Independent schools launch class war

Not always the first in line to stand up for Oxford University, it was with a strange feeling of conflicting emotions that I read in today’s Guardian the launch of a “furious” attack on the college by this country’s top independent schools.

Leaving aside the question of when we started calling private elitist schools “independent schools”, these posh types are deeply jazzed off that their high fees will no longer guarantee free tickets into the country’s allegedly best university (and then onto run the country).

They are unhappy that Oxford has developed a system for encouraging bright pupils from poorer areas into the university, and has announced it will take into account the toil and determination it takes to succeed in a struggling state school, when deciding who to interview.

This means that if there are two candidates with equal grades, Oxford will not choose the one that got good grades because of the excessive riches of their daddy, but will instead will plump for the kid that had to clamber over brawling drug dealers just to get into class.

This scheme is so patently fair and sensible that it has, inevitably, driven the independent schools into a frenzy of self-righteousness. Martin Stephen, high master (high master?!?!) of St Paul’s school in Londonis livid.And not livid like normal people. He is livid like people who are victims of actual injustices:

“The means is at the very least primitive, at worst it is immoral … The absolute tragedy would be if Oxford turned down candidates who had done well. That makes a complete travesty of social and moral justice…. It is just as bad to discriminate against a young person because they have done well as it is to discriminate because they are disadvantaged.”

Crickey! “Immoral!” “Discriminate!” “Tragedy!” Reading that, you’d think that perhaps Oxford were proposing bring back slavery rather than a modern way of deciding who to let into a university.

Director of undergraduate admissions, Helen Carasso, told the Guardian “I imagine that there will be a small increase in numbers of [students with poorer backgrounds], but they are people who probably should have been here anyway who were probably being disadvantaged by the system before.”

I am not usually for Oxbridge types, but if Oxford follow this system through then they have nailed it. Good on them. But given the fact that none of this would be happening but for the fact that we have a (reasonably) progressive government in place, it is interesting to compare and contrast this sensible and fair approach of Oxford to private schools with Alan Johnson’s strange* comments last week praising the “independent sector”.

* – strange for their content, and strange that he doesn’t seem to care that he will have lost a good few votes for his deputy leadership campaign.

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