Monday, August 30, 2010


Mr X quoted in the report below...
[Mr X] said leading universities should admit bright teenagers from poor homes with lower A-level results than their middle-class peers in an attempt to boost social mobility.

As students across Britain continue to battle for remaining university places, [Mr X] said admissions tutors in subjects such as law and medicine should increasingly judge candidates on their “potential”.

“All of our leading professions are essentially full of people who have [come] from a relatively small number of elite schools into the most competitive universities with three As at A level,” he said. “I want the medical profession and the legal profession to have a diversity of people in them.”

... is:
  1. LibDem
  2. Tory
  3. Labour
  4. the daemon Asteroth, also known as Harriet Harman

Answers in the comments, please. Bonus points if you can tell me a) who it is, and b) how the hell we can hunt these bastards down and finally eradicate them.

Yes, you were correct—and fast!

Mr X is, in fact, Mr David "Two-Brains" Willetts, the Coalition Moron currently in charge of Higher Education, as reported in the Telegraph; the excellent Counting Cats in Zanzibar fillets these ridiculous proposals in more detail.

And they are stupid proposals. But if the universities also think that they are stupid, it's just tough tits—they shouldn't have taken the state shilling in the first place, should they? After all, the state tries to use state provided services to force us what to do and how to live—and we've paid for the bastard services in the first place...

UPDATE: A&E Charge Nurse has weighed in with a comment that I can totally appreciate...
"And they are stupid proposals" - no they're not, Willets is right and YOU are wrong.

Exam results may reflect intelligence, but only in part. The best grades are achieved (in the main) by kids from the better schools with all of the extra curricular support on offer to them (private tutors, laptops, mates with enough house space for them to gather, etc).

Generally these children become much more adept at playing the game, in other words they are better at anticipating which boxes need to be ticked, then ticking them off (with a Ronaldo type wink to Mum or Dad for writing up 50% of their course work).

My oldest starts at Bristol Uni in a few weeks (after a gap year) her sib achieved x3 A's (inc A*) at A-level and is applying to Cambridge - neither are particularly clever but instead reflect the dreadful cynicism that pervades education when enquiring minds are reduced to exam jockeys.

A poor kid living in a dangerous neighbourhood from a single parent family, who achieves Bs or Cs at A-level is just as worthy of a top Uni place as yet another candidate from the middle class production line whose grades are a result of the advantages that the majority of working class children can only dream about.

Until we have a level playing field the self evident situation described by Willetts will continue in perpetuity.

As long-time readers will know, I have little respect for the value of a university education. I did enjoy university, and I did learn the beginnings of my craft there. It was just nothing to do with what I was studying.


Quiet_Man said...


And I'd opt for the Guy Fawkes option, get them en masse

Techno Mystic said...

That is a bit unfair, SimonF.

Universities have always been relaxed about admitting older students because they tend to be more motivated and often bring experience to their studies.

I was a mature student in 1990!

Anyway, agree the answer is 2.

Anonymous said...

Obviously none of the above. Must be Karl Marx "from each according.........."

marksany said...

My son is doing an art degree at a top college, he's from a bog std. comp among kids from Eton.

They have admissions right: Drop off your portfolio, they look at it without knowing who you are, they pick the top x portfolios to fill the course. They neither know nor care who you are, what school you went to or what A levels you have. Just judge by how good the work is, real meritocracy.

Ian E said...

Hi Marksany - sounds good, BUT, as with course-work related stuff, how do they know the supposed artist actually produced the prtfolio. [No aspersion on your son intended, of course.]

subrosa said...

How much more proof of ability do universities need? After all our children (or most of them) are in school for 13 years.

(Desperately trying not to upset the home educators).

Anonymous said...

Willets is wrong, he does not understand what education is about, but then these days neither do teachers. It is about learning to learn and enjoy the process for what it is. University is the pinnacle in the process but not universally necessary. The universities mad a rod for their own backs when they took the governments shilling, they should have remained independant.

assegai mike said...

As a politician, what do you do when the system fails? Cheat the system.

Charge Nurse has a point, up to a point, but can only be solved with cheating. But more importantly, how did things come to this? As I understand it (I don't have figures at my fingertips and am not going to go looking), social mobility was at its max when the grammar school system was its height. But whispering "grammar school" is like saying "apartheid" among our rulers, including the Tories. And their fellow-travellers in the media, unions etc.

The most successful economy in Europe - Germany - still has a system similar to our old Grammar/SecMod system, where sheep are separated from goats at around age 11, the difference being that adjustments can be made subsequently, so failing the 11+ is not a "death sentence". In Germany, trade professions are highly respected and valued. Which country still has a thriving auto industry, and which does not?

All this is such no-brainer stuff, ironic given that Willetts supposedly has two. Cunt.

Anon said...

"I want the medical profession and the legal profession to have a diversity of people in them"

How is this not a stupid proposal, that universities should be aiming to ensure there are 'a diversity of people' in fields, rather than the best people for their fields in each field?

I would think universities would already try and judge people's potential, as opposed to mere thus-far achieved grades. That is quite different from imposing a social-class quota system, as Willetts seems to suggest.

Surely an improvement in the school system is the answer to a&e's concerns, rather than quota-ing social classes?

Willetts approach does also assume that it is money which gives the advantage, which is not always the case. If you have money but a collapsing family/medical problems/terrible school and parents don't want to pay private for you, then you've got disadvantages which will be brushed aside by quota-ing.

MatGB said...

",since foreigners with money short circuit the system,and now surprize, there are fewer places for our own people"


You do know that most universities are reliant on the income from overseas students in order to supplement and subsidise the courses, right?

Without those "foreigners" jumping the queues, the number of places would be reduced even further.

But then, what would I know, I went to one of those communists schools that don't teach confidence and make me into a victim.

Did at least teach me how to construct a coherent sentence and check my facts though. Arsehole.


matgb,although it did not teach you how to be civilised and polite.

removalizer said...

I wouldn't have lasted 5 mins at Uni

Dorabella said...

Sad to see that the A & E Charge Nurse, the scourge of medical bloggers, is promulgating her egalitarian fantasies to a wider audience. We should be engineering equality of opportunity, not trying to impose equality of outcome. And she should not dis her own children's results, which are excellent. I'm sure that, coming from a professional background, they had lots of encouragement and support at home but please, PLEASE don't belittle their achievements. My two middle class children went to the same fee paying middle class school; one got AAAA in A2s and one got BBBC. Am I to say that the one with the AAAA did not deserve them? And why should the one with BBBC not have the same opportunities to go to university as someone with similar grades from a poorer back ground? It's all bollocks. Exam results may not be perfect but they are the best yardstick we have. We should concentrate resources on improving secondary education so that the middle class would not feel the need to decamp to the private sector.

And, finally, distasteful though the nurse may find it, clever parents who earn good salaries tend to have clever children. Why should those clever children be made to apologise for their background?

The reductio ad absurdum of A & E nurse's tattered education philosophy would be the abolition of all exams and allow only for the assessment of "potential" in poorly educated children, many of whom are too thick to go to a real university. David Beckham is a great footballer, but I wouldn't want him to be a surgeon on the basis of someone like the A & E nurse assessing his "potential"

JuliaM said...

"What a bunch of thick bastards, eh?"

'What a bunch of kids failed by the not-fit-for-purpose comprehensive school system and their own parents low expectations, eh?'

Fixed it for you...

the a&e charge nurse said...

"a bunch of kids failed by the not-fit-for-purpose comprehensive school system and their own parents low expectations" - you have (perhaps unwittingly) made my case for me?

If a child from the crap school/disinterested parents cohort attains grade C at A-level, this might actually say more about that child's raw ability than a competitor from a private school with a B?

Devil's Kitchen said...


Quite so. A couple of points...

"And private schools, generally, aren't the preserve of the 'middle' class. Those in the middle would have no way of affording the fees."

There used to be insurance policies, which one could take out, that would pay the majority of the fees. This is how my father afforded my school fees: by paying into an insurance pot every year after I was born.

These policies were abolished (or made unaffordable) by, as I recall, one Kenneth Clarke...

"What do we do with the kids at poor schools, with low expectation parents, who're smarter but less likely to get straight A than someone at an expensive private school, which, if it's worth the money, is going to get even the thickest of kids a good set of grades?"

A small point but, as I have consistently pointed out, a good deal of the value in private schools is the facilities and opportunities that they provide outwith the classroom.

Because they are selective, they tend to have pretty clever people in them anyway, and the school would have to be bloody appalling not to get good results with better material.

One of the severe problems in the state sector is discipline—something needs to be done about this, and (as in many things) the state seems to be unwilling or uniquely unable to do anything about this.


the a&e charge nurse said...

Oh dear, anonymous (11:45) you will have to do better than a cheap Gruniard slur - this problem goes way beyond Islington's chatterati?

Perhaps a useful starting point is the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, "Widening participation in higher education"
Fourth Report of Session 2008–09

This paper highlights many of the issues being discussed on this thread.

I have made a few basic observations the substance of which can hardly be disputed?
To recap, these are;
*competition in the classroom is wildly unequal in British schools yet Uni's base selection procedures on a single endpoint (A-level results) - this is obviously unfair.
*the upper social groups are over-represented at the better Uni's (in much the same way that there used to be male-female bias, or white-black bias). This difference is largely a cultural artifact rather than measure of intelligence.
*the groups that benefit most from these arrangements are also the rule setters, so have very little incentive to change the status quo (especially since the very same groups are most likely to be rewarded in the job market later on).

Middle class children may suffer in a number of ways (such as having to endure an older generation i-pod) but denial of opportunity in the sphere of education, when compared to working class counterparts, is not something they will have to lose sleep over any time soon?

Anonymous said...


“Oh dear, anonymous (11:45) you will have to do better than a cheap Gruniard slur” – ok fair enough – I accept the Guardian jibe was below the belt and acknowledge that at least you do try to back up your points with facts.

“this problem goes way beyond Islington's chatterati?” – yes, indeed it does. The fact that there are children who are not achieving their potential is an extremely important point, and one that I have not at any time sought to deny. From a purely “economic” point of view, this country needs as much talent as it can get, from all backgrounds. From a “moral” point of view, it is surely a source of shame that a country as prosperous as ours has so many children that fail to achieve their full potential through no fault of their own.

Where I have a disagreement with you is that I think it neither reasonable nor helpful to stereotype children because of their background (“yet another candidate from the middle class production ..”, “sphere dominated by an unusually high quota of mildly autistic toffs”, “endure an older generation i-pod”) and use that as an excuse to deny them the chance of fulfilling their potential. I equally find it distasteful to imply that children from less well off backgrounds might be considered to be “thick bastards” (and yes, I do appreciate you meant that sarcastically, but there will be some who do subscribe to that view).

You see, this is the thing for me, it is all about giving children, all children, the chance to fulfil their potential. Applying quotas to university places doesn’t address the underlying problem which seems to be accepted on this thread of low expectations and poor schools.

How to address low expectation? I suspect there is nothing that can be done directly. My own view is that having children educated in an environment which encourages aspiration can go a long way to making good parental short comings. I certainly don’t subscribe to Polly Toynbee’s view that children should have their expectations tempered.

How to address poor schools then? There have been a number of suggestions put forward ranging from academies, school vouchers, free schools etc. I don’t know how effective these will be but surely they can’t be any worse than the quality provided by the state. Yes, it will take time for the effects to be felt and there is the question of how to deal with the problem in the meantime. I can see the argument put forward elsewhere, in the short term, for perhaps a quota approach to allocating university places. However, in the absence of an accompanying fundamental change in who has the power to provide education, such quotas will only serve to satisfy the guilt of “Islington's chatterati”.

Devil's Kitchen said...

A Modest Proposal

Given that we all seem to be in agreement that the poor academic (and other) results of children seem to be, in large part, dictated by the quality of their upbringing, I would like to put forward a modest proposal...

That the parents of any child that does not achieve at least three Bs at GCSE level should be heavily fined.

In fact, let us go further: I propose that the parents of said children be made to repay all monies given to them by the state, and be forced to pay for all and any benefits that would otherwise accrue to the child, e.g. unemployment benefit, etc.

I feel that this is the only moral proposal: we, as a society, pay parents (in Child Tax Credits, Child Benefit, and in the Education budget) to bring up their child in a way that our society approves of, i.e. as healthy, normative and well-adjusted people.

The parents have signally failed to do this and, as such, should be made to repay all monies paid to them for this purpose.

That should focus minds somewhat...


matgb said...

What a horribly illiberal idea. You'll be suggesting we eat babies next ;-)

(and I really hate Blogger now they log me out of comments constantly, really pisses me off...and there's no verification showing, FFS, DK, switch to a semi-decent platform? I don't know if they've fixed the problems you had with WP, but it has to be better than this shite)

Miss Snuffleupagus said...

DK - Your modest proposal, forgive me, is insane. Some classrooms are so chaotic that no amount of threats to both child and parent would make any difference to the learning which is not taking place. Not only that, but there are a number of children out there who could not possibly get 3 B grades at GCSE. I know this may sound ludicrous to you and your readers but you don't know the people I know. You only write about them as if you do.

A&E is right in many ways but the fundamental mistake you all make is in thinking that raw ability is something you are born with and remain with forever. So if you're clever, have crap parents and went to a crap school, you should be allowed to do medicine because you're clever (it is simply not represented in your grades). But what you all don't see is that intelligence is in part the spark, the natural ability of which you speak. But it is also GROOMED through years of listening and learning from teachers, ticking those boxes and learning from those lessons. When you do not get the opportunity to do this, (because of the unequal nature of our society), the growth of your intelligence is literally stunted.

So by the time you reach 18, you are not as clever as you would have been had you been educated and brought up elsewhere.

And while it might be unfair to deny such individuals top positions in society, one must ask oneself, who would you rather was doing your surgery? The clever one? Or the one who might have been clever, had he had a different childhood?

I know which one I would choose....

FlipC said...

Excellent idea DK that'll teach them for being poor and having dim children; perhaps they'll produce some more intelligent offspring next time what.

As a bonus we gain a large uneducated labour force we can hire and fire at will. Entrepreneurs could set up workshops and take back some of that labour that's been outsourced to China.

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