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An education system that fails its students


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Almost a quarter of England's sixth forms and colleges did not produce any pupils with A-level grades sought by the leading universities, highlighting the disparity within the education system.

What is concerning, albeit not surprising, is that fee-paying, selective independent and grammar schools have managed to perform academically well yet some community schools, sponsored academics and sixth form colleges, often in deprived areas, have failed to get their students the results needed. 

The latest official government data on pupils’ academic achievement shows that 23.4% of schools had no pupils with two As and a B in the subjects needed for top degree courses.

Furthermore, data showed that 215 schools missed the government target of 40% of pupils obtaining five A*-C GCSEs.

Perhaps the disparity in the education system is reflected in university's role within class consciousness. Students from wealthy or middle-class backgrounds may view university as a tool to acquire skills or even a rite of passage. But students with family backgrounds in industrial labour or similar sectors may not view higher education as a necessity to enter the fields of work that they have been brought up around. It is a school's job to demonstrate that there are other options, if students wish for them.

The government has attempted to channel the disparity, with Education Minister David Willetts recently stating that white working class boys should be targeted for university recruitment in same way as ethnic minorities. After witnessing a vast decline in applications from men for courses, Willetts argues that white working class males should be placed in the same disadvantaged category as ethnic minorities and should be targeted to be recruited from universities.

But rather than addressing the problem of under-achievement at university recruitment level, what the government really needs to do is challenge the perception of university being something that 'isn't for them' that exists in some sections of the schooling system. 

In 2013 (tuition fee debate aside) we have a higher education system that should be available for everyone who wants it. Obviously, not every pupils will leave sixth form with a string of A*s. But when one in four schools do not produce any students at all with top grades, whilst others sweep the board with acceptances at Oxbridge and other top institutions, the class system in place at both school and university level is scarily visible. 

What needs to be stressed to students at low-performing schools in deprived areas of the UK, who arguably are at risk of not being inspired enough by their education to see it as something that they would like to pursue, is that a university degree can be something more than just a privilege of the middle classes. The only way that this can be done is from the ground up - by making education something that is valued in every institution, thus raising the expectations of pupils, teachers and families. 

It is the whole purpose of a schooling system to educate students to such an extent that they can make their own choices - whether they want to follow the same career paths as their families or not. Failing to provide a education that can qualify them for the top universities whatever their background means that schools are taking away this choice. 

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