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Keeping the plebs out of top universities

How typical of Society of Heads of Independent Schools chair Philip Cottam to wring his hands over the continuing disgrace of so few young people from poorer backgrounds - and from state schools in general - gaining places at Russell Group universities ("Low offers for state pupils is looking 'from the wrong end", 4 March).

But he lets his real feelings slip when he says it is a "blot" on his otherwise pristine, rolling lawned, nicely coppiced landscape as he views the educational scene from his ivy-framed windows.

In fact, with the recent increase in university tuition fees, it may be even harder to achieve any true proactivity from the universities. At least when the taxpayer was footing the bill we could make stronger representations to vice-chancellors.

We know, yet again, where we stand - keep it difficult, and if that's not enough add some more qualifications (IGCSEs, Pre-U, etc) and ensure those gaining degrees from the top universities come from a narrow slice of society's pie.

In this way, we can hold on to our cherished views about values, standards and traditions and ensure that the great and the good - the policy makers and those who influence them disproportionately, the leaders of our independent schools, and many admissions tutors, too - continue to emerge relatively unscathed from their run-ins with the oiky end of the social spectrum.

Yes, Mr Cottam, it is "like asking an aeronautical engineer to improve the design of an aircraft after the plane has already crashed". That is because we don't ask them to design a different type of aircraft for different types of passenger.

Barry Wratten, Headteacher, Churchill Community Foundation School and Sixth Form Centre, Somerset.

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