Away with the 'young fogeys'

14th August 1998 at 01:00
I am a spoilt, largely superficial, naive and patronising snob. Well, that seems to be the stereotypical view of girls who attend single-sex, independent boarding schools. And Cambridge has just indicated that it is trying to become more attractive to the general public as well as to the Government by deciding not to accept so many students from fee-paying schools.

I visited Oxford on a recent open day and finally understood why it has an old-fashioned reputation. I was horrified to see a group of young "fogey types" - I felt as though I'd come across some confused extras off a BBC period drama set, with their modelled waistcoats, tailcoats, spats and bowler hats. I am not averse to eccentricity but I, too, dislike the snobbishness and values that apparently accompany their dress. But a friend reassured me that they were a minority.

Cambridge acknowledges that if it is to retain its position as a university with some of the best minds in Britain, it must appeal to a wider range of people. Its tweedy image puts off many able students from the state sector; it is both unattractive and intimidating to the youth of the Nineties.

However, as a possible Oxbridge candidate, the prospect of positive discrimination in favour of state-school candidates is worrying, especially as the preconceptions about independent schools are not, in my opinion, substantiated. We don't all think that the world revolves around Ascot, garden parties, Philip Treacy hats and mixing with the "right sort" of people. Such generalisations are unjust, as unfair as the assumption that a rich Russian must be a member of the Mafia. It is intensely annoying that some people assume that the 7 per cent of those who attend independent schools are all smug perpetua-tions of the British class system.

As students at Benenden in Kent, my peers and I do not feel that we are superior; we enjoy the benefits of private education and recognise how lucky we are. We recognise the disadvantages of larger class sizes and lack of facilities, and realise that others with the same abilities could be struggling simply because of these factors. The extra tuition and individual attention undoubtedly help to explain why 45 per cent of new students at Cambridge attended fee-paying schools. So while it is true that students do have the advantage if they attend an independent school, it is not one of class or litism but the benefit of an above-average education that should, ideally, be available to everyone.

Should we create another injustice by accepting students from the state sector, even if they are unprepared and show less promise than independent school candidates? Most students who achieve three or more A grades at A-level have been privately educated, and if Cambridge does decide to discriminate it will be at its own expense. According to the students I have met, the magic of Oxbridge is that brains matter, not wealth; the diversity of backgrounds is not an issue. Students themselves are just as eager to see more undergraduates from the state sector as the university administrators - if they are able. I know that if I ever get into Cambridge or Oxford I will avoid the "young fogeys" like the plague.

Kasia Grocholska is a sixth-former at Benenden School, Kent

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