Oxford University and social inclusion aren’t necessarily two phrases that would naturally find themselves in the same sentence – but as was reported in The Guardian at the weekend, Oxford is going to take into account factors such as the applicants postcode, the schools’ general performance in GCSEs and A levels and time spent in the care system to favour applicants who have had less advantageous circumstances and are claiming to guarantee interviews (although not necessarily offers, of course) to potential pupils who meet these criteria.
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There is uproar in the suburbs..
the move has infuriated critics who say it puts middle-class applicants at an unfair disadvantage. Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said ‘the emphasis on social factors’ worried him. ‘Alex Ferguson needs to make judgments based on football ability and Oxford needs to make judgment on intellectual ability,’ said Smithers. ‘The only issue should be the talent of the person. The government is keen on social engineering and [Oxford] university seems to be bowing to that.’
As far as I’m concerned though, a middle class kid with all the advantages of private education, additional tutoring and supportive friends and family is not displaying necessarily more intelligence than a kid from the inner city who struggles to find time to study and doesn’t have the same natural advantages and incentives.
A seemingly ridiculous comment that
parents could try to beat the new system at Oxford by renting homes in poor areas before their children apply
Which is laughable but also sadly displays some of the efforts that people will go to to try and orchestrate an advantageous position for their children if they are unable to prove the point on academic results alone.
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Personally, I applaud Oxford for at least attempting to redress a balance of sorts and making an effort to reach out to those who will find it harder to be reached.
Taking into account circumstances is not really social engineering so much as ensuring that the best quality of students have access to education and opportunities that open as a result of it. There is more to intelligence than grades.
A case in point being Julie Oke, a Social Worker and single parent from South London whose quadruplets all achieved high grades in their A levels and are off to top universities – as reported in the Mail on Sunday.
Julie has clearly spent a great deal of time and effort to instil in her children the importance of education and has made significant sacrifices to ensure that her children grow up in a positive environment and it is a wonderful story.
I hope the move by Oxford will be followed more intently by the education system as a whole – that opportunities will be opened across the board to children who want to succeed despite and not because of the situations around them.