Offtoff (or OFFA)- an offer we can refuse?


The Office for fair access to Higher Education (OFFA) has a new Director.  The appointment of Professor Les Ebdon of Bedforshire University to this post has caused a strong argument in Parliament. Its details  reveal much about the state of current UK political thinking.

The Office  for fair access is the product of Labour thinking in the early 2000s. They set up the quango  to deal with the scandal that far more pupils from independent schools get places at the top universities compared to  comprehensive schools, when allowing for the numbers of potential applicants in each case. Labour were clear that they needed to cajole, persuade or lean on the top universities to take more pupils from state schools. Their policy implied that the fault lay with the universities in ignoring obvious talent. The underlying instinct  was that  these universities are ignoring   well educated young people from state schools out of prejudice or through their traditional networks encouraging laziness in recruitment.  Many  Lib Dems seem to be in sympathy with this thinking.

It fell to Dr Cable to recuit a new boss of Labour’s organisation. When his choice,  Les Ebdon,  was called before the Select Committee for a confirmation hearing, he worried the Committee. He seemed to say that he would use the powers of his office to require larger proportions of state pupils at top universities, by naming, shaming and removing grants if they did not comply. Some Committee members felt he wished to override the fundamental principle that the universities themselves have to make their own decisions about who is suitable to have  a place, and who is  well enough equipped to make good use of one. They recommended that the government did not confirm the appointment. Dr Cable disagrees with the Committee.

The row is an intense one. All three main political parties are agreed that they want a world in which  more young people from comprehensive schools  go to top universities. Labour and Lib Dems think it needs a Les Ebdon to push the universities. Many Conservatives thinks the fault lies in the state comprehensive schools. The people at top universities I know are as keen on social mobility as the political parties. Many will choose a state school pupil over an independent school pupil if all else is equal. Some will go further and allow for worse teaching, poorer background and the like in their assessment. These universities have programmes to encourage state pupils to apply. They organise sessions for pupils and teachers to learn more of their requirements. They signal very clearly that they want high grade high quality A levels in difficult subjects as a basic requirement. We need to ask why the creators of comprehensive education, who have boosted spending on it by so much in recent years, still think universities need to make allowances for a state education as if it were an impediment to progress.

Dr Cable’s  insistence on Les Ebdon has radicalised more Conservative MPs on this subject. Now many would like the whole Office abolished. They just do not think there is a quick and fair fix by pressurising top universities into taking people they would not choose for academic reasons. On this issue the Conservative party is no defender of privilege, no reactionary group wanting Eton to win in the university place stakes through having superior connections and money. There is just a strong feeling that years of comprehensive education has not achieved the breakthrough in standards and spread the love of learning as  planned, especially in the more deprived areas. There is a fear that ripping out so many grammar schools has cut social mobility, not improved it. Most Conseravtives want to fix the state schools, not penalise the good universities.We will review this question tomorrow.

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  1. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    It is so easy to spread this debate onto the Comprehensive scandal, even onto the riduculous debate about gay marriage. Let’s don’t.

    It is a question of definition.

    If you think that all the top jobs go to University people then it must be right for everyone to go to University to make it all fair. When Tony Camps asked me why I wanted to go to Cambridge in the 1960s I naively answered: “For the snob value.” I was rejected.

    And Tony Camps was right. University is about research, about scholarship, about the love of learning for its own sake. For that the very best minds need to be carefully selected wherever they come from. Wittgenstein, Einstein, and countless Grammar School boys were certainly not from the top drawer.

    Those of us who went from Cambridge into the professions were, in fact, the rejects.

    But I do not expect the politicians (yourself excluded) to understand this.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Upto half a dozen years ago (I think) the research consensus (from 85 years of work) was that the best predictors of workplace performance at (so called) middle management and above were (i) general mental aptitude, (ii) integrity and (iii) work sample testing. I recall the worst predictors were (i) references and (ii) graphology.

      Apart from the university argument of moving people into the knowledge creation community perhaps what might have occured in the olden days was that A-levels and degrees were treated as proxies for GMA/IQ by employers, particularly important when organizations had a middle management structure.

      Some things may have changed in recent years. Firstly with more people going to university the proxy role of degrees has diminished, it has been replaced by (i) psychometric testing, (ii) 2.1 or 1st and (iii) name after the letters not letters after the name (where not what). Secondly, the actual completion of a 3 or 4 year degree is now beeing seen by some employers as an indication of consistency, and perhaps this is proxying for an integrity measure. Finally with some degrees, particularly 4 year degrees with workplacement being designed as an extended worksample testing then degrees might fulfil a performance indicator for a specific role (rather than generic as GMA/IQ).

      At the beginning of this I mentioned that the IQ, integrity, work sampling view was largely accepted until recently. Most of this acceptance came from research in the ‘west’. The reason the view may have changed is that research from societies with supposedly more egalatarian access to educational resources (e.g. China) has not found such a strong GMA/IQ effect on predicitng job performance. Much may well come down to resource access and the social environment. This observation of course offers no solution, nor identifies what is best for the UK, but although personally I would prefer an educational free market, AN argument about access can be made.

  2. Antisthenes
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    The left are notoriously good at reducing everything to it lowest common denominator. They promote mediocracy and incompetence they dumb down standards and values and manage to make us ashamed of our culture. They epitomise this every time they are in government by being inept and corrupt and pursue policies that erode our liberties and that penalises those who do not subscribe to their ideology. They do this with the rhetoric of the well intentioned myopic which is far more persuasive than that of the hard headed pragmatist. They promises wealth and health through collective action which is far more appealing than from individual toil and effort hence the growth of the state and therefore waste and inefficiency. They use the something for nothing appeal which is inherent in all of us and only a few are capable of recognising that everything has a cost and reject the notion. In the name of equality, fairness and justice for all they put in place practices that do none of this only shifts the balance from one section of society to another. Offa is a perfect example of all of this and will in the end only produce more mediocracy in provision and outcomes of university education.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      As opposed to the right which feels that only the wealthy should have access to the best education because they can pay a high price for it.

      • libertarian
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Please supply a single scrap of evidence to back up this utterly stupid statement

      • oldtimer
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        What rubbish. The rot set in when Labour declared war on grammar schools and direct grant schools. I write as an up-by-the-bootstraps beneficiary of the direct grant sytem and an Oxbridge education.

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        What indeed is the “best education”?

        Some might think Cameron has had the “best education” with Eton, A levels in History of Art, History and Economics with Politics then a fist in PPE at Oxford.

        Other might think he is a bit of a dope, clearly a socialist, a master of “say one thing do another” and with little or zero knowledge of science, engineering or sensible economics. Also he has an unfortunate expensive devotion to the new quack green religion and to pointless wars.

        He is however a good presenter, that I do concede, but surely the sense of direction is what counts in the end. A good presenter with the wrong compass will just get you to follow him over the cliff edge. If they have the wrong direction it is perhaps better if they are a bad presenter/leader.

    • Graham Swift
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Agree entirely with every word.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      Indeed the world is not and never will be “fair or equal” and lots of over paid people in government pretending to be making it so with tax payers money will actually make it worse and less equal.

    • Disaffected
      Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Not mediocracy, the standards will be worthless.

  3. lifelogic
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Clearly there are many differences between the average public and state school pupil – motivation, money, social background, interests, accents. Sons of lawyers, builders and doctors often statistically become lawyers, builders and doctors. As grammar school boy, from a large family, with poor parents but who went to a top university, I was rather more driven to make some money than to get a double first. Had my parents been rich my motivations might have been very different I might have studied history of art or something similar and had rather less money making drive. Again had my parents been doctors or lawyer or similar again it would probably have affected my motivations.

    There is much to be said for having some bright builders, car mechanics, business people and butchers they are all badly needed. After all there is no shortage of rather dim lawyers and professionals around.

    Clearly there can often be a case for making allowances for good candidates who has made there way despite a poor school and background. I certainly got the impression that in science at Cambridge that they did indeed do this when appropriate.

    The last thing we need is some quota drive forced equality tzar. It is interesting to note that comparatively few woman doctors seem to go on to be surgeons but this is not “discrimination” it is largely their choice. Let people choose and make (and pay for) their own choices.

    We should however address the systemic, closed shop and structural problems that allows lawyers, bankers and other professionals to over pay themselves so much relative to the complexity/difficulty of the often very simple jobs they do.

    Let people pay (or get loans) and make their own university choices – but then giving loans to EU students who are perhaps rather unlikely to repay seems completely daft as usual with all things EU.

    • Timaction
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      This is all about socialism at its worst. The policy of envy. If the socialists allowed state schools the same discipline, course choices and teaching standards then they could catch up to a degree with their private sector counterparts. There is always going to be an element of parental support and guidance that unfortunately will let some of our children down. That links with marriage and other family friendly policies as well as tax and welfare!!
      However, the objective should be to raise state schools to private schools standards and then this socialist drivel wouldn’t be necessary and this quango abolished. Under a true Conservative leader this would be happening. We should be living in a meritocracy NOT a quotas/equalities/PC driven agenda that Cameron is still promoting contrary to “Conservative” values. A hand up, not a hand out!!

      • Graham Swift
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        Unfortunately we do not have a Conservative leader.

        • lifelogic
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

          Or indeed a Conservative party in general.

          • John Fitzgerald
            Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

            I firmly believe we have a Conservative party with many Conservative MPs with their sense of direction intact!

            However I also just as firmly believe that the top echelons either have lost their way or were never Conservative in the first place.

      • uanime5
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        Private sector schools get better results because they have smaller class sizes and can afford the best teachers. Both of which can’t occur in the state sector without raising taxes so more money can be give to schools.

        Also calling for state schools to be raised to the levels of private schools is naive. If state schools ever offer a comparable level of education to private schools then private schools will cease to exists because no one will pay for something they can get for free. Private schools can only exist if they offer a superior level of education to state schools.

        • alan jutson
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink


          You hit the nail on the head.

          “Private schools can only exist if they offer a superior level of education to State Schools.”

          That is why they try harder, and parents support them and their children through education.

        • Disaffected
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

          Utter rubbish. Your Lib Dem socialist drivel has no foundation.

        • libertarian
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

          Oh dear once again you make silly assertions without evidence or real facts.

          When you say private schools can afford the best teachers you do realise that on the whole based on hours worked and total package private school teachers are generally paid LESS than state school teachers?

          In my experience the difference is down to just two things, parental motivation and discipline . You actually get excluded from private school but this is now rare in the state sector

    • JimF
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      I agree with this.

      By all means address the inability of Comprehensives to produce sufficient academically capable University feedstock. Address the possible lack of meritocracy on entry to the professions from University, and the lack of scientists and engineers on the boards of our larger companies. The one area which probably doesn’t need addressing is University entry – it is insulting to academics to suggest they can’t spot potential academics, just as well as a builder can spot a potential builder, etc.

      A major leveller would be to pay master craftsmen like builders, plumbers etc. in the same way as academics are paid, to train future craftsmen and women. Just what is wrong with giving people with practical skills the same opportunity to learn skills as those with academic skills, and leaving the choice of which path to follow to the individuals concerned?

      • uanime5
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

        “it is insulting to academics to suggest they can’t spot potential academics, just as well as a builder can spot a potential builder”

        You do realise that both are difficult to spot. It’s impossible to determine whether someone will be a good academic or builder until after they’ve been educated or trained. Especially if they’ve never studied the subject before or never laid bricks.

      • A Different Simon
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Quote “A major leveller would be to pay master craftsmen like builders, plumbers etc. in the same way as academics are paid”

        I think you have that back to front and that perhaps “A major leveller would be to pay academics in the same way as builders, plumbers etc.”

        A good place to start would be to make academics and public sector workers take the risk for short falls in their own pensions and make them pay for their pensions themselves .

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Rest assured very few EU students come to the UK because it’s cheaper for them to go to university in their own country.

      • Mark
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        EU students (and Scots) get a free education in Scotland. Can’t get much cheaper than that.

        • David John Wilson
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 12:05 am | Permalink

          At last an advantage for Scotland becoming independent from the rest of the UK. English students will be able to go to Scottish Universities without having to pay, like the rest of Europe. This will crate an interesting situation

        • Disaffected
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          And there is no likelihood of those EU students, who claim student loans, ever repaying them as the UK does not have the ability to chase them. But it is thought by Govt. they only represent a small percentage of the overall budget so it does not matter. Even though the percentage relates to millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to educate our EU competitors for free. Madness. Pure madness.

          Cameron still wants us to believe the economy is the number one priority- he has lost the plot. Wake up Tory backbenchers, get rid of him and force a general election.

      • Richard
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        Unaime 5
        Sorry but there are a record number of students form the EU studying here as any quick Google search will show.

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        If you do not pay the loan back is it not free in effect?

        • Disaffected
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          (LArge numbers of people enetred the UK last eyar to settle-ed). Where are all the places, where are they all housed, who is paying for all of this???? Uk Taxpayers’.

  4. Caterpillar
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    With respect to Prof. Ebdon being prepared to force/fine those greater than £6k fee universities to hit access targets, I suspect this is no reason to judge the man but to judge the system that has been created. His expressed view, whether one likes it or not (and I tend with the not), seems to be one of actually doing the job of the role. If the govt wishes to continue the role than it shoulf back the person that will follow through with the policies. For myself, I am surprised that the Conservative party doesn’t simply allow all universities to charge what they want, but also not to make the tax payer underwrite student loans. Just let the market sort this one out.

    I am looking forward to JR’s school posting tomorrow. At the moment I still favour the policy under Michael Howard’s leadership of, effectively a mobile school voucher per pupil. I would like this policy but with full flexibility for the pupil to take the funds to any school chosen (possibly even home schooling). I would also allow schools to select on performance, integrity, behaviour etc. I’d like to see an end to religious schools; I ‘believe’ that education is a place for rationality not a place for revealed knowledge.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      You can say what you want – as I discovered to my own financial and emotional cost over a two year period.
      What you are witnessing is a crude power struggle between the DfE and the County Authorities.
      I do not see any caterpillars in there somehow.

      • StevenL
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        What you are witnessing is a crude power struggle between …

        This seems to be happening in a lot of areas. One I heard voiced the other week was that LA regulatory services should make more of a priority of doing (largely pointless in my view) tick box food standards inspections because the Food Standards Agency are considering the merits of doing it centrally.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      “For myself, I am surprised that the Conservative party doesn’t simply allow all universities to charge what they want, but also not to make the tax payer underwrite student loans. Just let the market sort this one out.”

      They tried this in America and the cost of university massively increased. At $61,172 per year to go to Havard the best universities are now only available to the wealthy, not the brightest.

      • Tom William
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, more nonsense. In 2011 harvard awarded scholarships worth $166 million to 60 % of its students. A little research would have shown you that.

      • libertarian
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        Oh dear!

        Either you didn’t read your own link in which case you are a fool or you did and you’re a liar.

        That is an analysis that calculates the MAXIMUM expenditure you MIGHT pay to go to GRADUATE school including ALL living expenses.

        IT is NOT the fee to do a degree at Harvard

      • Mark
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        Have you never heard of scholarships?

      • David Price
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

        You may find that the facts don’t quite match your opinion.

        Why didn’t you look at the pages covering financial aid on the same web page menu you reference?

        Do some basic research and you may find that Harvard is far more a meritocracy than you claim, since the 1930’s-50’s in fact. For example, according to their website they expect to provide financial assistance of around $160m to 60% of their students this year specifically to encourage the brightest students to apply. Look over the Oxford website and you will find that the various colleges also offer a variety of financial support.

        In any case you need to define “best”, I wouldn’t class Harvard or even Oxford as the best for engineering for example.

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        But are the “the best universities” the ones with the richest best connected students or the ones with the best education? Indeed are universities sometimes just a good way of finding a rich or well connected husband/wife?

        They do not, after all, make you any cleverer they just give you good contacts, connections and some knowledge (that you could get rather more cheaply get from books and the internet anyway).

        In many subjects, perhaps divinity and the green religions, they do not even give you any real knowledge anyway.

      • Disaffected
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        The funding for US universities is completely different. Socialist babble once more.

      • rose
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        Even the BBC has just told us it is cheaper for English students to go to Harvard than an English university – air fares and all.

  5. lojolondon
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    John, this is what is wrong with Labour, and all this PC-thinking that drives Labour and the LibDems and Dave. Life is not ‘fair’, they need to get over it.
    As Mrs Thatcher famously pointed out, the Left-wing doesn’t care if every person in the country is poorer, as long as the rich are poorer too. Likewise, they want every school in the country to dumb down, what they do not want is for hard-working, ambitious people to enjoy an advantage, even if they work for it, pay for it, move house for it or change religion.
    It is a foolish, failed, Communist mindset, and it needs to be destroyed. Along with Cable’s job. I have to say that similar to King Midas, everything he touches turns to mud, he is a real liability for the LibDems, and keeping him in the cabinet is probably doing them untold damage. BUT he is doing terrible, long-term damage to our country, just like Huhne, and it is terrible to see a Conservative government allowing this.

    • Bazman
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Crony capitalism is a foolish, failed, Communist mindset, and it needs to be destroyed and doesn’t care if every person in the country is poorer, as long as the rich are richer. So which cartels should we target first lojo?

      • lojolondon
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        Bazman, Cartels are definitely part of the Socialist agenda, monopolistic, anti-free-market and completely anti-capitalist, so my answer is to target all of them.

        I notice you said ‘crony capitalism’. Not sure what that is, but countries PROPERLY embracing capitalism are doing very, very well, economies are growing, infant mortality and unemployment down, life expectancy and living standards up, AsiaPac and several states in South America are leading the way. America is still far ahead of the game, although Obama has severely damaged their performance. Among the economic failures of the last 20 years, you can definitely include the whole of Europe, including us as we have all their stupid, communist, workers rights, pensions, cabals and fixed markets, the CAP, European Taxes and regulations on everything. The proof is in the European share of Global GDP – down from 25% to 15% in only 20 years, an appalling result, which demonstrates exactly why the EURO is doomed.
        Of course, even worse, we have Cuba, North Vietnam etc. Nough said.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Is this the same Thatcher who said “unemployment is a price worth paying”?It seems the right don’t care about how poor the poor are as long as the rich remain rich.

      “Likewise, they want every school in the country to dumb down, what they do not want is for hard-working, ambitious people to enjoy an advantage, even if they work for it, pay for it, move house for it or change religion.”

      No what they don’t want is the wealthy to be able to obtain a better education because of their wealth; while the hard-working, ambitious poor get a lower level of education because they’re poor. As long as the best education goes to those with money, rather than those with talent this country will continue to decline.

      • oldtimer
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        This is a consequence of past Labour policies.

      • Richard
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        Just for the record it was Norman Lamont who said rising unemployment and a recession was a price worth paying for reducing inflation

        Re education:- you need to ask yourself if the current Comprehensive system has given less well off citizens a better or worse chance to succeed than the previous Grammar school, Secondary modern school, via 11 plus exam system that preceeded it.

        • A Different Simon
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          Norman Lamont – another great example of someone promoted way beyond his level of competence .

          We do need to do something about a system which channels dummies from privileged backgrounds into positions of responsibility but quota’s for universities is not it .

      • Disaffected
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        Yawn. Wrong blog site to promote Lib Dem socialist views.

      • libertarian
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        Do you EVER get any of your facts right ? It wasn’t Thatcher who said that.

  6. Roger Farmer
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I despair of this government and all it’s arse about face values. Having voted for them I did not anticipate socialism under a false flag. On all fronts they are a failure, not least in this bizarre appointment.

    • waramess
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I guess all those Conservative right wingers that stay in the party just to influence Government policy will logically have to move to the Labour benches in order to continue to do so if the Labour party win the next election.

      This is a socialist administration, far more so than the Major one was and the only decent thing for the right wingers to do is to field someone with the courage of Margaret Thatcher or to form a different party.

      She is the one exception to a long succession of lefties to have led the party over the past 50 years or more and so long as the right cling to the belief they might change things, nothing will change

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        You can make a good argument that even Lady Thatcher was left wing. She did not charge for the absurd NHS and she did not lower state expenditure to sensible levels and she also went ahead with nearly all the socialist EU developments.

      • Dave B
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        I have a lot of sympathy with that view. But I’m moving towards the position of voting for the Conservatives at the next GE as a Labour gov’t might be yet worse.

        That said I won’t be donating any time/money to my local (marginal) Conservative MP’s campaign because he voted against a referendum.

        Electoral Calculus have an “ordered seats list” which I’m planning to use to help pick Conservative candidates to support.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Roger – Agree totally.

      Clegg is a front for the Leftist Cameron.

      Don’t vote Tory.

      • Disaffected
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Here here.

  7. Single Acts
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I have to say, were I head of the Oxford colleges,I might be tempted to tell the government to go jump and declare a sort of educational ‘unilateral declaration of independence.

    I reckon I could fill my quota of places easily enough even if fees were increased. Not so for some of the former polytechnics of course. but Oxbridge can surely survive and indeed thrive without the state shilling.

    I might also say, that my young son will attend a fee paying school until he is 18. This will be achieved at considerable expense from my post tax income and is necessary because the state schools around me, suck beyond the telling.

    So how about not discriminating against him because I spend my cash on his future not cigarettes ?

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      “I have to say, were I head of the Oxford colleges,I might be tempted to tell the government to go jump and declare a sort of educational ‘unilateral declaration of independence.”

      So become a private university like the University of Buckingham or BPP.

      • Single Acts
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        You are not addressing the substantive part of my post just the obviously theoretical.

  8. alan jutson
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Firstly may I ask why Mr Cable is handling this appointment, and not Mr Gove ?.

    I would have thought given Mr Cables failure to understand what business requires was bad enough, why on earth should he get involved with education choices.

    In short this quango is yet another social engineering experiment which is doomed to failure, and leaving millions of students confused.

    People learn at different speeds, at different times in their life, and in different ways.

    It all comes down to motivation and the quality of the teaching, it is as basic as that.

    Motivation comes from your parents as well as your pier group and teachers.

    A good school has a good headmaster who makes sure he/she employes able teachers who take an interest and perform.

    A failing school usually has a poor headmaster, employs teachers of less ability who just get by.

    Yes I know its simplistic, and am aware that sink estates and all of the other factors complicate the issue but when a previuosly poor school gets a good head who enthuses the teachers, then results improve.

    Its all down to the quality of teaching and the support of the parents I am afraid, no matter how you tinker and bugger around with the system.

    You simply need to reward excellence, but not at the expense of treading on those who are less able.

    • alan jutson
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      If you want to help those who are deemed less able, who we are told come from poorer, single parent families who live on sink estates, then increase the length of the school day.

      Run schools as you would a business from 8.00 until 5.00 with employees (teachers) only having 4 weeks holiday.

      Have facilites for food and drink, no out of hours activities, no homework, all study and sport to be completed during the school day under teacher supervision.


      It keeps kids off the street, enables parents to go to work, it ensures all get a good meal inside them, all can use research facilities at the school, all can compete on the same terms. No one is disadvantaged because they do not have a computer at home, or lack of space or an environment in which to study.

      In turn teachers do not have to mark homework at home (sometimes parental assisted/completed work).

      Never understood why teachers require so much time off, in a properly controlled environment, discipline should not be a problem, and preparation for lessons should be miniscule.
      2+2 has always equalled 4.
      History does not change because it is history,
      Geography is the same, although perhaps the odd country changes its name from time-time.
      English is English both language and the classics.
      Physical excercise requires physical effort.

      Perhaps some elements of Science changes as does of course computer studies, but that is about it.


      Seems so simple.

      • alan jutson
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        still in moderation ?

        Would have thought that this suggestion worthy of comment !

        Additional comment:

        Rather than have passes graded A.B.C. D etc
        Why not simply show the percentage of marks gained for each student.
        At least this would please the NO ONE FAILS brigade, but more importantly it would also remove the adhoc variation set as pass lines, between the grades, and between what is known as success and failure.

        In short with just showing the percentage gained, you can see exactly how competent a student is in their chosen subject. and it makes it easier to compare one with another, should you ever wish to.

  9. Nigel
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    What happened to the “bonfire of quangos”? This one would burn well.

    • Disaffected
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Absolutely . Why not leave it to universities. Why do politicians, especially Lib Dem Lefties, think they know best. Lefty politicians spent billions messing up secondary education resorting to dumbing down standards to con people to think it was improving. Now we have lefty Cable doing the same to universities and Cameron is letting it happen. I thought this was Willetts job in any case. Why does it need Ebdon?? Scrap quangos, or at least as many as possible.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      My thoughts too. If OFFA isn’t for burning then the bonfire is going out, if ever it was lit.

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        Hi Alan,

        Thanks for responding to my post on Iraq. I have responded to your reply but I don’t know if my response will be published.

  10. Rebecca Hanson
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I’ve been working hard with students from tough backgrounds on Oxbridge access for the last 12 years. Every year we’ve prepared groups of state school students for interviews. These groups have always contained middle class state school students who have a professional parent and who have plenty of extra curricular activities to talk about and the personal confidence to talk about them. They have also contained students from disadvantaged backgrounds. No child from the latter group has ever been offered a place at Oxbridge from our cohorts even though their results are often better than the students from the first group while plenty from the first group have got in and this result is replicated again and again in the experiences of those I talk to.

    In essence the problem is this. Oxbridge give a small amount of credit in their scoring criteria for an applicant coming from a low social status background. But it doesn’t balance out the points that students will lose because they will have few extra-curricular interests and they will not have the confidence to express themselves well at interview. If you did practice Oxbridge interviews with students as I do you would find, in general, that you have ranked their performance by the educational and professional attainments of their parents. The effect disappears when the interview is removed and these students excel at the top universities which do not interview.

    Now I well know that current Tory thinking is to take these students and put them into top public schools but thinking does not understand that these students come from a large pool of students like them and it is virtually impossible to predict which deliver incredible results at A-level until they are around 17.

    These students would fly at Oxbridge. There is no question about their academic ability. They are just not getting conditional offers. It simply is the case that until they leave home children are to a certain extent prisoners to their backgrounds. This goes when you put them in the variety of wider company you find at Oxbridge. They don’t need to go to a school away from home (and it is dubious to whether we want to take them out of their communities as in essence part of the beauty of what they offer to the mix at Oxbridge is them being from those communities) they just need a chance to get into top universities. We all want them to be there. We think Cameron and co. would have been better off had they been at Oxford with, for example, the straight A*s student we prepared for an interview for law at Oxford this year whose dad isn’t around an whose mum is a teaching assistant who’s just had her salary cut by 20%. She was completely brilliant. She just didn’t know how to show it yet.

    The problem is not that Oxbridge interviewers are prejudiced or that they don’t care. It’s just that they don’t see the detail of the reality of the vast, vast, differences between the backgrounds of two children from the same state school – one of whom is from a professional middle class family and the other of whom is from a seriously disadvantaged background and they need to be heavily nudged to properly understand what they are dealing with. They don’t want to believe they need to face this because they don’t want to think they are doing anything wrong.

    This issues has been discussed many times at consultations until the attending representative from Oxbridge understand it. However their insight does not get disseminated to the huge group of interviewing tutors who still fail to see the difference between a state school child who has parents from a university educated professional family and one who is not.

    This is not about social re-engineering or anything ideological. It is about recognising that children from backgrounds where no-one in their family has been to university and the family income is very low are being prevented from getting to Oxbridge because the system is judging them not on their academic ability but on their lack of wider interests and their inability to prevent themselves well at interview.

    The solution is that when top universities are interviewing students from disadvantaged backgrounds they need to probe their academic ability only and they may need to ‘work with them’ a little more at interview to help them put themselves across.

    The solution has been obvious for a very long time but it has not happened. Therefore there needs to be extra pressure.

    • Rebecca Hanson
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Just to answer the accusations – that the fault is with the schools.

      We have been running a substantial Oxbridge access program for 12 years which has substantial success. We are already doing a huge amount and are having substantial amount of success.

      While the accusation that ‘we could do more’ is always going to be true and is one we relentlessly levy at ourselves, there is also a reality that many state schools do not and could not do what we do because they do not have very dedicated ex Oxbridge teachers involved in their programs as we do who support the very dedicated and well established heads of 6th form.

      • Bob
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Speaking from my own experience it is clear to me that the problem lies with the state school system, not the universities. Why don’t they address that?

        This government is no better the last.
        They may as well hand out degrees based on attendance records.

        For the first time ever I found myself in agreement with Kevin Maguire this morning on LBC when he commented that it is just as well that the coalition are busying themselves with gay marriage as it might stop them from tinkering with the economy and doing even more damage!

        • Rebecca Hanson
          Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for your reply Bob.

          You can find my post which was not published by clicking on my name which takes you to my education blog.

          Clearly your experience differs from mine. Could you detail you statistics for your success rates for Oxbridge entry for students with the same academic standards from professional families versus students from low income families with parents with no education beyond age 16 please?

          • Bob
            Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink


            The kids are being failed by the state schools (grammars excepted), not the universities. The £250k p.a. Les Ebdon should be attacking that problem, not interfering with university admission standards. They are planning the same approach as they did by abolishing grammar schools because the secondary moderns were failing, and the outcome will be just as destructive.

            Have a look at this article regarding universities having to provide remedial tuition for state school kids:

            “The scientific knowledge of students from state schools was also too poor for degree-level work”


      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        I know the post which precedes the one which starts “just to answer the accusations” and starts “I’ve been working hard with students from tough backgrounds on Oxbridge access for the last 12 years” is long but I would be exceptionally grateful if you could read it and publish it.

        Its length is justified by and necessary for the insight it provides.

        I have no links to anyone involved in appointing Les Ebdon. I just understand the reasons for his views based on my own practical experience and it is very clear that those who are attacking him do not.

        Those who wish to constructively attack Les Ebdon’s views need to understand the real issues which I have not seen properly expressed and are clearly expressed in my long post.

      • Mike Stallard
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        I couldn’t agree more. Trying to interest our two massive (failing) comprehensives in Cambridge (same county) is quite impossible even with a dedicated outreach officer at my old college.
        One boy I spoke to said, “We did take a look at Cambridge College. It is called Anglia Ruskin. I didn’t like it though.”

        • REPay
          Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

          Yes, many teachers acvtively tell children not to apply to Oxbridge…Alan Bennett’s History Boys teacher says – “why bother, go to Leeds and be happy…”

        • Rebecca Hanson
          Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

          There are indeed substantial issues involved in getting schools to properly engage with Oxbridge entry in cases where there are no Oxbridge staff.

          Having worked on this for many years I am happy to provide support and advice for those who are trying to overcome these issues (for free of course).

          Please do contact me through where I am easy to find or through my education blog:

          • uanime5
            Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

            I agree with what you say. The problem with Oxbridge is that the lecturers look for people who have similar life experiences to them and those from low incomes are unlikely to have had any of these experiences.

          • Bob
            Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            Can you prove it?

          • Rebecca Hanson
            Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

            I can prove my claims Bob. Feel free to find me through or my blog and get in touch and we can correspond.

          • Bob
            Posted February 28, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

            Sorry Rebecca, that remark was a response to uanime5’s comment about lecturers. Forgot to @ddress it.

      • Andrew Johnson
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

        Dear Rebecca,
        Congratulations to your school – well done and keep it up, but I suggest that it is an exception rather than the rule.
        Let’s take some stats just from London.
        1 in 4 children in London leaves primary school at 11 unable to read or write properly
        1 in 5 leaves secondary school without being able to read or write with confidence
        One million (or one in six) working adults in the capital cannot read with confidence.
        Nationally, five per cent of adults in England have literacy skills either at or below the level of a seven-year-old
        16 per cent is the estimated proportion of 16- to 65-year-olds with the reading age of an 11-year-old. Of these, about five per cent are believed to have skills at the same level or below that of a seven-year-old
        40 per cent of 11-year-olds from inner-city primary schools have a reading age of between six and nine when they start secondary school
        40 per cent of London firms say their employees have poor literacy skills – and report that it has a negative impact on their business.
        Now I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call that success.

        The total spend for education in 2011 was £90.5 billion, yet politicians don’t seem to ask if we’re getting value for money, and collectively, I haven’t seen the unions, or taxpayers outraged and demanding action because we are failing so many children and young people every year and at such a cost.
        An awful lot of people did get very annoyed about someone’s million pound bonus last week.
        In my view there is absolutely no room for complacency whatsoever. Rather, since the current education system is delivering such poor results at great expense, failing children every day, and limiting their life chances even before University, urgent action is required.
        I have nothing but respect and admiration for the many good teachers who work so hard within a failing educational system, but tinkering with university quotas is just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. In the grand scheme of things it’s an irrelevance – a bit like the Coalition.

    • Rebecca Hanson
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      ‘present’ themselves well – not ‘prevent’. !!

      • Iain Gill
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink


        you make some good points but its not the full story. i dont actually feel oxbridge is all that good an education anyways, its much better at building contacts and giving confidence, and recruiters like it on CV’s. remove oxbridge grads from the bias of the uk and put them to work in the USA for example and their success relative to folk from humbler colleges is a lot less impressive. the bias in the system is a lot more than uni admission, it is perfectly legal to discriminate on working class background when hiring for example that would be illegal if it were race or sexual discrimination. also i dont think your approach is really going to work for the pupils of the large mega comprehensives in some working class towns i can think of, yet the brightest of these are often much more impressive than the clones coming out of oxbridge and the public schools.

        more than anything the system needs people who have really escaped a humble background having power, rather than people who only understand what its like going to a bog standard comp from a text book.

    • Mark
      Posted February 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Surely the solution is to fit the school education to the child. The loss of grammar schools and assisted places hits these able children acutely, and very unfairly, especially since so many schools teach to the C/D divide and fail brighter children utterly.

  11. Mazz
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    This Country is still being run and ruined by Socialist policies. David Cameron should put his foot down and start behaving as a Conservative. Lack of sound Conservative policies are damaging this Country, carrying on from the Blair and Brown years.

    • Andrew Johnson
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      David Cameron hasn’t got a foot to put down because he isn’t a conservative. He sometimes talks like a conservative, but his actions are pure statist social democrat. In this he is simply following nearly every Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan.

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        His (Cameron’s) actions are pure statist social democrat indeed they are.

        • Rebecca Hanson
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          My long post which should have started this section has now been published and makes more sense of why I am posting.

          I’d be grateful for any comments which relate directly to that post.

          I’ve heard a lot of hot are being spoken by people who don’t really understand the heart of this issue and that post does explain what the issues are and why Les Ebdon has support.

          • forthurst
            Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

            You say that your children from poor backgrounds. in comparison with those from middle class backgrounds, don’t have extra-curricular activities that that they can demonstrate, and even after coaching, do not present as well as their middle class peers from the same scholastic cohort. Further, you are saying that this is Oxbridge’s loss because it is missing out on exposure to those from different ‘communities’. You say further that Oxbridge should revoke their selection methods, at least when assessing those from poor backgrounds, so as not to disadvantage them.

            Oxbridge has far more applicants with appropriate academic qualifications than it has places. The reason for that is the degradation of the public examination system. It should be pointed out that previously the public examination system, when it was much harder, was not considered sufficient for Oxbridge selection which set its own entrance exams involving one/two years more work.

            You suggest your poor students would enrich Oxbridge. I suggest Oxbridge already has an ethos and does not need enrichment. I would further suggest that your school has no ethos otherwise there would not be such a disparity of presentation between your students of different backbrounds; the school is teaching degraded A levels to the test and is doing nothing else for the children. This is not intended as a personal criticism but of the system in which you work, in which schools do not have an ethos because of the need to avoid tripping over booby traps set by Cultural Marxism, in which exams have become so degraded that demonstrating ‘brilliance’ or originality is impossible.

            You solution is in effect to enforce on Oxbridge a combination of a lottery and quotas from different class backgrounds and scrap the hard work that tutors undertake to achieve fairness in their selection processes. It is the schools which need to change, not Oxbridge.

  12. Dave B
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I rather like the idea, I think put forward in The Plan, that all quangos should have to re-apply to Parliament every year for their budget grants. We’d get rid of a lot of dead wood that way.

  13. wab
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I know of a case (and there are probably dozens) this year where two clearly better economics candidates were refused entry into their preferred Cambridge college (I do not know if they were then picked up in the pool) in favour of a less suitable candidate because the former were from “independent” (i.e. private) schools and the latter was from a state school. This was just to meet the existing quotas, never mind the new system.

    On the other hand, I would not be surprised if there is still an unconscious middle class bias in some subjects just because the people doing the interviews are middle class and some of them (I would say in the humanities, especially) react better to people who are middle class.

    On the other hand, people who interview not surprisingly want the best students, and especially in STEM subjects, they will obviously take account of the background, and expect that students from better schools ought to do better in interview, and if they do not then a student from a worse school would be preferred. (Not all private schools are good. Not all state schools are bad.)

    Unfortunately governments (both Labour and Tory/LibDem) have decided that (literally) millions and millions of pounds of public money needs to be wasted on universities having to jump through hoops to satisfy government approved social engineering.

    One reason the government is happy to waste this money is because politicians do not want to admit that they have completely failed in the education of many, if not most, state-educated children, and so they are mainly the people to blame for the current situation. Instead politicians conveniently want to deflect the blame onto others, in particular on universities. But universities are not, and should not, be in the business of trying to make up for 13 years of poor state education with 3 years of university education.

    I’m sure the Tories would love all the universities to go private. And the way this social engineering is going, top universities would be stupid not to be thinking about going private, because the pathetic government mismanagement of universities is showing no signs of getting any better. Education is an important UK export, and the government seems to be doing all it can to kill that.

    The fact that Cameron did not stand up to Cable over Ebdon tells you everything you need to know about Cameron.

  14. Matt
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Go back to the cause of the problem – the government won’t allow selection by ability for state school pupils, but selection by wealth in the public school sector is okay.

    Better to give the green light to both selection processes and then select university places on academic achievement.

    • Mark
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Selection by wealth happens in the State sector too: good schools push up house prices.

      • Bob
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        You shouldn’t lose any money that way, as the property should retain it’s value, unless the area’s school standards dropped through government interference – like putting Les Ebdon in as the new headmaster.

        • Mark
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Of course you lose money. You pay out in mortgage interest or higher rents and Council Tax for a start. And besides, if you can’t afford the mortgage, your children lose out because you’re not in the catchment area.

          • Bob
            Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

            Areas with good schools do necessarily have higher council tax – in fact the opposite may even be true as Tory run councils tend to be more efficient.

            As for the differentials in prices between good and “not so good” catchment areas, you will probably to make the money back when you cash up (and it will be CGT exempt under the PPR rule). This and the savings on tuition fees together with the benefits of a better education for your child will make the venture most worthwhile and probably cost neutral (in the long run).

            And there’s the added benefit of living in a nicer area.

            Time to a for a cost benefit analysis spreadsheet!

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      One advantage that should stem from comprehensive schools, especially the larger ones, is selection within the school. Not all children are equally bright in all subjects. Seems to me selection should be per-subject.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      “but selection by wealth in the public school sector is okay.”

      Did you mean selection by wealth in the private school sector? The whole point of public schools is that you don’t have to pay.

      Reply: We have the strange habit of calling private schools in the UK public schools.

      • libertarian
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        Sorry who told you that we don’t have to pay for state schools?

        I have to pay for state schools and I’ve never had children at a state school !

      • rose
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        “We have the strange habit of calling private schools in the UK public schools.”

        It only seems strange now because we have been brainwashed for so long into thinking people shouldn’t pay their own children’s school fees. OK to pay for their holidays, ballet lessons, piano lessons, food, clothes, toys, books, transport, housing (just), and much else, but not school fees.

        When the term “public schools” was coined, it just meant schools open to the public, in the same sense that “public houses”, or pubs were; it meant the sons (and later daughters) of the public could go to them. It was taken for granted that payment, as is still the case for food and drink in pubs today, would be made privately, not by the local council. “Private education” meant education at home, with a tutor or governess.

    • StevenL
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      State school selection seems to work on wealth too – it’s all about which house you can afford to buy or rent.

  15. Bazman
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    My experiences of university in the 90’s where I have to say career wise was pretty much a waste of time. Yeah, I did pass, just. It did give me an insight into the British educational system and it’s students though, which might prove useful to my daughter.
    One thing I noticed was that the students, especially girls, harp on about their great social life was at university. Lets explode that myth.. Their social life often is with their housemates from the same background as themselves, and exists in the rented house they share. You would see them at freshers week, but then rarely, very rarely again. They are often on courses that need as little as eight hours a week attendance. One of them would own a car, so would be the only one to leave the house to go shopping. Especially if the area they lived in was a bit rough.
    At the end of each term they would return to their home towns. This was their ‘great social life’.

  16. Alison
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Remove politicians from the system. Allow universities to choose their pupils and then be accountable to the pupils and their parents. Every time we get interfering statist politicos involved the whole education system dumbs down another notch. Soon we’ll be lucky if graduates are fit for anything more taxing than appearing on reality tv at the rate we’re going.

    • Disaffected
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Spot on.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      You do realise that your suggestions will result in more useless graduates. Universities should be forced to choose pupils because of their academic abilities, not because of their parent’s wealth.

      • JT
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        Universities do choose based on academic abilities
        This has nothing to do with parents wealth
        You shouldn’t be confused by that

        But this quango should be closed tomorrow.
        (well, wound down properly after being merged into Education (universities should be under this department – not business)

      • Mark
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        You presume universities would select on grounds of wealth. I presume they would select on grounds of ability, which is what used to happen before the politicians interfered with social engineering schemes.

  17. Magnolia
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I would like to see each individual schoolchild and their family given some form of power to challenge the admission process to university. This is totally lacking at present. The universities are autonomous bodies and should determine who to accept but they do receive state money and must be transparent and accountable for public spending. They publish large amounts of admissions data which is freely available on websites but this won’t protect a child from the odd bad individual or department where prejudice might still exist. At present the universities examine their own admission complaints and it is likely that they will side with their own staff rather than to confess to a potentially damaging mistake. Why can’t they be accountable directly to the Minister or to each individual directly through a university admissions ombudsman? If this were the case then we would no longer need OFFA at all. I also think that those universities which operate an interview as part of the admissions process should not accept any schoolchild until after the examination results are available. There are always children who surprise on the up side and these are likely to be those from a more disadvantaged or less likely background and the interview system just puts a personal preference into the admission process which perhaps should not exist.
    The state schools have an independent right of appeal process for schools admissions and I would like to see the same thing for state supported university admissions.

  18. forthurst
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    The previous Labour government was driven by a Cultural Marxist mindset. Their ministerial deployments and nomenclature were constructed to that end. The present government has embraced this self-destructive philosophy with varying degrees of enthusiasm, LibDems more so than red-in-tooth-and-claw Tories like JR. The present PM, however, is an aficionado, or so he purports.

    Offa is a Cultual Marxist embodiment from Central Casting; it is however misplaced in the Business department, fitting more snugly as it would in the Ministry of Truth. By the time that pupils progress to tertiary education, they have already completed their major formal learning experience. That that experience leaves many from bog standard comprehensives woefully unfit to compete on equal terms with their peer group from private schools or from the many, educated abroad, is a national disgrace.

    The solution embraced by this government is to employ the V-C of the University of Bogstandardshire to oblige those institutions which try to combine fairness of entry with excellence of outcome to adopt a quota system of entry: the less than top grades in degraded A levels in degraded subjects will no longer be a bar to educational advancement if applicants are from from poor performing schools. But, intelligence is absolute, not relative, and top universities are centres of excellence not of remedial teaching.

    The Cultural Marxist sickness must be destroyed. We should not tolerate those who claim the Bell curve does not exist; that bright children need the same educational experience to those less well endowed, that degrading examination standards so none will fail has not damaged their futures for all our children. Nobody else outside the Western world believes this nonsense any more than they believe that inviting in millions of third world immigrants will make their country more “at ease with itself”. We are hamstringing ourselves whilst nearly everywhere else, where the malignant disease of Bolshevism has been vanquished, are competing hard.

    The state school system needs a total restructuring to ensure bright children get a fair crack of the whip from the start, not from when its too late. The tertiary level also needs restructuring to recreate the proper distinction between those which can take the brightest to the frontiers of knowledge and beyond, to those which should be purely vocational rather than ersatz versions of the former, like the uni of Bogstandardshire.

  19. Disaffected
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    13 years ago we had Blair claiming education, education, education. He spent billions of taxpayers money on lefty proposals including social engineering so pupils with lower grades get access to university than those who worked hard and got better grades. This continues today.

    Blair introduced tuition fees and placed a considerable amount of people in debt all their life because he wanted to increase the number of students at university to reduce youth unemployment figures. His plan failed. So the school exam results were dumbed down to make it look as if education was improving despite billions being wasted and useless lefty quangos formed to help his mad plan look good.

    Schools need to change to a two or three tiered system (like Germany) to allow children from all social classes to have the opportunity to succeed. The disruptive, badly behaved need to be by themselves. All inclusive schools do not work. Lunatics should not be allowed to take over the asylum. Grammar schools allowed children from all walks of life an opportunity. The current system does not. Cable’s plan, like Blair before, is to cheat and artificially change the system for so called poor people. A lefty idea with no justifiable foundation. It will dumb down university education as secondary education was and remains in a pathetic state. Creating non jobs in lefty councils so they can claim all badly behaved children have a syndrome of one kind or another. Rather than accept that the welfare state has created all forms of our society to decay. Incentives to have children to get a free social housing and provided a living all their life were firmly set int rain. It needs to stop. Economically and socially we cannot afford for our country to spiral into the anarchy we saw on the streets last year. Lefties need to be ousted from politics, quangos and councils.

    There is no authority in schools and some have police officers dedicated to them to keep order. What does that say about discipline in schools? No authority, no punishments and all children’s education wrecked because lefties were allowed to stop punishment and order in class rooms. Not surprisingly the best qualified teachers left or went to work in private schools, where they could teach in the normal confines of an education based environment.

    We have an Education Secretary and a University Minister. Why do we need a quango full stop. If they are not fit for purpose sack them and find an MP who is. Both appear to be out of touch with reality and scared to act for the benefit of all children for political reasons. This has no bearing on what the public wants. The university minister ought to be sacked. His policies are incoherent and useless. Both Cambridge and Oxford criticise his plans. He intends to place our future generations of children in debt all their life and fails to see the bigger picture how the money spent on decent university education is small beer compared to the boost it could give to help our beleaguered economy. China has a plan and is using our top universities to achieve it. We should stop this ASAP and put British students first, second and last. Get rid of the quangos this is the job of ministers.

  20. REPay
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Labour and the Major goverment massively increased the number of places at university. Entrance requirements have been reduced by making A levels easier and many university courses have been made easier to reflect the capabilities of less well educated children. In short there is no real access problem to university, and to this extent, treating education as a tool to improve equal outcomes has worked. The left obsesses about the Russell Group because they see it as part of the establishment and actively plays to the natural chippiness versus Oxbridge. However, the top universities cannot merely be part of a social program, they need high standards as they have to compete internationally. We lower standards there at our peril. The question remains as to how the university admissions process can be made to offset 14 years of poor education? The mission of OFFA should be expanded to ensure state schools can deliver pupils of the calibre required of a Russell Group undergraduate. If standards remain high someone being admitted to Oxbridge or Imperial College, where I read Les Ebdon went, without being well prepared at school would be crushed within weeks. Or will OFFA also ensure failing undergraduates are not sent down?

    • REPay
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Sorry the second version if the one to publish…

  21. Steve Cox
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Surely it’s well past time for the top 4 or 5 universities to free themselves from the yoke of government sponsorship and consequent control. How difficult would that be in practice for the best of the Russel Group to achieve? Imperial, for example, already relies very heavily on full fee paying foreign students, so I should imagine that it would not find a separation very traumatic.

    • forthurst
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      When the Labour government set in train the present tertiary dispensation, they did it deliberately to stymie this country and the life chances of the English.

      Our ancient universities were endowed by Englishmen so that English people could develop their own gifts and prosper in their future careers, not to offer the rest of the planet Educational opportunities denied to later English generations.

      In order to cover the costs of their far more expensive courses, institutions like Imperial are forced to take large numbers of overseas students to survive, since in no way do the fees from English students suffice. It is therefore very likely that the number of English students taking proper degrees in proper subjects like Science and Engineering is far lower now than before comprehensivisation in the 60s.

      In my opinion it would be possible to close down the overwhelming majority of Humanities degrees with no deleterious effect on the future prosperity of this country. Granted there are bright Oxbridge types with Humanities degrees, but they were bright before they took them; I have not noted these degrees having any wider applicability in e.g. IT.

    • REPay
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Good idea. University staff would oppose it tooth and nail…as I suspect would Chris Patten who chairs the Russell Group.

  22. Anoneumouse
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Do we need an office of fare access to regulate appointments to offices of fair access.

    Doners for us dot con

  23. Liz
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    The appointment of Les Ebdon was one of the worst things this Coalition Government has done so far. What come next after bog standard comprehensives – bog standard universities presumambly. Will David Cameron not stand up for anything!

    • Disaffected
      Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      No, more back bone in a jelly baby.

  24. Chris
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    The blindingly obvious issue (which some in government fail to accept and so many in the teaching unions) is that the standard of education in so many comprehensives is appalling, due to the educational “thinking” and policies pursued by Labour. The process of forcing universities to accept academically substandard students (and then having to dumb down the course in order to do remedial education) is unacceptable. Countries in the Far East and many emerging econo mies have a far better education system and work/study ethic than we do and are turning out students who are actually properly qualified in their subject and who are motivated and keen to learn and who are not put off by the fact that subjects like physics and chemistry are hard and require hard graft and learning. It is a fact of life that you can’t make these subjects easy, and if you want the UK to keep up with the rest of the scientific world, let alone be a major player, then academic rigour has to be reinstated to all courses, entry standards to university raised, and universities to select their students on the basis of academic merit. A complete turnaround of the state education is required and pdq. Michael Gove has made a start, but the appt of Ebdon is a disaster, as also the influence of the Lib Dems in this debate. They are supposed to be minor players in our government and yet they seem to be accorded major status. Not only is Ebdon’s appt a disasater in my mind, but also David Cameron’s.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      One of the major problems with studying STEM subjects in the UK is that the jobs you can get generally pay very badly. As result most of the best STEM graduates work in finance where they can make a lot of money (especially the maths graduates). By contrast in Germany if you want to get a high paying job you need to study engineering.

      • libertarian
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

        ha ha ha ha your assertions just get sillier and sillier.

        You really believe that VW pays engineers more than Deutsche Bank pays maths grads?


  25. Mark
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    What I find shocking is that it isn’t just Dr. Cable who supported Ebdon, but David Willetts, who once again demonstrates he hasn’t the first idea how to make an economic success of universities and higher education, but who knows how to ruin them in furthering a programme of de-intellectualisation that would not have shamed Lenin. It is obvious that he is not fit to be the responsible minister, and that responsibility needs to return to the Education Department under someone who understands.

    It is an unfortunate fact that the standard of education in state schools has gone backwards for 30 years as grade inflation has progressed. This amounts to a massive loss of productivity in the education system, as it now takes years longer for pupils to reach the same levels of knowledge than it used to. Pretending that Polytechnics can be equated with Universities was a fond failing of John Major, and has served to undermine the rigour of many courses, and the suitability of other courses to those who would have benefited from a more vocational and practical approach. This error was compounded by Labour’s bizarre target that 50% of children should study for a degree, and also by the massive expansion in overseas students from some 50,000 per year in the Major years to now 250,000 per year as measured by the long term immigration statistics.

    According to HESA, there are now 428,225 overseas students attending courses at institutions they recognise, including 130,1120 from other EU countries. Fees paid by non EU students amounted to £2.58bn in 2009/10, or about £9,200 per head. It should be clear that this level of fees on average amounts to a subsidy, as no-one is suggesting that fees of £9,000 paid by students in England cover costs. The idea that students are a financial benefit is questionable: there is a strong economic case for cutting the numbers and the subsidy, so that we return to the numbers of the 1990s, which were sufficient to ensure that UK institutions were able to attract the brightest and most influential from around the world.

    The large numbers of graduates now find that a first degree is often inadequate to mark themselves out from their peers, and so increasing numbers of them are now doing postgraduate degrees to avoid joining the scrapheap of unemployed graduates. This is the consequence of dumbing down of standards throughout the education system, devaluing degrees in the eyes of employers.

    Meanwhile, the 50% who don’t get to go to university are left with the inadequate state schooling as their education – again making them less attractive to employers than their parents were with similar years in school. Many of them are being left to join the benefits scrapheap, while immigrants come and take the jobs they might have had themselves.

    Obviously it will take time to restore standards in state schools, and for pupils to emerge having had a better standard of education throughout their school years. At least there is a move in that direction, whatever the debate about how much faster it might be achieved with more schools dedicated to educating the most and least able. Mixed ability teaching is a great handicap on teacher productivity, and different skills are needed to deal with children at the ends of the ability spectrum (I greatly admired the skill of one teacher I knew who taught autistic children: to do that well requires not only perseverence, but also imagination and highly developed powers of observation).

    In the mean time, it should be clear that we need to toughen the standards for degrees, and reduce the numbers of students sitting them, while returning to offering the more vocational routes that used to be open via Polytechnics etc., so that we get a better match between students and careers. Some of the cut in university spending could then be spent highly profitably on remedial education for those cheated by their dumbed down schooling, rescuing them from a life on benefits, and adding value, rather than destroying it by wasting university resource on their slightly brighter peers who never go on to earn a sufficient premium to pay off the cost of their university education.

    Cutting OFFA altogether would be a signal that the country is serious about trying to maximise value added from the education system, and help the funding of remedial education. If some of the pupils who take advantage of that show sufficient aptitude to do a degree, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be admitted as slightly more mature students.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      (Re: Mark’s comment)

      I agree that there can be a huge amount of improvements in both secondary and tertiary education, I think a large amount can actually be created by considering a freer market in each. Obviously achieving the right market structure for performance gains through competition is a challenge, and a challenge to communicate as Mr Lansley has found with the NHS.

      I also agree that highly mixed ability classes can be a ridiculous concept with teachers being required to extend the top performers whilst identifiying conceptual roots into subjects for the struggling. This is particularly true for strong foundational subjects such as mathematics, some of the sciences and parts of economics. The other serious issue is mixed behaviour in classes, and that teachers with behaviour management skills (or lucky enough with timetabling, subject etc) are rated more highly than those with subject and facilitation skills – I suspect there is great loss here. Anyway there are undoubtedly market based and technology based improvements that could be made.

      In general I cannot agree with you on the overseas student point. You might be right I don’t know the exact numbers, but I suspect many overseas students might be in private tertiary establishments and so the costing will have been worked out, many will be on less capital/labour intensive university courses (e.g. business, management, accounting), many will bring other money into the economy and I (admittedly) guess that the international student interaction in a relativel free, relatively democratic country might offer a differnet viewpoint to some students. Anyway, again a freer educational market wuld soon clarify the revenue-cost issues.

      • Mark
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        The data on foreign students may shock you, but they come from official sources: HESA and the ONS. More data on foreign students by subject here:

        Not much evidence that they are choosing the cheapest courses.

        Tuition fees amounted to around 30% of university funding in total: there is a large reliance on block grants.

        • Caterpillar
          Posted February 29, 2012 at 1:32 am | Permalink

          I looked at the table and did a dichotomous code of the 19 courses, those that looked like they needad a capital requirement and a consumables budget (e.g. engineering, sciences etc) I classes as high cost the others I classed as low cost*.

          The percentage of the international students on high cost then came out as 40%. So 40% X 17% (total number of internationals) => ~7% of students are international students on high cost course, ~10% of students are international students on low cost courses. I appreciate this is rough an ready, and also gets us nowhere in knowing whether international susidise national or vice versa.

          *Going top to bottom of the 19 in the table I coded

          • Caterpillar
            Posted February 29, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

            Sorry, error in above coding. Doesn’t make much difference read 34% instead of 40, and 6% instead of 7.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      “Some of the cut in university spending could then be spent highly profitably on remedial education for those cheated by their dumbed down schooling, rescuing them from a life on benefits, and adding value”

      Remedial education is already available to the unemployed. It’s pretty much the only thing the Job Centre offers.

      “rather than destroying it by wasting university resource on their slightly brighter peers who never go on to earn a sufficient premium to pay off the cost of their university education.”

      Most businesses would prefer an above average engineer to having no engineer, and most schools would an above average science teacher rather than no science teacher. No everyone needs to be a genius in order to be useful.

  26. Bill
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Agree with the general tenor of these remarks. If recent educational research has shown anything, it is that leadership (i.e. the function of the head teacher) within schools in crucial to the academic performance of pupils. And this notion is now embedded within the policies of OFSTED. This being so, it is foolish to contradict this policy by engineering admission to universities. After all, what is the point of improving the performance of the secondary sector only to imply that these improvements are irrelevant because the universities will admit poorly performing pupils anyway?

  27. Alan Wheatley
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    A recent BBC Radio 4 programme revealed that at best schools have only a 10% impact on the level of achievement pupils attain. The other 90% is made up of non-school factors, such as the parents. The 10% figure was presented as coming from a substantial body of of credible research; it was not “opinion”.

    So you have to wonder what is the point of schools.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      The BBC programme was “Do schools make a difference?”, in the Analysis series broadcast on about 3th Feb 2012. It is available on the iPlayer.

    • libertarian
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink


      I agree, as someone heavily involved in employment and careers a degree has less and less value to employers, we are suffering massive shortages of skills in vocational engineering and manufacturing and as per usual the politicians are arguing about the wrong problems and trying to socially manipulate to solve last century problems.

      • alan jutson
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink


        Agreed Politicians for decades have denegrated the skilled, So Called “Blue coller” workers and promoted the clean white collar proffessions, and University for all, no one fails type schemes.

        It is no wonder that fewer and fewer ever wanted to get their hands dirty.

        The Politicians simply did not realise that the really skilled tradesman also had to have a brain to function in his /her job.

        The demise of the polytechnics was the last straw in us ever holding onto a volume manufacturing base in the UK, as most of the skilled workers have now retired and are not available to pass on their very, very hard won practical knowledge to the next generation.

        Yes we still have skilled engineers at the cutting edge, but not in the volume production business, where millions were employed as in the past.

    • Dave B
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      I’m currently reading a book called “Willpower”

      The authors assert a strong correlation between self-control and academic/career success.

    • Mark
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      It’s much quicker to glance through the transcript:

      The programme seems to be confused between promoting the idea that schools were supposed to make everyone of equal ability (something that can only be attempted by dumbing them down) and some strange idea that getting the best from each child can be achieved by a uniform recipe, while blaming “social factors” for failure. The idea that a good school can have a wider influence than on the children who attend seems missing. These attitudes among the educational establishment are precisely the problem, not the solution.

  28. Graham Stuart MP
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post, John. For the record it was the Bis Committee (Business, Innovation and Skills), rather than the Education Committee which rejected Mr Ebdon as it was Vince Cable’s department rather than Michael Gove’s which made the appointment.

    Reply: I did say it was Dr Cable who made the appointment in my piece, and attended the statement by Dr Cable to set out his reasons.

  29. Popeye
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    OFFA should be abolished forthwith. This is another blatant Social engineering scheme, introduced by Socialist administrations, ill thought out and not tackling the basic problem.
    An awful lot of state schools have not been fit for purpose as can be seen by Universities having to educate pupils in basic education before any degree, even mickey-mouse degrees can be attempted. The blame for this is myriad, not least the teachers themselves, who for many years now, have not wanted or are incapable of teaching, or because they want to be popular.

  30. Andrew Johnson
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Ejukashun, Ejukachn, Ejukayshun innit. Oh goody, more government social engineering. Just what Britain needs to bring us all a brighter future.
    When it comes to applying for top jobs, real wealth creating private sector employers want the brightest, the best and the hardest working, I really can’t think why.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      Does this mean RBS doesn’t want the brightest, the best, and the hardest working because they’re not creating wealth?

      • Andrew Johnson
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

        Who did the well and truly messed up RBS (which happened due to lack of regulation by the previous Labour government ) appoint to lead the reconstruction (and maybe disassembling) of RBS? – Stephen Hester.
        “He is the eldest son of a university professor. He was educated at Easingwold School in North Yorkshire a rural comprehensive school, and at Oxford where he studied at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and after chairing the Tory Reform Group, graduated with a first class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. ”
        Quod Erat Demonstrandum

  31. uanime5
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I think I may have found why the Government is having so many problems getting people back to work; they’ve given the task to a company (whose record he queries-ed)

    • zorro
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      The ‘record’ of this company will be public soon enough, don’t worry……


    • libertarian
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      This company and a dozen similar were actually awarded their contracts under the Labour government. Cameron appointed the lady from A4E as a czar ( another piece of pathetic socialism).

      They have been creaming this money for more than 10 years whilst STILL in the real world there are 100’s of 1000’s of unfilled jobs and massive skills shortages in engineering, manufacturing, sales and Information Technology .

    • JT
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Probably also explains why youth unemployment was so drastcially high during the NuLabour years …

  32. uanime5
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    The best solution is to set university quotas for the number of pupils that can come from private schools. This way universities can still get the best from private schools and those from public schools will have a fairer chance of getting into the best universities.

    • libertarian
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      All that would happen is just like schools the best universities would become private full fee paying, so I don’t think that’s much of a solution.

      To be honest I’m not even sure there IS a problem that needs a solution.

      • uanime5
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        If the quotas apply equally to private universities then the best universities won’t go private.

        • libertarian
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          I can’t believe that even someone as tribal as you cannot see the illogical response you just posted. You have whinged and whined your way through this thread telling us that the rich pay for what they want and get it only because of their wealth, yet you think a thing like quotas would stop them…..ha ha ha .

          Its amazing how much in favour of discrimination based on class that socialists are.

    • Mark
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      I an think of nothing more disastrous than implementing quotas – that’s exactly what Ebdon is trying to do. We need the brightest children to go through university – whatever their background. At the moment, many from state schools are being denied because of poor state education at school. How does imposing a quote correct that?

      • uanime5
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

        Pupils from state schools are not being let down by poor education as large numbers of them get enough grade A A-levels to take courses at the best universities. Yet for some reason private pupils are always disproportionately represented.

        Quotas will ensure that universities do not priorities private school pupils over state school ones.

        • Mark
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Grade A A levels are no indicator of ability to do a university course these days – whichever school you went to.

    • Richard
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      Quotas…. the classic socialist solution.

      The best soultion is to increase the overall number of places available at University, improve funding for less well off students, improve the standard of education in state schools… oh and bring back state funding for less well off pupils so they can go to fee paying schools for free which theLabour Party stopped.

      • uanime5
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

        You do realise that ‘state funding for less well off pupils so they can go to fee paying schools’ is a socialist policy.

        • libertarian
          Posted February 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

          No its not, private schools have been offering bursaries, scholarships and funded places for the bright pupils from poor families for 100’s years before socialism was ever thought of.

          You make the most ridiculous fact free assertions.

    • Bob
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink


      Yes – if dumbing down is your objective!
      Alternatively, you could consider raising state educational standards!

      • uanime5
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

        Care to explain how allowing the best pupils in private and state schools to go to the best universities is dumbing down?

        Also if state educational standards are raised all private schools will go bankrupt because no one will pay for something they can get for free.

        • Bob
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          “Care to explain how allowing the best pupils in private and state schools to go to the best universities is dumbing down?”
          Because selection by quota is not the same as selection of the brightest.

          “Also if state educational standards are raised all private schools will go bankrupt because no one will pay for something they can get for free.”

          Are you really saying that we should not improve the standards in state schools in case it affected the demand for private schools? Why would anyone pay for an independent school if the state sector provided an equivalent education. The explosion of demand for private schools is due to the dire educational standards in the state sector (with the notable exception of grammar schools) .
          It wouldn’t surprise me if the Russell Group decided to follow the independent route in order to cut loose from government interference. Then the government would end up having to pay for scholarships for British kids to get them into the top universities.

          With the track record of socialist interference in education I think the government should butt out and leave education to the educators. Same applies to the NHS.

  33. PaulDirac
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    There is a common theme between state institutions and unions – they end up being run for the benefit of the workers and not of the clients. If something is state run – it is inefficient and wasteful.
    Which invites the logic that a minimalistic state is the best state, the best state is like a conductor of an orchestra, he/she directs the action but doesn’t play.

    Most attempts at social engineering have failed to produce any leveling because their focus is on trying to suppress the affluent parents from using their money to improve the outcome for their children, which doesn’t work.
    Successive studies have shown that the “great divide” is at the preschool – elementary level, children to indifferent (and bad parents) will (on the whole) have worse outcomes than caring parents.

    The idea and implementation of a “positive discrimination” at university level is a pointless exercise in PC and has a detrimental effect on the main raison d’etre of university education.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      How exactly is letting affluent parents from using their money to improve the outcome for their children a good thing? All this does is reduce the educational opportunities available for the brightest.

      Also just because someone is behind when they’re in preschool does not mean they will still be behind when applying for university.

      • libertarian
        Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        Well there are 700,000 children in private education currently in the UK. So if they all went to state schools as their parents have already paid their taxes there would be 700k more people to fund out of the same amount of money thereby reducing the amount spent on EVERY pupil in state schools.

  34. Duyfken
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    This is indicative of the incompetence of the Tory-led government. Led by the Tories but outsmarted by the LibDems, so much so that it is no wonder so many think Cameron (and Osborne et al) are LibDems in Tory clothing. JR must find it very difficult to keep within the Whips’ strictures and surely, with so many other Conservative MPs and MEPs uncomfortable with the leadership, a time must come for a schism. May it be within my lifetime!

  35. Barry Sheridan
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    This is simply another pathetic example of modern British thinking from its so called elites. It being self evident that we are trying to persuade too many to attend university, far too many, many of whom frankly are not up to the demands.

    What would benefit the nation and a goodly number of its inhabitants more are schools that direct ability towards areas where it might help the individual achieve something meaningful in life. Say a trade like bricklaying or joinery. For those with a genuine academic bent then perhaps the chance of university is the answer, but not if they lack the fundamental talent. This capacity has nothing to do with background. You are born with it. OK encouragement helps, but it is not the prime element, innate talent is, and many of us lack it.

    What is worse here is that debasing the entry levels to university has already been tried in NYC, the bodies there finding that those who gained entry thanks to doctored qualifications needed at least a year of remedial work before they were ready to actually begin their course of higher education. It being found that many could not even get beyond that first year on a pathway to what rapidly became a third rate debased qualification.

    It makes me wonder, well no I am lying, I no longer wonder for it is obvious that most of the advocates of these ideas neither research the concepts they advance, nor are they really interested in seeing the end product turn out the way they want. It is in reality just a vehicle for more mindless activity from people whose political ideas are fertilised by daily doses of stupidity. Britain unfortunately has surfeit of such types.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      I’m surprised that NYC didn’t start selling remedial courses to people who wanted to study at university but don’t have the grades.

  36. Alan Radfield
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    First they tried to get the numbers in by dumbing down the exams – everyone gets an automatic Royal Flush of A* grades. When that didn’t work, they’re resorting to government-sanctioned gatecrashing.

  37. AJAX
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    The public school – & to a lesser extent the grammar school kids – are being selected by the more socially prestigious universities because the standard of education they receive is of a far more concentrated nature than the comprehensives which have to process far more kids with less resources financially & culturally dedicated to each individual, also the pubs/grams are groomed specifically to get thru the mysteries of the elite university application interviews whereas the comps are just thrown in with barely a clue in comparison as to how impress the sentinel at the gate sufficiently

    New Labour’s answer was to make school exam finals easier (whilst denying it), & thereby increase the graduate population proportionately as a hoped means of wealth re-distribution, & this Brownite Commissar office is a means of pushing the policy thru against donnish resistance.

    I’d abolish the office, government has no business involving itself in social engineering, it always fails wasting huge amounts of the people’s taxes in the process

    Arguments about selection/non-selection, grammars vs comprehensive, Eton & privilege vs the humble folk, are all diverting & fun for a debate amongst the political class as it excites latent social prejudices …. but I can’t help thinking whilst listening to it with vague amusement that the Germans have stolen a march on us here (not for the 1st time!) in having an education system which produces effective results without all these social history museum class-bound arguments, which are increasingly irrelevant in the modern world.

  38. zorro
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    As others have pointed out, this is clear social engineering doomed to failure……We need more choice/freedom in schools to breed excellence in their chosen fields. There should be far more selective/grammar schools, and good quality vocational education in practical subjects to ensure that we have a wide representation amongst different jobs and careers, and not abandoning certain professions to recent immigrants/East Europeans.
    Why does Cameron want to be part of an administration doing this if he is supposedly a Conservative.

    Why are we in continual decline?
    Why are supposedly intelligent people determined to ensure that mediocrity succeeds?
    Why pursue 50% entrance targets to university?
    Why continue with historically massive net migration including huge numbers of foreign students?
    Why create a system at ‘A’ level where it is so difficult to distinguish between candidates?
    Why are the new entrants (graduates) in my department unable to spell consistently, or form coherent arguments, or have appalling levels of general knowledge?
    Is there some intelligence behind this national ‘dumbing down’, and if so, who?
    Why is the Conservative government seemingly kowtowing on such a massive scale to the Lib Dems?


  39. Atlas
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    The delusions of the lefties knows no bounds.

  40. Tad Davison
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    I recall, not so long ago, one George Galloway stating quite correctly on his radio show, that considering how much money Labour had spent on the present (Comprehensive) education system, they didn’t get a lot for their money.

    As I see it, the loonies in the Labour party, and the Liberal Democratic party, are simply promoting mediocrity with their backward view of how education should work. One size fits all education might suit a discredited political philosophy, but it doesn’t suit this country’s needs in terms of a properly educated and globally competitive workforce. The strength of a chain is in it’s weakest link, and the present system holds kids back – and I have witnessed the proof first-hand with my own three kids.

    All three could read fluently before they attended school. In each case, they were told to go away, sit in a corner, and amuse themselves whilst the rest caught up. Stuff Labour’s education policy if that’s the best it can do! It retards and inhibits a child’s development, rather than enhance it, and the sooner we get this socialist nonsense eradicated, the better it will be!

    Tad Davison


    • rose
      Posted February 27, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      In the case of our primary school it was even worse: if the parents were married, their children were neglected. There was, even in the 1980s, a policy in place of promoting the welfare of children of unmarried mothers over the rest. As our child was in a tiny minority on this, he was well and truly discriminated against in reality. So I taught him everything at home, after school, and got him into the (now private – it was originally direct grant till Shirley Williams took the grants away) grammar school’s lower school at 7. So did another married mother with her child. The school was so angry at this entrance success that they wouldn’t say good bye to the two children or wish them well.

  41. Iain Gill
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Well you know John I regard myself as broadly the same place in the spectrum politically as you, although disagreeing on individual issues, I am hardly a socialist or liberal.
    However I feel the Conservative party is making many mistakes in this policy area. For one what have they really done to help the poor kids forced to go to rubbish schools? Party policy still seems to be school selection based on the price of the house your parents can afford to live in, worse than true random selection and worse than selection by ability.
    I went to rubbish schools, and was top of the 12 or so classes in my year through most of that time, indeed looking back I probably always would have been except some pupils were getting expensive outside tuition in addition to school. Was there any realistic prospect of my getting even average A level marks that someone at Eton could expect – no way no how. Everything from the dirty chemistry lab equipment, to the quality of many teachers, to the political control from the local council in what the school was up to prevented that.
    I went to an old poly, was I happy with my education there? Yes. At the time it was good. It was enough to get me into a great first job where the learning really started.
    I have subsequently worked with, employed, competed against, etc. many a public school/Oxbridge person, do I find their quality on average better than folk with my background? No absolutely not. Have I been able to out compete them in the work environment? In this country no where their accent and political connections gained along the way are their real advantage, in other countries where these factors count for little? Absolutely yes.
    My own views, and those with my background should be listened to long before the public school clones clogging up Westminster. We have earnt the country far more money than they ever have or will. We really do understand what it takes to make it from a scum estate (and far more than the champagne socialists too).
    What do I feel?
    1. ‘A’ levels are a poor guide to potential success and a poor guide to ability at age 18.
    2. There are plenty of triple A pupils from Eton who are a LOT thicker than bog standard comp pupils with two E’s.
    3. Free up parents to choose any school, and reward schools that attract more pupils and remove money from those that do not. Lay on fleets of buses to take pupils to the best schools if needed etc.
    4. Do not select based on price of your parents house.
    5. Your marks relative to your peers in your own school should count for at least as much as your marks relative to other schools. So if like me you are in the top 6 pupils from around 2000 then you should be considered alongside pupils from public school in the similar top percentile. Yes these lets the poor schools off, but punish the school teachers not the pupils!
    6. The worst schools need really radical action of the sort none of the political parties seem to have an understanding of or grasp. These schools have been rubbish for more than 30 years through all sorts of political fashions and nothing ever changes. I could sketch out on the back of a post it note some policies that would transform these schools within 3 years, but it would be really radical stuff, but somebody needs the gumption to do these things! Namby pambying around continues to let those pupils and the country down.
    7. I can see where your arguments are going and sadly they won’t win votes at the ballot box. I want the best students we can find getting into university and none of the systems I have seen in place in my lifetime look close to doing that.
    8. Yes Vince Cable and his appointees should be kicked out of political life for good, but there are easier ways of unseating him, his views on immigration or “aid” to India would have him laughed off the ballot paper if given more publicity.

    We need more people like me visible in Conservative party life, the public school/Oxbridge clones filling up the TV screens as spokesfolk telling us effectively that their privilege should be sustained through the generations simply because of their parents wealth (which like it or not is how it sounds) will go down like a lead balloon.

  42. Iain Gill
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I would also add that the current system which effectively rewards those parents prepared to lie the most about their religion with the best state school places is obscene. What religion you or your parents claim to have, how often you turn up to a place of worship, and so on should have absolutley no bearing on who gets the best state funded school places. This is obscene. And again having heard Cameron talk without substance on this topic I find everything he says reveals how little he understands of the real world.

  43. Neil Craig
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    The problem is that comprehensive schools, which means if you want good schooling live in a neighbourhood with a good school and posh catchment area, has been very damaging for social mobility.

    In which case this quango exists to fix the results to hide how badly the schooling system is performing. As well, of course, of providing gainful employment for holding and promoting whatever views Cable supports.

    As such it is considerably worse than a complete waste of money.

  44. rose
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    A German friend was telling me about life behind the wall before November 1989. She said the children of doctors and dentists were not allowed to be trained in their fathers’ professions, so they often went instead into nursing etc. When the wall came down many of them rushed to get trained as doctors, often in their late forties, so strong were the vocations which had beem stifled by socialist planning. When I gently reminded her that we were just embarking on that journey here, she didn’t contradict me.

  45. Andrew Smith
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Can we know how much this Quango costs before taking account of the damage it does.

    Should it be a standard arrangement that when referring to any Quango, its cost is published in parentheses – maybe the salary of its Chairman on a full-time equivalent basis as well.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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