Can anyone truthfully say that the UK utilises all the talent available to it? Of course not, and one of the reasons is the bias shown by the so-called "top" universities to applicants from private schools. The arguments against this is well known; with only 7% of all pupils privately educated, it does not take a genius to see the unfairness, when some universities take in more than 50% of their undergraduates from the private sector.
One obvious solution would be to legislate to ensure universities could not take in more than 7% of their intake from private schools, matching the national average. It would mean all universities would be forced to accept more candidates from the state sector, and inevitably, more students from poorer, working class backgrounds. There would be some objections, with some universities complaining about a fall in standards, but there is plenty of research already done, showing how undergraduates from state schools tend to achieve higher degrees, and make more academic progress, than the cosseted, and rather spoilt, students from the private sector.
Of course, not all state schools are the same, with some of the selective ones in the more prosperous areas being able to provide a much more "privileged" education than others in less salubrious districts. Television programmes on the subject, with their fly-on-the-wall approach to filming, (or so we are led to believe) have not served the cause of state education well. Whilst they have shown the caring and dedicated side of the teaching profession, and, probably to the horror of Tristram Hunt, the abundance of "character and resilience" amongst the pupils, the cameras never focus on the hugely successful teaching and learning which take place on a daily basis, often enabling 60% plus of the students to gain 5 A*-C grades, and go on to sixth form studies. The programmes give the impression that in all state schools, lessons are constantly disrupted by poor behaviour, and this is simply not the case.
Undoubtedly, however, examination success is much more difficult to achieve in some state schools than others, often for a variety of reasons. The more "challenging" schools often find staff recruitment a problem, which can lead to the appointment of unqualified teachers, and "promotion" of classroom assistants. In such schools, staff often leave mid-course, which can be particularly damaging at sixth form level, where the subject may have to be dropped at the end of year 12, if no replacement tutor can be found. A-level results may well be affected, which can then impact on university application success.
Shouldn`t all universities be forced, as so few do it willingly, to take in a certain percentage of their undergraduates from these schools? If pupils can achieve grade Cs and Bs after teacher upheaval, perhaps poor leadership, and compulsory cutbacks at their schools, they at least deserve the opportunity to continue their studies at the university of their choice.