Peter Mandelson's answer to Alan Milburn's report on Social Mobility is to overhaul univeristy entry to provide students from poorer backgrounds better opportunities to access more popular courses at the more prestigious universities. He intends to do this by reducing the grades required to access a course, for example the standard qualification for medicine courses is three A grades but for pupils from poorly performing state schools grade B's would suffice.
This is very similar to the process of Affirmative Action in the US where quotas of places were reserved for disadvantaged minorities and later points were granted for such things as ethnic background. This proved to be the most divisive of all policies because better performing middle class students were being 'bumped off' the admission list in preference to disadvantaged candidates. In America this led to massive resentment from the 'silent white majority' who abandoned the Democrats in droves for a new right wing conservative Republican party of Nixon, Regan and Bush and look where that got us.
We must look to the lessons fromhistory and to ensure that we do not create resentment amongst the middle classes in this country by supporting this system of 'quotas' that Mandelson proposes. Any attempt to 'bump pupils off' admission lists in favour of lesser qualified will result in a backlash that will increase divsion and intolerance in this country
A far fairer system would be that utilised by Kings College Medical School in London where students from disadvantaged schools with lower grades have to attend a 'catch up year' before they start their substantive courses.
What we need is positive action to ensure that gifted pupils from disadvantaged homes receive support in their schools to achieve their potential, or has the government given up on trying to raise standards in our public schools?
Read the Times Online story here.