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 Post subject: An interesting debate
PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 12:48 pm 
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I've spent a very interesting morning at an education conference. By sheer coincidence, and not my purpose for attending, the first session was a Higher Education Policy Institute debate:

"This house believes that academic selection is wrong at 11, and still wrong at 18."

The two panellists arguing for the motion (Chief Executive of the RSA and the former editor of Schools Week) were well-prepared, drawing on research findings and statistical data. The two arguing against the motion (a retired grammar school head and a LA cabinet member for education), were less impressive. In fact, after their opening five minute speeches were over, the first audience question was "Is this meant to be a debate because I don't think we've heard a solid pro-selection argument yet?"

The retired HT's central arguments were anecdotal, drawing on stories of student mobility among his former students in Birmingham, some of which were impressive. He conceded that whilst ideologically in favour of selection, he could not defend the current systems in place around the country.

The LA cabinet member's speech was in all honesty, an absolute car-crash. He went last and tried to address some of the points made by the previous speakers among his prepared points but all he could revert to was anecdotal stories - chiefly his own - to back up his view. Even as someone opposed to his views, I felt there was an opportunity lost to properly debate the points because he and the retired HT offered so little in the way of anything to grasp and run with. In fact, my favourite quote from the member was, and I am quoting him directly here, "Children need to be taught in different ways, from nurturing to hothousing." There was murmuring and genuine disbelief among all sides that he actually said that!

The show of hands among the audience at the end was in favour of the motion, with noticeably more abstentions than there were at the start, including, notably, the retired HT employed to contest the motion! What was unanimous among the panellists and seemingly much of the audience was that the current methods of selection are broken. In fact, it seemed to me to reflect the prevailing views on here, where anecdotes and gut feelings are pitted against research and data, but that most posters seem to have common ground in their criticism of selection methods.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 1:22 pm 
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What did they say about selection at 18? It seems strange to bundle the two ages together.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 1:26 pm 
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sportsforall wrote:
What did they say about selection at 18? It seems strange to bundle the two ages together.

The debate majored on 11+ selection, such was the nature of the panelists, but they did touch upon the merits (and problems) of selection at 18+. The main thrust of that part of the debate was the futility of selecting on very narrow academic grounds rather than looking more widely at the applicants' backgrounds, skills and distance travelled. There was a lot of criticism of universities paying lip service to widening participation but being happy to bank the funding associated with it.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2018 11:48 am 
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sportsforall wrote:
What did they say about selection at 18? It seems strange to bundle the two ages together.


I agree that its strange and just confuses the 11+ argument. How could you possibly not have academic selection at 18 for universities? Would it mean that 18 year olds who lived in Oxford and Cambridge would automatically get selected for the universities in those towns ahead of people from other areas of the country regardless of GCSE and A level grades?


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2018 12:07 pm 
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Surferfish wrote:
I agree that its strange and just confuses the 11+ argument. How could you possibly not have academic selection at 18 for universities? Would it mean that 18 year olds who lived in Oxford and Cambridge would automatically get selected for the universities in those towns ahead of people from other areas of the country regardless of GCSE and A level grades?

I think the 18+ selection bit was bolted on to the debate as a nod to the fact that the conference was an HE event. I don't think what you're suggesting was the thrust of the argument or a proposed solution. It was more about considering the wider merits of applicants beyond just A level grades. To an extent, many universities do that, but one argument was that it should be extended, the opposing argument being that it should be solely on academic results if universities and their degrees are to uphold their status.

My daughter applied to Oxford, had an interview but didn't get an offer. Her first choice university has a tougher grade requirement than Oxford would have asked of her. She realised that whilst she may go on and attain, or perhaps even exceed what Oxford would have asked for had they offered, she is not the right type of student for them. She has two exceptionally academic friends who also didn't get offers from Oxford in one case and Cambridge in another, even though those friends are highly likely to attain 4 A*s this summer. That seems a reasonable approach to me because Oxford and Cambridge have clearly taken other things into consideration beyond purely A level grade predictions.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2018 1:24 pm 
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I wonder whether the situation in French universities was also considered in proposing the topic. Although the article this links to is a 2015 Independent story I think current efforts to reform the sector are causing consternation.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/worl ... 17241.html

"French universities crisis: Low fees and selection lotteries create headaches in higher education

Welcome to the bear-pit of the French university system. There is almost no selection; fees are minimal; classes are gigantic; and the first year failure rate is five times higher than in Britain"

"French universities overturn selection taboo

Measures taken to target high dropout rate could make universities more attractive to domestic and international students" Nov 7, 2017 Times Higher Education

"The shadow of ’68
Why French students are protesting again" 3 May 2018 Economist
https://www.economist.com/europe/2018/0 ... ting-again

Edited to include article headlines


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