National Grammar Schools Association
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Heads call for secrecy to beat university bias

By Laura Clark - Education Reporter

11th April 2003 - Daily Mail

Pupils should be allowed to keep their educational background secret when applying to university, senior teachers said yesterday.

Independent school heads fear some universities discriminate against middle-class candidates in favour of those from poorer backgrounds.

They believe ‘blind’ system of admissions would protect students from such ‘social engineering’.

Universities would find it harder to reject or raise entry requirements for applicants on the basis of the school they attended.

Hundreds of leading schools are already boycotting Bristol University over its admissions policy.

They claim some departments there are limiting places for highly qualified pupils from fee-paying schools in a drive to become more ‘inclusive’.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ and Girls’ Schools Association issued a joint call for anonymity in response to the establishment of an Office for fair access.

The department – dubbed Offa – will be able to fine universities which break five-year contracts aimed at widening the social mix of students. It could also stop them charging extra tuition fees.

Ministers insist Offa will focus on raising the number of working-class students. But the independent heads suspect there will be pressure to skew admissions against middle-class youngsters.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the HMC’s academic committee, said: ‘If admissions tutors did not know a candidate’s school, that would obviate any suspicion of bias either for or against pupils from independent schools.

'When candidates are rejected early, then others who apply later with no better qualifications are accepted, it is clear some places are being kept back for those with the right profile.’

Independent schools are also concerned about Government plans top take into account the schooling and income of a student’s parents.

They believe a candidate’s family background and social class should be completely hidden from admission tutors.

The two associations, which represent 450 fee-paying schools, said university admissions policy was ‘fundamentally flawed’.

In its place they called for a ‘simple and objective’ way of assessing a student’s attitudes to learning to ‘complement’ his or her A-level results.

The heads believe pupils should be able to apply to university after receiving their A-level results and not on the back of predicted grades.

They say admissions should be ‘open, transparent and fair’ with universities publishing their selection criteria and Offa acting as a referee to ensure fairness. Higher Education Minister Margaret Hodge has renewed her support for Bristol’s selection procedures.

‘We want to try to get smarter at how we ensure we admit people by merit, taking into account their past achievement and future potential,’ she told an admissions conference in Chester.

Asked about the situation at Bristol she replied: ‘There are a huge range of initiatives looking at young people’s performance relative to their school performance.’