Rich selection that is not to everyone's taste

22nd July 2011 at 01:00

In my opinion the Sutton Trust's report fails to take account of the full context of students and higher education progression ("State pupils with right grades miss out on top universities", 8 July).

First, we must bear in mind the highly selective nature of some of the sixth-forms cited in the report. Some select students by GCSE grades (mainly A*As and some Bs), so they start off with the most able young people. School sixth-forms that lose students to these high-achieving colleges have a significantly lower proportion of able students who are likely candidates for Oxbridge.

Also, smaller school sixth-forms attract a proportion of less confident, but academically able students whose personal nature is less gregarious than those who are accepted by Oxbridge. This proportion of students will achieve comparable A-level grades, but to compare these two groups of students by destination is highly unfair on the excellent work of school sixth-forms and the hard work of the young people.

I would also suggest that it is not valid to pluck two grammar schools and compare them without any reference whatsoever to context. Raising aspirations is a crucial part of any school or college's work and many schools are working with first generation HE applicants.

It is also worth remembering that staff at school sixth-forms have the knowledge of young people, their circumstances and their families that keeps a proportion of young people in post-16 education. Some of these may otherwise become Neet (not in employment, education or training) as they may not wish to be part of a larger organisation or ready to seek employment.

It may not be appropriate for these students to progress to post-18 education, which reduces the proportion of students going on to HE. If their school raises their aspirations and they do consider HE, the 30 most selective universities may not be the right choice for them. Given the financial expense, many families favour more local, less selective universities so that the young person may continue to live in the family home.

Furthermore, given the impact of being Neet for any young person, as well as society as a whole, it is worrying that the Sutton Trust is suggesting the Government invest resources tracking and measuring schools against HE destinations at the same time that we are taking away resources from careers-advice service Connexions and damaging its excellent work on tracking and minimising potential Neets.

Paul Hemmings, Deputy headteacher, Hampshire; former sixth-form director, Cambridgeshire.

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