Everyone needs to calm the fuck down about state schools

ZACK HASSAN wants to know what the problem is with the idea of state school only colleges.

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What do the words “Christ”, “Straight Dumb” and “Drivel” all have in common?

If you said that they’re all thinly veiled abuse that decorated my news feed yesterday, you were right, and probably stalking me.

These were all responses to a recent Guardian article suggesting that Oxbridge should set up state-school only colleges. And like a boarding school headmaster who’s accidentally turned up for work at the local comprehensive down the road, I’m left aghast by what has been exposed.

First off, the article wasn’t horrendous and I don’t think state-school colleges are a bad idea. Since we’re at it, why don’t we ask about BME-only colleges too? With all three demographic boxes ticked for positive discrimination, the white, male, privately educated Oxbridge graduate might finally be a thing of the past. We can fully embrace the liberal left-wing utopia that we can only gain through positive discrimination.

The Guardian: Not totally full of shit all the time

I am of course, exaggerating. But only slightly more than those saying that it would “reinforce the myth that it’s unusual for state-educated kids to go to Oxbridge,” and “everyone at mainstream colleges would look down on them.” I mean, wouldn’t the 60% of Cambridge students that come from state schools have something to say about private school knobs treating them like peasants?

My point is this: it might be a good idea or it might not, but it’s certainly not an idea based in utter batshit insanity. We do have women’s colleges after all.

Some people fear positive-discrimination colleges will lead to segregation and more inequality, but looking at women’s only colleges it’s clear this isn’t what would happen. I’ve never thought of Murray Edwards and Newnham girls as segregated, and as far as my admittedly male brain has heard, those students haven’t complained about not being able to make male friends.

Nor are they ostracised for being women who wouldn’t have got in otherwise. Why not? Possibly because Cantabs mix on swaps, in sports, in societies. Your college is not like some kind of label superglued to your forehead that warns people you’re coming from a mile off. But some people are assuming that it is, on this one issue, and that’s strange.

It could be modelled after a comprehensive sixth-form, like Homerton

There are also criticisms of “it wouldn’t affect overall application trends,” and “positive discrimination-colleges are always really shit.” If that was true, then why have so many graduates of women’s only colleges gone on to be such high-flying women? Why does nobody question the right of Medwards and Newnham students to go here? Why aren’t applications from women falling through the floor?

The astute among you might notice that women’s colleges were set up a long time ago, for different reasons, and might not be fit for purpose now. Some might even question the impact they made on gender equality even at the time. But I don’t think it follows that because something started a long time ago, it means it can’t be good for equality today.

Today, this kind of positive discrimination has the potential to catapult a select few into beating the disadvantage they face in society and make them leadership figures. Newnham and Murray Edwards do that for women, why can’t we do it for state-schools?

All the evidence suggests that state-school pupils do better when they get to Oxbridge, and the problem is merely admissions. Even if all these arguments about being looked down upon were true, the real trump card is that Oxbridge degree you get at the end that reverses disadvantage.

It strikes me as strange that the most popular arguments against state-school only colleges have also been the weakest. What if you were to say the only benefiters from such a policy would white, middle class grammar school pupils? Or that the real solution to inequality requires grass roots action and improved state education? Or even that it is ridiculous to imply Cambridge is going to make any difference on a national scale?

We need more research into admissions statistics

Well, the answer to these questions is I don’t know. And neither do you. No, you really don’t. What we need is a proper investigation of the facts surrounding positive discrimination policies. The lack of research surrounding interpretations of admissions statistics needs to be properly addressed. Because if it turns out that setting up a state-school college could be advantageous to students who would suffer disadvantage otherwise, it would be mad not to support them.

Debates about state and private education always seem to get Cantabs riled. Everyone’s views are deep seated and the convention of starting your comments with the phrase “As a state/privately educated student, I think that…” means that it’s easy to offend someone’s sense of identity.

If we’re going to start taking this seriously, one thing’s clear. We need to start letting facts inform our opinions, not prejudice.

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