I have no kids and as yet no women want me to have their kids so my opinion is based on reading the broadsheets and watching news programs. With the row over teaching young kids to pass exams through stuff like SATs rather than actually learn things it seems clear that progressing your child through the best schools and is all about twisting the rules and coaching the kids to pass these exams. There's so much pressure on teachers to pass kids and students to maintain league table positions that it seems the system is set up to just that, the teachers and schools branded failures if the kids do fail.
There's a growing trend amongst parents to try and push up their kids grades and exam marks by claiming the students suffer from various ailments and family problems, a loop-hole that allows for extra marks to be awarded on appeal. A record number of students used allowed excuses like the death of a pet or an exam day migraine to get extra marks last year. Almost 330,000 students were given 'special considerations' in GCSE`s and A-Levels last year, a ten percent increase from 2007. Teachers and heads seem to be begrudgingly going along with this and accepting the ballooning excuses as it boost their league table performance. 180,000 special arrangements were put in place in 2008; such as additional time on exam day or an allowance to open the paper early, SAs up 20% in just one year as the tactic spreads amongst savvy parents and students. Although some requests must be genuine, in my day you would have got a clip around the ear for asking for twenty marks if your Gerbil had died! And trust me when Gerbils die its traumatic, the parents biting off the heads of the babies to trim the runt. Marks can be boosted by up to 5% in extreme circumstances. Hay fever will earn you a 2% exam mark boost but just 1% for a death of a pet or a headache. As yet Swine Flu is not listed.
Special needs can also get you into better schools, another loop hole exploited by canny parents. Interestingly abnormally high intelligence in children is classed as special needs. If your well to do and your kid can take the MENSA test and score highly then you can gemmy them into the school of your choice. It seems any loop hole will be explored to get ahead in the middle-class schooling game. I watched a documentary the other day and the parents deployed this method to try and get their two-year-old into a fee paying prep school. So much for social integration, the British class system alive and kicking.
To take it to the extreme there are parents in the US that are quite happy for their kids to take Ritalin if it helps to improve their poor education skills. Those hyper active kids that wreck normal kids schooling actually do better in their results when given Ritalin. A survey from the University of California looked at 600 lower school kids and found that those on hyper related drugs did better on tests than non drugged kids in the same special needs year group, some three months ahead on reading and math. These are also classed as special needs kids in America and can earn places in good schools off the back of that decision to medicate their kids. However both groups of troubled kids got lower grades than kids without special needs schooling of the same age group.
Just as there is an alarming rise of children diagnosed with ADHD it seems Dyslexia is also on the rise. According to leading professor at Durham University, Doctor Joe Elliot, tens of thousand pupils are being falsely diagnosed with the condition because schools collectively failed to teach them basic English skills, and so use the condition as an excuse to stay high in those league tables. One-in-ten children are now classed as being Dyslexic, surprisingly coming from all social groups, that high ratio making little sense as it's twice as less, only one-in-twenty, in the work place - unless, of course, the kids don't really have it. So you will find it as no surprise that there's been a huge increase of parents claiming their children have 'dyslexic issues' so to get ahead on those exam and course marks yet again. Surprisingly most of the 105,000 requests came from more middle-class parents, looking to get their not so bright 'Tim nice but Dims' those extra marks to get into better schools and away from the 'proles'. We all know posh parents never own up to having delinquent kids and so more and more are finding ways to get extra marks to jump the queue. There officially are around 28 symptoms of dyslexia, and when it comes to exam papers, mixing up a 'b' with a 'd' is one of them, what I still do today. It's almost badge of honour from middle-class parents to get kids with low intelligence labelled dyslexic so relieving the parents of any responsibility for that educational underachievement. I'm sure dyslexia exists but no where near as common as it seems to be. 70% of prisoners were labelled with some sort of dyslexia.
We know that the 7% independent sector account for 50% of all red brick university places. We also know that within that other 50% a big chunk of the kids are from grant maintained schools, meaning they are effectively middle-class comprehensives be3cause they can pick their students, usually from the affluent classes. These are the schools where the canny parents who know how to play the game will get their kids in so to avoid the failure factories of normal schooling. These schools tend to be in nice areas, hence the application to be grant maintained because they know their core intake will drive up grades and as they can select, the poorer kids don't get in on various blocking loop-holes. The word gets around and property prices in the catchment area shoot up as middle-class parents move in and make the school their own. This is why university is so dominated by affluent kids. If you throw in the fact that universities are now openly stretching out their tentacles around the world to invite paying foreign students over the chances of a bright lad from a tower block in an inner city getting in is around one-in-twenty and falling. It's so wrong that so many kids and parents are put off higher education because of this bias towards the higher social classes. Of course parents want the best for their kids and who can blame them, but many of society's ills that well off and connected parents moan about at dinner parties are caused by this early class separatism and selfishness. These are the parents that moan about high crime rates yet are smug when they dodge jury service.
I've heard some total horror stories this week about students who've rung various University clearing centres, so thought I'd pass on what the academics are saying about it. Another reviewer has written about what you should do, so I guess what I'm really going to focus on what you shouldn't do! Perhaps the most important thing to realise is that the person who answers the phone in clearing could well be the academic who decides whether or not to offer you a place, so first impressions are vital. Apparently many students get off to a bad start just by a very poor telephone manner, not seeming to know what they're on the phone for or what to ask. The staff member may do a mini interview there and then on the phone - so be prepared It should be obvious, but don't be rude. The academic community is a surprsingly small place, not just within one university, but within whole regions. If you tell a staff member at one university to f*** off, (yers, it does happen) it's likely you'll find that mysteriously there are no places anywhere at all. If you're told that you don't have enough points for a particular course, and there are no alternatives you're interested in, do ask if it's worth ringing back in a few days to see if the situation has changed; sometimes if universities don't fill courses as well as they expect, they may lower their requirements as term time approaches. A last thought, you may well be invited to an open day. Again, staff will be making judgements about you on that day. It's a good idea to look as if you've made an effort. It doesn't matter if you've got green hair; it does matter if you look like you've been digging the garden until five minutes previously or if you can't talk coherently and enthusiastically about what you want to do.
So you're in clearing? That's OK - there are literally thousands of places out there and there's bound to be one with your name on! First scour the Net, newspapers etc. There will be a huge number of ads with Universities saying which courses they have available. Highlight a few and start ringing. Ring now. Most universities will have people taking clearing calls right through till about 9pm and certainly all this weekend and proabbly next weekend too. Ask about the courses you are interested in and the number of points you need to get on those courses. Don't let anyone hard sell you, but they should give an indication of whether or not they would be willing to make you an offer. If they do make you an offer remember that that isn't a firm offer until you've gone to that University and handed over your UCAS clearing form. On the other hand don't hand over that form until you'e sure you want to take up a place. If your points fall slightly short of the number a University is asking for you still have a number of options. Firstly ask to speak to an academic member of staff from that subject area. Many of the people who answer calls won't have the authority to deviate from the general requirement - but subject staff will. Try and put a case for them accepting you at below their normal admissions level - perhaps you have some work experience in a relevant area, for example, or did especially well in an a level related to the subject you want to study? Another possibility is to combine subjects - these degree programmes often have a lower entry requirement. English, for example, is usually enormously popular, but English and French less so. So do consider joint or combined degrees, but don't sign up for a subject you're not interested in - you just won't do well at it. Try and visit the University and meet some staff before accepting a place. You're going to be looking at those walls and people for three of the most imp
ortant years of your life, don't be rushed into making a decision you'll regret