There has been an ever-growing discussion in the national media about the use of contextual information at the point of applications to universities in order to weigh the balance more strongly in favour of the poorest students. Those attending Russell Group universities are in the minority and many have called for that balance to be redressed. But is there a knee-jerk reaction and could other important factors come into play?
The truth of the current status quo is that socio-economic status does have a direct bearing on whether and where young people go to university. Only 13% of the poorest children get there, despite around 50% aspiring to do so. Why is this? Is the system inherently unfair, or could there be another reason?
Beyond reacting to the shocking superficial, if important, statistics, a degree of common sense needs to be applied. Whereas private school students have long been known to perform at the highest level, some comprehensive students have been shown to be disadvantaged not necessarily just by a lack of funds, aspiration, support or opportunity but, critically, also by the subjects which they choose.
At Excel in Key Subjects we are very proud to prioritise the subjects which universities and other academic institutions value the most. We do not teach so-called ‘soft’ subjects as parents come to us in order to help their child gain a genuine academic advantage. Unfortunately, at some schools, often those which come under the pressure of wanting to look like a good performer in league tables, students may be disproportionately steered towards these ‘soft’ subjects, such as Media Studies rather than Physics, for example.
We all surely understand the value of a truly outstanding education. Therefore it would be wise to urge our schools not to be disingenuous and to look forward, beyond league tables, to the real value that the most demanding qualifications themselves will offer in their students’ future lives.