The education secretary has objected to the idea that elite universities like Oxford and Cambridge should “tilt the system” to accept more pupils from public schools.
Nadhim Zahawi said that admissions should be based on merit and the focus should be on providing more outstanding schools.
His comments came after Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope told private schools to accept that they will take fewer students to Oxbridge in future.
Toope said the university would “welcome others” instead of telling private school students “we don’t want you.”
But Zahawi said it was the government’s job to reduce the achievement gap between the state and private sectors by increasing the quality of public schools.
“I think it should be based on merit and evidence,” Zahawi, who was promoted to his post in Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle in 2021, told the Times.
“The thing to do is deliver great results for all children, wherever they live, and especially for our most disadvantaged children. That is why I am loosening the system towards those areas that have fewer excellent schools or outstanding good schools.
“You don’t create a system that people feel is fair and equitable somehow thinking there’s an easy fix. The best you can do is create schools in the state system that are as good as independent schools. what are we.
“I need to continue my journey to deliver more outstanding, high-performing schools. That is the correct strategy. I don’t want to say that really, let me agree that we’re not going to produce outstanding schools, so let me take the system away from kids that are performing.”
Zahawi told the newspaper that he wanted private schools to become more involved with the state sector, highlighting Eton College’s efforts in opening three state sixth courses in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham to help pupils gain admission to Oxbridge.
“If we all put aside our brand of tribalism and look at the evidence, we’re going to get great results for all kids,” he said. “If we do that, and I can prove over the next two and a half years that I’ve done my job right, then we will have made a real difference in the lives of children across the country.”
Toope told the Times in early May that his institution “would have to continue to make it very, very clear that we intend to reduce over time the number of people who come from independent schools in places like Oxford or Cambridge.
“Individual students who are talented, we would want them, but they will be competing against a larger and larger group because there are more students coming from public schools who see a potential place for them at Cambridge or Oxford or another Russell. group universities.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan said at the time: “It’s really important that young people with the desire and ability get into higher education, including top universities, but that’s only part of the hurdle. It’s about making sure they complete those courses.”