Britain should be “very proud” of its private school system, said Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi as he dismissed a push for elite universities to boost state admissions.
Mr. Zahawi said the country should not “tilt the system” to ensure more state school students attend institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, and should instead focus on delivering a “remarkable” education.
His comments come after Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope told private schools to accept that they will take fewer students to Oxbridge in the future.
He explained that the university would “welcome others” rather than telling private school students “we don’t want you”.
However, in an interview with The Times, Mr Zahawi argued that the government should work to reduce the “achievement gap” between the public and private sectors by creating more “high performing” schools.
“I think it should be based on merit and evidence. The thing to do is to get great results for all children, wherever they live, and especially for our most disadvantaged children,” said he told the newspaper.
“You don’t create a system that people think is fair and just somehow thinking there’s an easy way out. The best thing you can do is create schools in the public system that are as good as independent schools What we are.
“It’s the right strategy. To put it mildly, let me accept that we’re not going to produce exceptional schools, so let me just keep the system away from successful kids.”
The 54-year-old, who attended King’s College School, a leading private school in Wimbledon, south London, added that he wanted these schools to become more involved in the public sector.
He gave the example of Eton College, which is opening three state grammar schools in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham to help students secure places at top universities.
Earlier this month, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan stressed the importance of young people pursuing higher education and getting into “top universities”.
“That’s only part of the hurdle. It’s making sure they take those classes,” she said.
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During his interview, the Education Secretary also discussed details of a new direction to support transgender children in schools.
He said trans kids should be allowed to wear any uniform they want, but that trans girl shouldn’t be allowed to join women’s sports teams competing in single-sex games.
“If you are biologically stronger, you should compete with people who are biologically equal,” he said.
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