Thursday, November 25, 2010

Oxbridge and free school meals

Atlhough Nick Clegg has (quite rightly) expressed frustration at the education system failing the least well off, I was disappointed to see that he did so by citing the proportion of free school meal recipients getting places at Oxford or Cambridge.

He is far from alone in doing this - remember the unseemly row earlier in the year between Ed Balls and Michael Gove on this very point. Not to mention the notorious Laura Spence affair some years ago.

Now I am all for children in receipt of free school meals going to Oxford or Cambridge if they want to study there. What bothers me is the implicit (perhaps unintentional) assumption made by Clegg, Balls and Gove that an Oxbridge place is the only possible measure of academic excellence and that anyone who does not achieve this has either failed in life or been let down by the education system.

However wonderful Oxford and Cambridge may be, they are not necessarily for everyone and students may actually choose to study elsewhere, because of a particular course, or the location or ethos of a particular institution. Some may even, for good reasons, choose not to go on to higher education, however excellent their A-level grades. Making sure that educational opportunities are available for everyone should not just be measured by the admission rates of those on low incomes to just two elite institutions.

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