28th September 2018
Daily summary of the latest news and opinions from the world of independent education brought to you by Education Advisers...
Top schools call for end to universities making unconditional offers to students
The heads of Britain’s leading independent schools have urged universities to stop making unconditional offers to pupils amid mounting evidence that they are damaging performance in A levels.
They say that too many pupils are “taking their foot off the gas” when they learn that they do not need to pass their A levels, or even finish their course, to get into university. They are then lumbered with poor grades for the rest of their careers.
The call comes from Mike Buchanan, new executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), the umbrella group for 285 private schools that includes Eton, Marlborough and Westminster.
The number of unconditional offers has risen sharply in recent years, with 23 per cent of pupils now receiving at least one from the universities to which they have applied. In 2013 the figure was 1 per cent.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Buchanan said that unconditional offers were “simply a marketing ploy for universities to fill their places” and that those institutions that offered them widely “risk damaging their reputation”. He said that the offers were only justifiable in a small number of cases, such as for pupils who were so anxious about exams that they risked underperforming, or were so highly motivated that they did not need incentives to work hard.
A total of 67,000 unconditional offers were made to students last year. In 2016 just under 13 per cent of pupils received similar offers. A survey of HMC schools found that half of pupils who received unconditional offers achieved their projected A-level grades. Of those who did not, many missed the target “spectacularly”.
Private schools worried about Labour’s policies on private education, including VAT on fees
Mike Buchanan, also went on to say that the schools were taking seriously the prospect of a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn, with its pledge to introduce VAT on school fees to fund free school meals for primary pupils.
“The reality is that most schools would not be able to absorb those costs into their running, and would have to pass some or all of it on to parents,” he said. “That would drive some parents away and I would suggest that these are precisely the parents politicians don’t wish to be upset. Many floating voters are scrimping and saving to pay the fees.”
VAT on fees would affect thousands of pupils on bursaries and the many programmes that private schools have entered into with academies and other state schools, such as sharing teaching and facilities and, in some cases, sponsoring entire schools.
“Schools would be in a position where they could no longer offer all those bursaries and the partnership work, and they would have to rebalance things,” Mr Buchanan said.
“I understand completely the issue that those sorts of policies are trying to address — the perceived and real unfairness that people of affluence and privilege have in society. But VAT on fees or an end to business rate exemptions are the wrong answer to the right question.”
Buchanan advised independent schools to prepare by “doing some modelling” on the financial impact that this would have on parents and budgets, warning that his own figures suggested VAT would mean many children having to leave their schools.
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