Thursday, August 19, 2010

Too many middle class students at university, says British Liberal leader

Upbringing blamed. Must not mention the role of IQ or genetics. Brains help you to get rich and you pass on your higher IQ to your children genetically -- so kids from affluent backgrounds are more likely to be born smart and thus do well in education. There will ALWAYS be a class gap in educational achievement and ignoring that is pissing into the wind

Nick Clegg attacked middle class dominance of university places yesterday, denouncing what he called 'educational apartheid' on the eve of the A-level results.

The privately educated Deputy Prime Minister revived memories of Labour's war on the middle class by complaining that the huge increase in the number going to university has done nothing to improve social mobility.

Mr Clegg used a speech on improving the life chances of the poor to point out that the vast majority of new university entrants have been students from affluent homes. The LibDem leader, who says he benefited from a 'very lucky upbringing' and education at the exclusive Westminster public school and Cambridge University, said that 'a disproportionate number of university students come from the middle and upper classes'.

With up to 160,000 pupils, who get their A-Level results today, expected to fail to win a university place, Mr Clegg suggested that the vast expansion of university spaces over the last 20 years may not have been a good thing. The number of students attending university has gone from 15 per cent of school leavers at the start of the 1990s to 40 per cent now. At one stage, Labour's target was for 50 per cent of all 18-year-olds to attend university.

But Mr Clegg said: 'There is evidence that - contrary to expectations - increased levels of attendance at university have not translated into higher levels of social mobility. 'This is why I feel so passionately that we need to attack the educational apartheid that currently exists between vocational and academic learning.'

His comments were reminiscent of Gordon Brown's outspoken attack on Oxford University after it rejected straight-A comprehensive school pupil Laura Spence ten years ago. The then Chancellor's comments backfired when it turned out that the admissions department in question had an impeccable record of admitting talented students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Mr Clegg used a speech to the think tank Centre Forum to blame middle class dominance of the universities and 'closed professions' such as medicine, the law, politics and the media for a decline in social mobility under Labour.

But the Deputy Prime Minister did admit that he might not be where he is today without such a privileged upbringing. He said 'the evidence is absolutely overwhelming' that the circumstances of your birth determine your opportunities in life.

Mr Clegg said that good parenting is more important than poverty in determining life chances. He suggested government should look at encouraging parents to help their children with their education. 'Parents are in the frontline when it comes to creating a fairer society, in the way that they raise their children,' he said.

'According to one study, the amount of interest shown by a parent in their child's education is four times more important than socioeconomic background in explaining education outcomes at age 16.

'This is not an area where the state can simply pull a lever or two and put things right. These are also potentially perilous waters for politicians. But at the same time we must not remain silent on what is an enormously important issue. 'Parents hold the fortunes of the children they bring into this world in their hands.'

Mr Clegg is to run a Government campaign to improve social mobility to try to persuade voters that the coalition 'is about much more than cuts'. He also confirmed the appointment of former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Milburn as a 'social mobility tsar', reporting to Parliament on whether the Government is helping the less well off get on in life.


Graduating no longer guarantees a promising career

Comment from Wales

The results are in and the clearing process is well under way. As A-level students up and down the country plan their next step into higher education, record numbers face a desperate scramble for university places. But with spiralling costs and unprecedented competition, Gareth Evans asks whether the stresses and strains are really worth it?

TODAY marks the dawn of a new era for thousands of students across Wales, but what happens next is by no means certain. Record numbers are expected to be disappointed and could need to look elsewhere. Fortunately, scoring a degree is not the only key to being successful. Music mogul Simon Cowell left school with no qualifications and Sir Richard Branson ducked out at 16 to launch a magazine. A limited education has done neither particularly badly, and starting work in your teens has never been so appealing.

University vice-chancellors are this year expecting fewer places, despite a UK Government pledge to increase numbers by 10,000.

Society is changing at an alarming pace and higher education is undoubtedly the 21st century norm. But the phenomenal rise in demand, triggered by a debated rise in standards, is in danger of bringing the system to an abrupt halt. The number of students predicted to lose out this year could be as high as 200,000 following an increase in applications of more than 11%.

Knuckling down and working hard no longer guarantees progress, as it might have done 30 years ago. The reality is that highly-motivated and qualified learners are now commonplace and still struggling to find work years after graduating.

A university degree, in all its different guises, is not as saleable as it once was – and anything less than a 2:1 is regularly frowned upon.

Those lucky enough to progress into higher education are met with a wealth of options, from the traditional to the outright bizarre. There is literally something for everyone in institutions the length and breadth of the land. Selection is crucial and the likelihood of future employment must be weighed against short-term credibility and enjoyment.

Some qualifications, so narrow and niche, confine their reader to incredibly limited opportunities. There are only so many forensic experts and sports scientists in the world and vacancies are scarce.

But university is as much about social mobility and “finding oneself” as it is classroom learning. The pressures of settling down in a new town or city cannot be underestimated as young learners evolve into young adults in a little under three years. But is a crash-course in life skills and the headache of a highly-competitive jobs market really worth the predicted £25,000 debt?

According to the results of this week’s Push Student Debt survey, UK undergraduates now owe on average £5,600 for each year of study. Fees have gone up, the cost of living has spiralled and the “bank of mum and dad” is running dry after the recession. Average debt for students at university in Wales is, at £6,411, considerably greater than anywhere else.

UK Universities Minister David Willetts provided hope this week, declaring: “Graduates on average have better employment prospects and can expect to earn at least £100,000 net of tax, more than non-graduates across their working lives.”

But, as defiant NUS Wales president Katie Dalton has warned: “The governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay need to ensure that they are taking action to provide young people with education, employment and training opportunities and do not relegate a generation of young people to the dole queue.”

The conundrum is clear for all to see and the plethora of recent university-fuelled press coverage has thrown up few surprises.

Government plans to scrap the fixed retirement age has not helped, with new workers hindered by older staff wanting to stay in employment beyond their 65th year.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) this year saw a 63% rise in applications from the over-25s. Chief executive Mary Curnock Cook told the Western Mail: “More young people are doing well in their studies and, faced with a difficult job market, older applicants feel that they need better qualifications.”

Thousands of school-leavers facing disappointment in this week’s clearing crisis are preparing themselves for a stressful scramble.

But studying part-time or at home is a viable option, with the Open University in Wales reporting a 45% increase in 18 to 24-year-olds choosing from its range of 600 qualifications. Traditionally the domain of the mature student, the OU is attracting a new generation of learners warned away from the bright lights of live-in university.

Last week, the principal of a Cambridge college said the academic gap between school and university was widening, partly because the attention spans of students had been shortened by “bite-sized” A-levels.

A major international study is due to be launched by England’s exams watchdog Ofqual to check whether the country’s A-levels are as testing as their global equivalents.

Just when you thought the outlook could not get any bleaker, research published this week revealed the risk of a teenager dropping out of school, training and work has risen by 40% since the start of the recession. Just over 9% of young people with Level 3 qualifications, which include A-levels, were classed as NEET – not in education, employment or training – in the second quarter of 2010, up from 6.4% in the first quarter of 2008.

But the analysis of the Labour Force Survey, conducted by the ippr think-tank and the Private Equity Foundation, revealed young people who left school with no qualifications were the most at risk of dropping out of education and work.

Lisa Harker, co-director of the ippr, said: “While it is true that those with A-levels and degrees have seen their risk of becoming NEET increase the fastest, they remain much better protected than young people who have no qualifications, and they are likely to do better when the economy recovers.”


GA: Parents applaud Governor Sonny Perdue for his crackdown on test-cheating

Teachers and school officials at the minimum condoned it by their inaction, and may also have been actively involved

Like many parents in Atlanta, Governor Sonny Perdue has had enough. In a surprise statement today, the governor said that he’s cracking down on alleged CRCT cheating and the state Board of Education. So much so that Governor Perdue has appointed a special investigator with subpoena powers to get to the bottom of the CRCT cheating issue. "If the results warrant, they also will be forwarded to law enforcement for possible criminal investigation," the governor told the Board of Education.

He also said that it’s a sad day because the Board of Education was unable to clear up the CRCT mess on its own. "I know you share my deep disappointment with the results. To this day, we still have not gotten to the bottom of what was revealed in the 2009 CRCT results," Perdue told the board.

Once excessive erasures were discovered, the individual school systems were allowed the opportunity to look into the issues. According to Governor Perdue, the individual investigations were “woefully inadequate, both in scope and depth.” The head of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement reported major problems with the investigations, stating that the staff at six of the schools targeted with cheating problems wouldn’t cooperate with the investigation.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Atlanta schools spokesman Keith Bromery said, "APS welcomes the Governor’s call for a special investigator to look into this matter, and the district will fully cooperate with all aspects of that investigation."

What? Why are the school systems so ready to “cooperate fully” when they did not do so in the first place? If they had, Governor Perdue would never had to launch a separate investigation. Jeers to you, school officials. And cheers to you, Governor Sonny Perdue. Parents in Atlanta applaud your efforts to stand up to the systems that refuse to get to the bottom of the on-going matter.

Cheating should not be tolerated on any level at any time, but especially as it relates to our children and the annual Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. It seems that cheating issues have been reported the last few years, and it’s time for it to stop. Good for you, Sonny Perdue. You have the support of parents.

The same can’t be said of Atlanta Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall. Although she has accepted full responsibility for the cheating scandal and calls it “a painful chapter in our history,” her actions don’t reflect her words. It may be a little too late for Beverly Hall to save face with parents and school administrators. Is it time for Hall to step down and bring in a fresh new face to move forward in a new direction? This parent certainly thinks so.


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