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Last Updated:  Saturday, 22 March, 2003, 09:39 GMT
'Why Bristol is right'
Bristol University has hotly denied allegations that its admissions procedures discriminate against pupils from private schools.

But independent schools are being told not to encourage pupils to go there.

Here, former comprehensive pupil Sarah Treanor describes her experience of getting to Bristol on a low offer:

When, in 2001 I first decided to study at Bristol University, it had been firmly placed in the "elitist" bracket.

In the wake of the Oxford Laura Spence admissions controversy, and with little over 50% of intake from the state sector, a fee-paying schools bias was perceived.

Now, two years into my degree, headlines are again being created with accusations of social engineering and a deliberate erosion of standards.

Reality

It may instinctively appear unfair that some pupils are offered lower grades than others.

However, as a former comprehensive student who received a lower offer from Bristol than many private, (or high-achieving state school) pupils, for me these criticisms do not reflect the realities of the application procedure.

The government has recognised that too few students have traditionally applied to certain institutions from the state sector.

A tutor commented that the choice is sometimes impossible
The previous reliance on grades alone for admissions has seen many highly able students perhaps unfairly rejected. This was often the case in my sixth form, with many pupils missing out by just one or two points.

Therefore, the decision by Bristol to look at applications in the context of school averages may not seem ideal, but in my view is a far better indicator of the individual pupil's academic potential.

Arguably, from a school with a grade DDD average, a pupil who is predicted ABB is showing greater potential than a pupil who is predicted straight A grades from a school where this is the norm.

It is now proposed that natural ability becomes the single most important determinate for success in a degree.

Few contact hours with my lecturers and tutors mean independent learning is vital, something often started at state sixth forms, where there is not always the time or resources for teachers to offer much individual aid or coaching.

Although important indicators, there are other skills needed for a successful university student than outstanding results.

Arbitrary system

The former criticisms of Bristol's ratio of state to private intake, and "Oxbridge reject" tag, have only been addressed by encouraging applicants from a broad social cross section.

Yet as many schools do not achieve comparable examination results, there must be real incentives for pupils to apply.

This should not be regarded as a penalty on bright students from any school, as has recently been suggested, but an opportunity to correct the previous imbalance created by an arbitrary system.

This admissions policy does not work by quotas, or indicate that fee-paying school pupils will be denied an offer.

Although disappointing for a student to be rejected by any university, highly publicised recent cases of very academic students not receiving a place are very common in all types of sixth form, and do not necessarily reflect a trend.

With four predicted A grades and taking two S-levels, I was rejected by UCL, yet do not consider this to be the result of any underlying bias!

Supposed one-off stories do not illustrate the realities of applying to university, which many regard as a lottery.

The sheer volume and quality of applications to popular universities makes the admissions procedure more challenging than ever for the student.

Often nearly all applicants will have a "perfect" score.

A tutor commented to me that the choice is sometimes impossible.

These initiatives are not completely new or unique, Kings College in Cambridge has been operating a similar scheme for some time, as have Nottingham University and others, but they provide applicants with a more open and informed outlook on the whole process of admissions.


SEE ALSO:
Private schools 'boycott' Bristol
04 Mar 03 |  Education
Bristol denies admissions bias
26 Feb 03 |  Education
University aims to be less elitist
20 Feb 03 |  Scotland


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