By Lauren Smith
According to The Guardian, a total of “92% of English 18-year-olds” who entered higher education in 2020 got at least a grade 4 in Maths and English. The final 8% are the percentage who have been cruelly targeted by the government’s latest efforts to shorten the demographic of students who can attend University.
A suggested new policy from the government states that it will prevent students from accessing much-needed student loans based on GCSE grades in both Maths and English. A low grade or a “fail” in both would close the opportunity for higher education for many young people across the country, as many would be unable to afford the costs of University by themselves.
At the same time the government have also released plans to increase the grade boundaries for GCSE and A-Levels, which would further reduce the number of students accepted into Universities. Raising the grade boundaries for GCSEs in Maths and English from a 4 to a 5 is another obstacle against poorer, working-class young people. In the 2020 to 2021 academic year, 51.9% of students across England achieved a grade 5 or above in English and Maths, with 79.1% achieving a grade 4 or above, which opened up post-GCSE education options to thousands of students.
Social mobility expert, Lee Elliot Major, told The Guardian that “children from the lowest fifth of family income backgrounds are five times more likely to leave school without passes in English and Maths GCSEs”. So compared to students from higher-income families and more prosperous areas, they have an unfair disadvantage. Areas in Blackpool, Coventry, North-East Lincolnshire and even Kingston Upon Hull, are classed as some of the most deprived areas to live in England, with each possessing a noticeable lack of what is known as “community assets”, for example, good schooling, mental health facilities, good dental and health care and youth support. Regions like this hold the highest percentages of poverty, crime and unsuitable housing, along with other patterns of deprivation that all affect the lifestyle and schooling of young people. For some students, achieving passes in Maths and English GCSEs is not as easy as it is for others.
Poverty has a direct correlation with the performance of young people in education, but also with the funding of that education. Funding for schooling has gradually shifted away from those in low-income areas towards wealthier schools under the Conservative government over the last twelve years, however, this funding does not end with secondary school and sixth form institutions. For many students at University, student loans are essential to live independently, especially if familial assistance is not feasible. Costs can reach an average of £795 per month, including paying for rent, food shopping, course materials and transport, making it a hefty £7,155 for the academic year; however, this differs depending on the area you’re studying in. This of course doesn’t even include the £9,250 per year tuition fee to even be able to study at your chosen University.
For the students with the lowest household income, the yearly maintenance loan from the government is currently £9,488, however, with the attempt to make this loan unavailable for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it would essentially make University impossible for them to attend. As we have seen with the move towards higher resources for wealthier schools, we’re now seeing a targeted move to isolate and deter students from deprived economic backgrounds.
The decision to potentially prevent students from attending University, due to their English and Maths grades, comes at the same time the government announced they would be freezing both tuition fees and maintenance loan prices until the end of the current parliament. This is despite the recent inflation in prices for fuel, food and accommodation, regardless of its quality. The next two years for University students may mean that they will be forced to sacrifice some of their luxuries to keep up with the prices of inflation on an unsuitable maintenance loan.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that we have seen this Conservative government target working-class students. The grade U-turn in August of 2020 is the perfect example. At first lowering the grades of those from deprived areas, offensively claiming that it was “representative” of people who lived there. They finally issued a U-turn that represented not the community or the area, but the individuals themselves. This shows how this recent suggested policy announcement is just a long line in measures targeting the most deprived children in Britain.
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