Sunday, December 07, 2008

Poor Brains

Tomorrow I'll be sitting through 21 PPE interviews - playing a role in deciding who gets admitted to Oxford and who doesn't. It's a tough process, but one that I think is far better than making the decisions based only on paper applications or by lottery from all applicants (though I think there may be a marginal role for lotteries).

One thing you can be almost certain of is intense media scrutiny. Just as, every year, record A-level results are greeted with accusations of dumbing down, so it seems that whatever happens Oxford (and Cambridge) will be accused of not letting in enough state school applicants.

In fact, I've long held the view that the problem lies earlier in the admissions process - with many state schools obviously failing gifted pupils (either in not allowing them to achieve their academic potential at the school or not encouraging aspirational university applications). Now research from the US suggests that there's a difference in brain activity between children from rich and poor backgrounds as young as age nine. Obviously, damage happens long before these children reach the stage of applying for university, and social imbalance in Oxbridge may be no more than a symptom of a broken system...

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