The Education Secretary has defended the private school system, stating that the UK should be “very proud” and top universities should not “tilt the system” to benefit state school students.
Nadhim Zahawi hit out against suggestions that Oxbridge should accept more state educated children, arguing that this shouldn’t come at the cost of people “who are performing” at some of the UK’s top schools.
It comes after Cambridge University vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope told private schools earlier this month that they should expect fewer students to get into Oxford or Cambridge in the coming years.
Zahawi told The Times that the focus of government should be on boosting the quality of education for all rather than minimising the number of private school students getting into elite universities.
The Education Secretary told the paper: “I think it should be based on merit and evidence”.
“You don’t create a system that people feel is fair and equitable by in some way thinking that there is an easy fix. The best thing you can do is create schools in the state system that are as good as independent schools. Which we are.
“I need to continue my journey to deliver more outstanding and high performing schools. That’s the right strategy. Not to say actually, let me just accept that we’re not going to produce outstanding schools so let me just tilt the system away from children who are performing”, he added.
Cambridge academic Professor David Abulafia also hit out against the supposed bias towards non-fee paying schools, suggesting to The Times that white, privately educated boys are the new disadvantaged when it comes to higher education admissions.
However, the comments have caused some backlash across Twitter and beyond.
Labour MP for Nottingham South Lilian Greenwood hit out against Zawahi’s comments. She tweeted: “Privately-educated Minister, who sent his kids to private schools, opposes action to ensure bright state-educated young people get a fair crack at getting into top universities. Who’d have thought it?”
Zahawi attended the independent King’s College School in Wimbledon, which boast fees of £8000 a term for a child who is 14 years old or older.
Meanwhile, BBC Newsnight Policy Editor Lewis Goodall pointed to the disparity of funding across comprehensive schools and top schools like Eton, Harrow and Westminster School.
Last September, Cambridge University’s private school intake hit 28 per cent compared to the seven per cent of children who are privately educated in the UK.
While this figure was an improvement from the 29.4 per cent private school intake in 2020 and 31.3 per cent in 2019, the figure falls short of the unofficial benchmark set by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which was 24 per cent for Cambridge and 24.5 per cent for Oxford in 2020.