Education Quandary

Should we move our son from boarding school to a sixth-form college to improve his university chances?
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The Independent Online

This reader was poised to do this, aware that the Government has been saying it wants top universities to take more state school recruits. But then she read that the proportion of successful independent school candidates was up again, so now she is wondering whether it is worth it.

It probably is. The Government is determined to increase access to higher education and, although this is proving a tough nut to crack, the pressure is not going to ease up. So if this boy wants to go to the kind of university most favoured by public school types - Bristol, for example, or Exeter, Durham or Edinburgh - he will probably have a better chance coming from a sixth-form college than a posh boarding school.

As for those figures - although they made newspaper headlines, the changes weren't actually big enough to be statistically significant. Cambridge, for example, took in 0.7 per cent more independent school recruits, while overall the figure for all UK universities was 0.4 per cent. Also, these were figures for 2003/4, already out-of-date, and did not reflect the effects of recent Government initiatives such as the Aim Higher campaign to encourage non-traditional entrants to higher education. So, although there may always be short-term blips like this, the long-term trend is always likely to be one way.

But what really matters is what's best for your son. Why not take him to see the college, talk him through the options, and let him make up his own mind?

Readers' advice

Where will your son be happiest and best disposed to learn? There is little real evidence to suggest that universities are discriminating against public school pupils. In any case a university admissions tutor is unlikely to be swayed by a relatively late move into the state system.

Assuming your son's time in boarding has been a happy one, he would be giving up established friends and teachers who know him, and who would be able to help him adapt quickly to the rigours of AS. Teaching groups at school would be smaller and tutorial support greater. Also, organised extra-curricular provision is likely to be minimal at a sixth-form college, and evidence of it can help universities distinguish between good candidates. Having said this, there are many excellent sixth-form colleges that provide good preparation for university life.
David Tickner, Huntingdon

My elder child attends an independent boarding school and I know she comes from a background where she has wanted for nothing and her school is impressive. She will get to university on her merits. I would never move her just to climb over other young people aspiring to a university place. I find this attitude utterly reprehensible and your child should remain where he is.
Belinda Brackley, Buckinghamshire

I can only marvel at a family where the £40,000 or so it is going to cost to keep this boy in the sixth-form at boarding school seems to be neither here nor there! Leave him there, and leave college places for those with no alternative.
Jeremy Milstone, Cornwall

Next week's quandary

Our son wants to study for a degree in Europe. Specifically, he wants to do a four-year design course in Holland. Can he get help with tuition fees? Does Holland operate a loan scheme, and would he be eligible? Or does the UK student loan scheme operate in the EC? Do other parents have any advice about this European financial minefield?

Send your letters to Hilary Wilce at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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