How supposedly intelligent politicians can miss the point entirely
With my job unfortunately taking me to London today (I've been on the road almost constantly for the last 3 weeks and trust me, travel with work fucking sucks) I invested in a hard copy of the Guardian which featured this story.
As you can see, very little has happened in terms of getting "working class" young people to university and the politicians at the public accounts committee want to know why, given that they have thrown the thick end of £400 million at turning this issue around.
So far so good. Politicians should ask what tax payers money has achieved when they have dished it out. Further more I agree, we should be asking why working class kids are not getting into the top universities and should be doing something about it. Like I said, so far, so good.
The trouble is that I fear our politicians, by laying the blame at the feet of the universities have, in my opinion, missed the point entirely. Now at this point I should put in a massive caveat, I have not read the report myself. I have tried to, it is linked to from this page, but the link appears to be broken. So for the sake of this post I am going to assume that the report says what the Guardian says it does. It's not just the Mail that's biased folks!
So if kids from disadvantaged back grounds (this seems rather interchangeable with working class in the article, which is curious because they are clearly not the same thing, I had working class parents but would in no way consider myself disadvantaged) are not getting into or even applying to top universities then why not?
Look at it from the point of view of universities. Top universities are, or at least should be, centres of academic excellence. (Politicians seem intent on changing this to simply providing a constant supply of work force fodder, wrongly in my opinion but that's another issue entirely) Their job is a mixture of research, and by that I mean academic research, it doesn't have to have an economic edge it, it can simply be expanding the breadth of human knowledge for the hell of it, and passing on that knowledge to students.
That knowledge is pretty tough stuff. It simply isn't possible to go to university and study for a degree without a thorough grounding in the subject involved. Without such a grounding it is simply not possible to keep up. And I do not believe that it is the job of the university to get you to that starting line. They are not schools. And you only have to look at the league tables to see that inner city state schools, where most of these working class/disadvantaged kids will go have lower A level results, and indeed lower numbers taking A level results full stop, than more middle class schools. Hence fewer of them go on to top universities. And if they are not expecting good results they are less likely to apply, it's just waist of one of your 6 choices. The whole thing is not rocket science people.
Which brings me to the question that our politicians should be asking, why aren't working class kids getting to the age of 18 without as high proportion of them as middle class kids being equipped to go on to the top universities?
I can't answer that for certain. I simply don't have access to the evidence. However I do have anecdotal evidence. First take a look at Snuffy's blog. I don't agree with all her answers to the problems she faces (although I agree with many) but you only have to read her accounts of day to day life at her school to realise that there is a major culture issue, both amongst the kids themselves and in terms of the attitude of their parents.
A very good friend of mine is also a teacher at an inner city school and last week we have a conversation on MSN that went something like this,
Me - How are you?
Her - Fed up, pissed off?
Me - What's up?
Her - Work stuff. Kids have been bloody painful. One of them called me fucking pathetic and ugly.
Me - What? That's out of order, you shouldn't have to put up with that. We'd have had our arses kick if we'd spoken to a teacher like that at school. Has he been suspended?
Her - No, head teacher wont do it.
Me - That's ridiculous, no one should have to put up with that.
Her - I know.
Me - What do his parents make of it?
Her - He's the kind of kid where he picked up this kind of behaviour at home.
Now like I said, it's purely anecdotal, but I doubt it's far off the truth to say that underlying cultural problems like that are more the problem than university admissions policies. And what you do about that is to big and too complicated job to even begin answering here and now.