th form - we were not discussing the academic side here.
I know a school where the head is obsessed with scholarships - only the brightest are wanted there - any child who might have a personality of their own has no chance to shine.

I also know my brother has pulled strings to get his friends children and his own into certain universities - as he knows the lecturers in charge of the departments. I think it may be worse at uni because if you get 200 students all predicted A* and forms all filled in pretty much the same and only a short interview to decide then probably a personal recommendation that X will work hard and is motivated will make the university's life easier in the long run.

marriedinwhite Mon 21-Jan-13 14:07:26

Got it in one *lainiekazan*. Removed dd from top 100 comp after two years because the chavs were so foul and nothing was done about their behaviour. I wouldn't chose to mix with people like that socially and I certainly wouldn't employ them - if I did they would be disciplined and through the revolving doors as quickly as possible. Couldn't see any reason at all why my dd should have to put up with at school.

lainiekazan Mon 21-Jan-13 14:02:33

People on MN often extoll the virtues of "mixing with other cultures" and learning to get on with all and how ethnically diverse their dc's private school is. What they really mean is that it's ok to rub shoulders with ds of cardiologist who happens to be Indian whilst avoiding chavs in monocultural comprehensive.

Copthallresident Mon 21-Jan-13 13:58:44

pithy From what I have seen and heard of the undergraduate admissions process, at Oxbridge as well as Russell Group there is simply no room in the strategies for widening access for these sorts of arrangements. What unis are seeking are the students who will do best on their course , so it is actually true that the process is less forgiving for those from a private school background, albeit the playing field is still not entirely level for the disadvantaged. However that is because there is still not enough being done in schools to encourage bright pupils and equip them to apply. That is where the focus is. This exposes the process at Cambridge www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/10/how-cambridge-admissions-really-work

This appears to be a debate based on emotion and prejudice rather than any sort of knowledge. It is beyond me how you can extrapolate from a system engrained in the American Ivy League , always subject to the free market, to a system that has a very different social context. Even the current government has not abandoned the university system entirely to the Free Market. Postgrads are a little different as for some time universities have used them as something of a moneymaking opportunity, since very few are studying subjects that will be of benefit to society and therefore get funding , rather than themselves. I speak as someone who has funded herself through two Masters, in the 80s and noughties, you were never under any illusions that you were anything but a cash cow.

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