Monday, August 10, 2009

Britain's class war still roaring

Leftist government to favour poor pupils in university admissions. Admissions to be based on parental income rather than on academic achievement!

Lord Mandelson is drawing up plans to overhaul university entry that could see applicants from poor families awarded a two-grade “head start” over better-off candidates. One of the effects would be to “bump out” many middle-class candidates at high-performing independent and grammar schools from popular courses at leading universities.

Mandelson, the first secretary of state, has told his officials to report back to him on schemes run by Leeds University and two London medical schools that give lower A-level offers to candidates from disadvantaged families. He sees such changes not as positive discrimination but as a policy at the heart of Labour’s drive to improve social mobility in Britain.

He does not have the power to force the universities to change their admissions policies, but official guidance would raise the pressure on them to widen access.

Mandelson’s spokesman said officials had approached universities in response to the first secretary’s “impatient instructions”. Mandelson has told them to report back ahead of this autumn’s “framework” for higher education, which may include the schemes as models of best practice.

Independent schools are wary. Tim Hands, master of Magdalen college school, Oxford, and co-chairman of the main independent schools’ universities committee, said education should be an “engine of social mobility”, but warned: “If Mandelson is proposing to exert political pressure on university admissions and if he is going to be discriminating by type generically, everyone should be opposed.”

As pupils await their A-level results on August 20, the gulf between independent and state schools will be highlighted this week by a report from Mandelson’s department and the Sutton Trust social mobility charity. It will show that privately educated pupils are far more likely to apply to leading universities than equally qualified comprehensive school pupils.

Mandelson is acting on the recent report by Alan Milburn, the former health secretary, to weaken the middle-class grip on professional jobs. In a speech two weeks ago, Mandelson warned that he was going to “turn up the spotlight” on university admissions, particularly at Cambridge, Oxford and other highly ranked institutions. “Why are we still making only limited progress in widening access to young people from poorer backgrounds?” he asked. [Because of your own "sink" secondary schools, buster!]

Kenton Lewis, head of widening participation at St George’s medical school, London, said: “We are involved in discussions with the Department for Business. [National] guidance on how differential grades could be employed would be extremely positive. It is my understanding they [are favourable to it].” St George’s programme has helped it to raise the proportion of its students coming from state schools from 48% to 71.2% since 1997. “St George’s can do it. Why can’t everyone else?” said one official involved in the discussions.

The standard offer for medicine courses is three As at A-level, but candidates can receive offers of two Bs and a C if they outperform their school average by 60%. This favours bright pupils at low-performing schools. “Treating everyone the same way is not appropriate and not equitable,” said Lewis. “It is far more important to consider the context in which someone has achieved their qualifications.”

A scheme at King’s College London adds a catch-up year to its medicine programme for 50 low-income comprehensive pupils admitted annually from London and Kent on reduced A-level offers.

At Leeds, the third scheme, application forms will be automatically flagged from this autumn if they come from postcodes where few people go to university or from schools where fewer than 45% of pupils score five good GCSEs. Under the scheme, which is already in operation for comprehensive applicants from Yorkshire, successful candidates whose forms have been flagged up will be eligible for offers of two grades below the standard — for example, ABB rather than AAA — as long as they pass an introductory course at the university.

Leeds, where about 27% of students were privately educated, aims ultimately to recruit about 300 undergraduates a year through its special access programme, 5% of the university’s British intake. It said: “We are proud of our access scheme, which has helped to identify bright youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds who have successfully completed their studies — doing as well as, if not better than, their peers.”

King’s and St George’s also said that candidates entering through these routes did at least as well as those admitted by traditional methods.


British Universities close courses to British pupils

Up to 40,000 Britons will not get places but overseas students are still welcome

LEADING universities have closed their doors to well-qualified British applicants while recruiting heavily from overseas candidates paying up to £15,000 a year. Institutions including Bristol, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Surrey are exploiting a government policy which puts no restrictions on the lucrative international student market, while imposing strict caps on British numbers.

The situation will be exacerbated by clearing, the last-minute scramble for degree places that follows next week’s A-level results. There has been a surge of 9.7% in university applications, partly from school-leavers wanting to delay going into the labour market during the recession. But despite Labour falling about 7% short of Tony Blair’s target of half of young people going to university by 2010, the government has refused to fund enough places to take the extra applicants. Even after clearing, some 20,000-40,000 are expected to be left with no place at all this autumn. Meanwhile, universities will be allowed to advertise places in clearing as being available only to non-European Union students, compounding the frustration for British applicants.

“The brutal fact is that foreign students bring in much more money than British ones — that is exactly why the government needs to reform the system,” said David Willetts, the shadow universities secretary. “We are going to have large numbers of British students with good A-levels who can’t get a place even while they are recruiting more from abroad than ever.”

In addition to recruiting foreign students in clearing, universities court those who contact them directly for advice. Last week, Sunday Times reporters posing as foreign applicants or teachers at overseas schools phoned admissions staff at dozens of institutions in the Russell Group and 1994 Group of top research-based universities. Admissions staff at nine said they were closed to applications from Britain but would welcome those from abroad.

A staff member at Bristol’s chemistry department, where non-EU students pay £14,750 a year compared with the £3,225 charged to British and EU undergraduates, told a reporter posing as a representative of a foreign school: “Let’s be perfectly frank about it. For overseas students, the university will bend over backwards because they are paying astronomical fees.”

At Nottingham, an official in biology said the course would be entering clearing “potentially for international”, but for home or EU students — “no places for those, unfortunately”. At Cardiff, a member of the maths staff said: “There’s a cap for home students and we’re full up ... but we’d be interested in international for sure.” Staff on other courses said they were in a similar position, including English and physics at Bristol; law and management at Leeds; nine different subjects at Edinburgh; history at Sheffield; English at Newcastle; economics at Manchester and psychology at Surrey.

While many universities created since 1992 are growing, older ones are freezing or cutting numbers of British students. University College London has completed this year’s recruitment, but plans by 2012 to cut UK undergraduates by about 600 and replace them with undergraduates and postgraduates from outside the EU. This is to improve its finances and become more international. Surrey has introduced a similar policy on a smaller scale.

Divya Pathak, 18, daughter of a teacher and an accountant from Hounslow, west London, is among British students frustrated by the system. Pathak, a former pupil at Heston community school, is planning a gap year after rejection by all her chosen universities — King’s College London, Queen Mary, Cardiff and Sheffield — to study dentistry. This was despite being predicted three As and a B at A-level. “My form tutor tried to discourage me and said it was difficult to get in, but I’ve wanted to be a dentist pretty much all my life.” Pathak said it was “pretty unfair” overseas students were still able to find places while those for British applicants were so squeezed.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said: “I understand it is frustrating, but overseas students make up only around 10% of total numbers.”

Universities contacted this weekend said while they understood some applicants were frustrated, they were acting in accordance with rules that impose penalties for exceeding quotas on UK students but place no curbs on overseas numbers. Several, including Bristol, said they had not finalised this year’s clearing policy.


Texas: Advocates for gifted students want teachers to have more specialized training

High IQ kids need high IQ teachers so finding the right teacher is not in principle difficult but is no doubt politically difficult

Identifying teachers who are best qualified to teach our brightest children is not an easy task. And, advocates for gifted students say, it's getting harder. Enrollments are dwindling in graduate education programs that focus on training teachers to work with gifted students. The state doesn't require the programs, few school districts pay teachers to take them, and teachers who get the training generally are not paid higher salaries.

That leaves gifted students – those with higher-than-normal intelligence who are particularly motivated – in classes with teachers who may have little training in their special needs. "Gifted students are the only special population in the state that doesn't require a special certification to teach," said Kathy Hargrove, director of the Gifted Students Institute at SMU. Teachers must be specially certified to teach disabled students or bilingual education, but no special credentials are needed to teach gifted students, Hargrove said.

The Texas Education Agency is working on a new plan for gifted education, said Kelly Callaway, who oversees gifted education for the TEA. But it will not change certification requirements as many advocates for gifted students had hoped. The state requires teachers of gifted students to have 30 hours of classroom instruction, which amounts to fewer total hours than one college class. They also must have six hours of additional training each year.

Hargrove argues that's insufficient for teachers to learn how to educate gifted students. Gifted students need to move at a faster pace than others and need more in-depth information, she said. Many also have special emotional needs as well.

Many graduate programs specializing in gifted student teaching require four to six college classes and, in some cases, an internship. "The biggest argument for graduate classes is it's over time," Hargrove said. "With classes, there is time for interaction. Time for teachers to talk to each other and with the instructor. Time to exchange ideas and practices." Hargrove said it is getting harder to find students for the graduate programs. Similar programs in the state have reported the same.

At the University of North Texas, however, enrollment in graduate gifted classes is picking up, said Michael Sayler, who oversees the program. Applications there are up 50 percent over last year. But most of the students take the classes online, so teachers are from around the state, the country and even other countries. Sayler said the graduate classes are important not only in providing practical teaching methods but in explaining the special needs of gifted students.

He said there is a myth that gifted students can take care of themselves and that they will thrive no matter what. But there is a difference between "gifted and talented" and "gifted and thriving." It's like a child who has slightly bad eyesight and then gets glasses, Sayler said: "They may have done OK, but they missed a lot."

Ann Poore, principal at Garland's Austin Academy for Excellence, the district's magnet school for gifted seventh- and eighth-graders, said she values training and education, but really is looking for great teachers no matter the certification. Given two teachers, one with graduate hours and the other with the standard training, she said she would hire "the one who was most engaging and most dynamic. The one who had the ideas to best present science or math."

The state has little involvement with the gifted programs, Callaway of the TEA said. Districts evaluate their own programs so there is little comparable data for research.

While it was not required, until 2005 teachers were only considered "certified" to teach gifted students if they had the graduate hours. Some districts required the graduate endorsement. Then the state started offering certification by a multiple-choice test, as they do in most areas.

Gifted certification is as muddy in other parts of the country as it is in Texas, said Jane Clarenbach with the National Association for Gifted Children. The organization surveyed the states two years ago and 42 responded. A little over half of the survey respondents said they do not require certification. Texas said it considers the 30 hours of continuing education as certification.

Hargrove said she hates to see gifted students being taught by less than highly trained teachers. "These kids need as much expertise as they can get," she said.


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