HMC urge universities not to discriminate against private schools

The association’s executive director said a ‘sophisticated approach’ is needed for fairer university admissions

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) has urged universities not to discriminate against its pupils “on the basis of the class they were born into”.

This follows a new report by the Office for Students (OfS) which asks universities to offer more places to pupils from the most disadvantaged areas, due to “stubbornly large” equality gaps.

However, Mike Buchanan, executive director of HMC, an association for heads of many independent schools, warned, “care is needed in starting actively to discriminate against individual young people on the basis of the class they were born into”.

He said: “The country needs all its young people to reach their potential if we are to create a bright new future for Britain post-Brexit. We urge the Government to enable universities and colleges to expand to take as many truly suitable students as necessary, rather than rob some students of a future to award it to others. Universities should also look at the increasing numbers of high paying international students they are accepting, rather than deny places to UK students based on their class.

We urge the Government to enable universities and colleges to expand to take as many truly suitable students as necessary, rather than rob some students of a future to award it to others

“Generally, contextual admissions are perfectly reasonable if used on a sophisticated, individual basis. This should not be about school type; independent schools play an important role in getting disadvantaged students into university through offering free and discounted places. Not all state-educated students are disadvantaged and the majority of students from affluent backgrounds are not educated in HMC schools. This is why a sophisticated approach is needed for the country genuinely to level up.”

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at OfS, said the plans “have the potential to effect a real and positive step change: if successfully implemented, they should bring about significant progress towards reducing inequalities in access and participation”.


OfS key targets:

  • At present, the dropout rate is 4.6 percentage points higher for students from the least represented groups; if providers meet their targets, this gap will drop to 2.9 percentage points within five years.
  • At present, the gap between the proportion of white and black students who are awarded a first or upper second class degree is 22.0 percentage points; if providers meet their targets, this will fall to 11.2 percentage points within five years.
  • The gap between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled students who are awarded a 1st or 2:1 degree currently stands at 2.8 percentage points; this will close to one percentage point within five years – a level close to equality – if providers meet their targets.

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