Education is - by its very nature - social engineering. It provides people, young or old, with the tools with which to get on and move up. Education should be encouraged constantly, exactly because of its influence on wider society.
Which makes recent news about the Department for Children, Schools and Families' (DCSF) 'standardisation measurement score' - an effort in artificial social engineering - all the more depressing.
Under this system GCSE scores are weighted in relation to the overall success of the school; an A from a well performing school (in terms of grades achieved) is downgraded, while an A from a school where standards are low, is upgraded. Universities such as Durham and Cambridge have admitted using these weighted scores in processing applications, privileging those students from poor performing schools.
Like many terrible ideas, this has a thin veneer of sense to it. Surely someone who has battled against the odds in a sink school, got their A's at GCSE and committed themselves to significant debts in order to go on in further education, should be given this extra little leg up.
But they shouldn't, at least not in this way. Applicants from all schools should get a place at university, ideally their first choice, but not because they have been put at the front of the pack by means of a complex mathematical formula. It is quite understandable that some universities take account of the background of students, even looking at the overall results of a school to put an applicants results in context, but there is no place in our system for some obscure 'formula'. What weight, for instance, is given to vocational GCSE's; is an A in history at a school with generally good history grades, but poor overall performance, better than an A from an overall average school? How can the system deal with teenagers who have an affluent family background but attend a struggling school? Or bright kids from poor homes who attend successful schools? Some arbitrary formula cannot begin to accommodate the various background factors.It's even somewhat insulting to know that you may have just got your place because your school has failed your class mates.
And no system that penalises entrants from the best state schools, just because they are well taught and bright, can be right. For this isn't just an attack on independent schools; the many excellent state schools in the country are directly prejudiced by the standardisation measurement score. An applicant from one of these is handicapped because his peers have done well too. Surely they should be being praised by DCSF, not undermined.
The standardisation measurement score is though, really nothing more than a cynical attempt to cover up for a serious failure to improve some poor performing schools over the past decade. The 'one size fits all' policies directed from Whitehall haven't worked, and so instead of trying something genuinely radical, DCSF pushes Universities to use these weighted grades.
Moreover, the standardisation measurement constitutes a depressing loss of faith in the Government's ability to fix these schools. It is a loud and clear admission of defeat, an abandonment of belief in meritocracy by people who claim to be the champions of it.