Private school parents could sue if universities discriminate


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The parents of privately educated children are likely to sue universities if their offspring are rejected for degree places under new plans to penalise them for going to top-performing schools.

A chorus of disapproval greeted the proposal for all university candidates to be ranked according to the school they attend – meaning that private school pupils would in effect receive "penalty points" for their education, while those at weak schools would get bonus points when applying.

The plans, published by Britain's biggest exam board, the Assessment and Qualification Alliance (AQA), and revealed in The Independent yesterday, presented the move as a means of getting more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into university.

Margaret Morrissey, of the pressure group Parents Outloud, said she found the suggestion "disgusting".

"It may be you have struggled to afford to get your child into a good, private school," she said. "If parents found out they were discriminated against because they went to a good school, they should sue."

The Department for Education said it was in favour of using contextual data in university admissions – but how this was done should be left to individual universities. "This proposal risks confusing employers, teachers and pupils by giving different values to the same A-levels and would undermine the integrity of public exams," said Schools minister Nick Gibb.

Under the proposal, all A-level students would be given a ranking based on the school they attended, from challenging inner city schools through to top-performing schools in the leafy suburbs. Pupils' exam scores could then be topped up or reduced accordingly.

The AQA paper suggests that the ranking should be supplied to universities by UCAS, the universities and colleges admissions service.

Kevin Stannard. director of innovation and learning at the Girls' Day School Trust, said: "Universities already have access to applicants' school type and other background information... so they're already using the kind of information that AQA is suggesting."

Universities also rounded on the proposals. "AQA's proposals are surprising, highly unlikely to help widen access to leading universities and probably unworkable," said Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group.