Oxford University condemns ministers' call to open schools as 'insulting' to teachers

22nd September 2016 at 12:10
Oxford rules out school plan
Vice-chancellor says that signing up to Theresa May's plan for universities to set up schools would be a 'distraction' from its 'core mission'

The University of Oxford will not take part in government plans for leading higher education instutitions to set up schools, its vice-chancellor has said.

Oxford, ranked number one in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, is "very good" at running a university but has "no experience" of running a school, Professor Louise Richardson said this morning.

“I think there are many wonderful teachers and headteachers throughout the country and I think it’s frankly insulting to them to suggest that a university can come in and do what they are working very hard to do and, in many cases, doing exceptionally well,” the vice chancellor added.

“We have no experience in running schools, so I think it would be a distraction.”

Professor Richardson said she was "deeply sympathetic" with the aim of improving social mobility through education. "But the idea of setting up a local feeder school – we are a global institution," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What we do best is run a university," she said. "It would be a distraction from our core mission, yes."

The government's education Green Paper set out plans to encourage high-performing schools and universities to "improve the quality of school places in the mainstream state sector".

'Divisive education policies'

In some cases, this would be a requirement for universities planning to charge higher fees, the paper suggests.

The paper states: "Universities are often criticised for charging higher tuition fees without widening access to lower income students, but they have little direct control over the main driver of better access: students’ school-level attainment.

"We believe universities have a greater and more direct role to play in improving school quality and pupil attainment."

It highlights the "outstanding" results of King’s College London's specialist sixth-form college, the King’s College London Mathematics School. This August, all of its students received an A* or A grade in maths, with  83 per cent gaining an A*.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: "This is an embarrassing rebuke for Theresa May, whose education policies are falling apart at the seams.

“Her plans for new grammar schools have been universally panned by experts, and now the vice-chancellor of the world’s best university casts doubt on the suitability of universities opening schools.

“The prime minister urgently needs to get back to the drawing board as it's clear she is quickly running out of any support for her divisive education policies."

Earlier this month, the University of Oxford was part of a coalition that spoke out against the government's plans to expand the provision of grammar schools.

The Fair Education Alliance said the plans, also contained in the green paper, would leave too many children with a "second-rate" education.

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