New research published by the Department for Education has recommended that universities operating contextualised admissions should treat selective and non-selective state schools differently.
It is an important contribution to the debate on school type versus school performance. Earlier this year, some people wondered if the battle was over when HEFCE said – not for the first time – that degree performance was largely unaffected by the type of state school a student had attended. But it seems we were just entering a new round of an old debate.
HEFCE and the DfE may both be correct in their analysis, as their methodologies were very different. This all highlights one important aspect that is often missing from the debate. People making admission offers within universities have a very tricky and thankless job to do. Even where they seek to act on the evidence, it is not always clear what they should do. So, as we all digest the latest research, we should salute those doing what sometimes feels like an impossible job.
The answer to the conundrum may lie in higher education institutions making good use of the extra flexibility they will have when student number controls are removed in 2015. Then, if they can’t decide between applicant A and applicant B, they can enrol both.
Applications need to become less of a zero-sum game if we are to have the best possible match between students and institutions.