I was simply staggered to read this in morning’s papers that the Chief Executive of UCAS Mary Curnock Cook had claimed that state schools prepare their pupils better for ‘jobs in the new economy’ than independent schools do.
Quite apart from anything else, this is the head of the university admissions service who is saying this, displaying the kind of positive discrimination I talked about just a few weeks ago when I raised the subject of problems in the UCAS system for independent school pupils. At that point, I spoke to the Sunday Telegraph about what I saw as a problem in the system at admissions level when universities were discriminating against privately educated pupils. I suggested the whole system should become anonymous and, in doing so, I ruffled a few feathers on both sides of the school divide!

Call me old-fashioned but shouldn’t Ms Curnock Cook’s primary role be to ensure the university admissions service is fit for purpose, not analysing statistics on which subjects students go on to study and where they went to school and then making wild generalisations about a whole swathe of this country’s students?

Ms Curnock Cook claims just 13 per cent of privately educated university entrants studied ‘new economy subjects’ such as biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, cinematics and creative art and design while 26 per cent of state sector pupils studied them.

Whether or not these figures are correct and over what period of time they cover, I don’t know, but what I do know is that it seems Ms Curnock Cook is of the opinion that these so-called ‘new economy’ subjects are somehow better than other subjects and therefore pupils should be studying them, and not to do so is a sign of failure.

Surely, we are here to encourage our children – wherever they go to school – to choose and study the subjects they have a talent for and to use their time at university as a preparation for life beyond.

Unless you study a specific vocational subject – and many children are simply not ready to make such a narrow decision at 18 – an academic degree, of whatever discipline has always been a sign to a potential employer that a student can apply themselves and develop the skills to analyse information and present it accordingly, hopefully with some defined thinking and creative skills!

 And these days – as we were reminded the other day – our children and our students may well go on to work in a myriad of different careers over their lifetime, whether they study a so-called ‘new economy’ degree or follow a more traditional path.

It is laughable to suggest that private schools have been ‘a little bit slow on the uptake’ in encouraging their pupils to choose ‘new economy’ subjects, as Ms Curnock Cook told the HMC Conference.

Private schools in this country have always trail blazed and the quality of the all-round education they offer is respected around the world.

What is even more sinister perhaps is her accusation that a whole generation of privately educated pupils have copied their parents in university and subject and that studying Law or going into the Media is somehow to be sneered at.

I’m sure nothing could be further than the truth. The UK’s independent school system is renowned for giving children the space and encouragement to develop their own skills and interests.

Taking a quick look at the subjects my current Upper Sixth Form are planning to study at university, I see what Ms Curnock Cook might dismiss as traditional subjects – Medicine, Law, English, Psychology and Philosophy – and they are subjects with longevity with a reason other than simply following what Mummy and Daddy did at university. And I also see a whole list of Science subjects and ‘new economy’ subjects, to coin her phrase: Biomedicine, Maths, Computer Science, Engineering, Paramedic Science and Hospitality Management.

In other years, I might see many Heathfield girls branching off into the Creative Arts, subjects with a fine reputation at Heathfield which have led to many of our girls succeeding in the creative arts in the outside world – a vital industry for our economy.

Ms Curnock Cook worries about ‘a sub-section of society which is sleepwalking through an identikit educational experience into an off-the-peg life which mirrors what generations of the affluent classes have aspired to’.

Personally, I worry about a sub-section of society which is involved in education at the highest level in this country which is left-leaning and sneers at the achievements of the thousands of children in this country who are privately educated and go on to top universities to study academic – and also a whole range of other subjects – who are dismissed in such shocking terms as ‘predictable and without independent thought’. Blatant class comment such as this is shocking in this day and age.

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