Chalk Talk: How new immigration rules got Eton into a mess


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The Independent Online

An example of how the new stricter controls on immigration can have unintended consequences for schools: for several years now Eton has been offering a place to a promising Palestinian student. In the past there have been no problems in bringing the potential scholarship student over to Eton for an interview.

This year, though, while immigration officials were happy to grant him entry to study, they declined to allow him in for the interview. What to do? Tony Little, Eton’s headmaster, had to decide whether to allow the student in unseen or despatch a master to the Middle East to do the check out there. Quite a different assignment to the kind that a master at Eton is used to tackling, I should imagine. All went well, though, The master returned safely and the boy is now at Eton.

While visiting Lipson Community College in Plymouth, I came upon an interesting example of government attempts to micro-manage school performance. It was a few years ago, but the college received a congratulatory missive from the previous Labour government about its exceptional attempts to improve school performance. It was, it was told, one of the schools to offer the best value in improving the expected performance of its pupils.

This was swiftly followed by a second letter, saying that, because of its low performance in GCSEs, it was being placed on what was euphemistically being called the “national challenge” list of schools failing to get 30 per cent of their pupils to achieve five A* to C grades.

It quickly passed that hurdle, so all is well for the moment – although the present Government is planning to raise the bar. It would be nice, though, to have some indication of what ministers had really thought about the performance of the school.

The first batch of statistics showing next year’s university applications shows a 9 per cent drop compared to this time last year. When UK student applications are considered on their own, this rises to 11.9 per cent. Just a thought: the headlines this summer were all about how 180,000 applicants did not get into university this year. Well, nine per cent of last year’s eventual total is substantially less than 180,000.