Poor Pupil Favouritism: Will lowering the grade requirements for disadvantaged students really help the social issues regarding social immobility across Britain?
A popular topic in the news this week has been the subject of poorer students being offered easier avenues into leading universities. The idea is that top educational institutions will lower their entry requirements to entice applicants from disadvantaged
backgrounds. This scheme has been devised as a solution to the current immobility of social classes, in spite of proof that indicates that these targeted students are less likely to finish their studies or attain first-class degree classifications.
The impetus behind this move is easy to understand. Whilst a university education is open to all students, there is still a marked disparity between the number of privately educated or affluent candidates attending leading universities and those of disadvantaged backgrounds. We as a society are failing to provide equal opportunities for every citizen, for every student. The aims of this scheme, aligned with growing governmental concerns, are to improve access to low-income backgrounds, support teenagers who need to do well and improve social mobility rates.
However, is this venture dealing with the problem when it is too late? When a disease has spread there is no use cutting off a limb to alleviate the issue in its entirely, one must deal with the cause. In this case, the foundation for the disproportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds at leading universities is derived from particular circumstances of their childhood and family, and their network of support.
As the first in my family to attend university, I can appreciate the support, encouragement and sacrifices made by my family to get me to where I am today. I can trace my academic achievements back to those days of reading with my mother after school each day, those summers spent learning the flags of the world and visiting the science and history museums during weekends and school holidays. Seemingly simple activities allowed me the opportunity to apply my academic learning in a practical environment and to see the fun in learning. However, there are so many across Britain that do not have these opportunities. They are unable to develop their relationship with education, they see it as a hassle, or are never given the opportunity to fully engage their minds with it; when they struggle with their learning they are left to labour through alone, rather than be helped or guided through. In response to that, students can lass out, and become defiantly opposed to education. There are different types of intellect, many are not academic, but having a strong base level of education is proven to be the strongest foothold for social mobility and career development.
To help fight this circle of scholastic depravation the issue should be tackled in younger pupils. I believe the incline of selective schooling outlets would help to mitigate this problem. By cultivating selective schooling across the nation, students whom prove themselves more able with their English and mathematics skillset at the tender age of eleven will continue on with a more intense and faster-paced academic climate. Those who fail the 11+ examination will instead attend secondary schools, which if overhauled and limited in numbers could provide intensive and hands on instruction, to help develop student learning at a suitable pace and with crucial guidance. In the current grammar school system, there is absolutely no “discounted” entry requirements for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, instead there is fair standardised testing to categorise each schoolchild.
“According to a recent report from the House of Commons Library, 96.7 per cent of pupils at selective schools achieved at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and Mathematics in 2015, compared with 58.1 per cent in comprehensive schools.”
Lowering entry requirements tackles the problem when students have already fostered an association and relationship with academia. By reducing the conditions for university admission at this late stage will have certainly have an impact, but in essence, it will not confront the real issue at play within British society.
This scheme also touches on the subject of positive discrimination. I am mixed race and I am a woman. Both of these of facts about myself equate to two ticks on any discrimination checklist. Many organisations and companies have mandated requirements for the acceptance of social and ethnic minorities. Legally required to permit due to minority status is a key example of positive discrimination at play.
As someone that has worked extremely hard their entire academic and professional life; someone naturally predisposed towards trying my very best in any given task; someone who is proud of each personal and academic accolade: it frankly maddens me to think that I have ever been softly marked, hired or picked for an opportunity because I check the “right” boxes. I would rather believe that I have authentically achieved each accomplishment that they were awarded due to merit. I would rather believe that I live in a world where my race, gender or any other minority statuses that I may possess are simply non-issues: that the only important factor is my skill set and the manner by which I can present myself to the world around me. But sadly, I know I live in a world where White Supremacists marches happen right before my eyes (unfortunately, two in the last three years), so I can understand the impetus behind the positive discrimination movement in some instances.
Instances of positive discrimination such as this proposed scheme are not always a helping hand. In this case, it seems to be setting one up to expect success despite one’s inadequacies. This is not a precedent that will be repeated throughout one’s lifetime and to act as such for university admission, is essentially duping people to believe in a lifetime of “soft living”. As with all adult difficulties, one is expected to face them head on and will only achieve what they put in, one is going to magic a happy ending for you, and effectively doing so with university entry requirements seems like a cruel way to set students up for future failures.
So to summarise, although this scheme is clearly intended to help, I think it would hinder disadvantaged students in the longer term. Fundamentally, a programme such as this tackles the issue too late, trying to deal with the weeds instead of the roots of the problem. You need to handle education with younger students differently, challenging their relationships to education and ensure that they have positive association with schooling, instead of simply lowering the bar at this late stage. Recently, people are naturally disinclined to attend university, as the costs have increased to a level where university becomes a potential life full of debt. This monetary factor in conjunction with the standardisation of university-educated applicants, mean that pupils at school level are not necessarily seeing the benefits of this pathway for later life. All of these elements require managing at an earlier stage of life, rather than, as proposed at the juncture of entry to university. But then again, why tackle the infection, when we can put a nice plaster on top and send the patient home?