WILBY, Peter. Senior UK journalist's proposal to end British Educational Apartheid

Peter John Wilby (born 7 November 1944) is a UK journalist. with a degree in History from the University of Sussex.  In 1968 he started writing for The Observer in 1968 and was Education Correspondent of the New Statesman in the 1970s and for the Sunday Times in the 1980s. He joined The Independent on Sunday in 1990 and eventually became its editor (1995-96). He  was editor of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005 (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Wilby ).

Peter Wilby presenting a proposal to end Educational Apartheid in the UK (2002): “Fee-charging schools have smaller classes, more highly qualified teachers and better buildings and equipment. They can select out or kick out the dim and the disruptive and can concentrate their efforts on the academic qualifications needed for university entry, without having to worry about the education needed for those who will become carpenters or waiters.

They send dozens of children to Oxford and Cambridge every year and so have the contacts and the experience to guide their charges through interviews and other entry hurdles. The top comprehensives may be able to give a child an excellent chance of an élite university place; the private schools can virtually guarantee it. All else said on the subject is waffle.

As a result, the 7 per cent of children who attend private schools take nearly half the places at Oxford and Cambridge and nearly a third of the places at other élite universities such as Durham, Manchester and Bristol. It is crude educational apartheid and a major obstacle to the equality of opportunity that New Labour says it wants.

The restoration of state grammar schools would makes no difference. The grammar schools flourished 40 years ago, when private schools were still more concerned with social conditioning than academic success. In those days, the private sector was simply not meritocratic in the sense it is today; many schools hardly taught science and they prepared a high proportion of pupils for the armed services or the City, neither of which was interested in degrees.

Now, no matter how much the state schools heed calls to pull their socks up, or acquire fancy new names like beacon schools or city academies or science and technology colleges, or obey ministerial injunctions to abolish mixed-ability teaching classes, they can never compete on equal terms with fee-charging schools…

So what's the answer? There is a very simple one. We change the whole basis of élite university selection. Each year, Oxford and Cambridge between them admit 6,000 UK undergraduates. There are about 6,000 schools and colleges that have young people taking A-levels. The top pupil from each - the one who achieves the best A-level results - should get a place at one of the two universities.

This is a crude version. But we could include Durham, Bristol and some of the London University colleges and select, say, the top half-dozen from each school; this would create enough flexibility to allow for the successful students' different subject preferences. We would have to take some account of the size of school or college. The whole thing would be arbitrary and unfair, but not nearly as arbitrary and unfair as the present system.

Such a scheme would transform both education and society. Why would anybody pay for a private school if it could deliver no more top university places than the local comprehensive?...

I do not claim for this proposal that it would increase social mobility... But at least we would be rid of our vicious educational apartheid.” [1].

[1]. Peter Wilby, “Put an end to educational apartheid”, Guardian, 7 July 2002: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2002/jul/07/schools.publicschools .