Backlash over university access tsar's attack on 'snobbery' that see schools focus on elite institutions
23:21 GMT, 2 December 2012
The Government’s access tsar faced calls to quit yesterday after he claimed it was ‘dreadful snobbery’ to make schools focus too much on elite universities.
Professor Les Ebdon said teenagers should not feel pressured to apply for the most academic courses when they might be better suited to an apprenticeship or vocational degree.
But his comments started a row with Labour’s former schools minister, Lord Adonis, warning he wasn’t sure if Professor Ebdon was ‘fit to hold his post’ as director of the Office for Fair Access.
Professor Les Ebdon, left, had expressed dismay that society ‘really undervalues apprenticeships’ and engineering courses. Labour’s former schools minister, Lord Adonis, right, said the Professor should 'hand his job on to someone who actually belives in “fair access” to higher education'
He claimed Professor Ebdon should ‘hand his job on to someone who actually believes in “fair access” to higher education’.
Lord Adonis believes Professor Ebdon’s comments show a lack of commitment to his task of helping increase the number of pupils from state schools and poorer homes at the leading universities.
In a letter to the Times Education Supplement, he said: ‘I am not sure that Les Ebdon is fit to hold his post if he believes it is “dreadful snobbery” for schools to be encouraged to send as many pupils as possible to elite universities.
‘Does Professor Ebdon not direct an organisation called the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education
‘Is not one of its key purposes to help ensure that every teenager rises to their full potential, including the potential to go to an “elite university”
‘Is he therefore saying it is “snobbery” for this potential to be far better realised than at present’
Lord Adonis added: ‘If Ebdon is saying these things, then he should hand his job on to someone who actually believes in “fair access” to higher education.’
Professor Ebdon made his controversial comments in a TES interview ten days ago.
Chris Ramsey, headmaster of The Kings School in Chester, pictured, also attacked Professor Ebdon's comments, saying: 'It seems to me that it isn't snobbery to aim high'
He expressed dismay that society ‘really undervalues apprenticeships’ and engineering courses.
He said: ‘One of our problems is there’s such a dreadful snobbery about whether people go to university or which university they go to. I would hate to see that work through into undue pressure on schools.’ Professor Ebdon, the former vice chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, yesterday said his comments had been taken out of context by Lord Adonis.
His appointment to OFFA on September 1 was steeped in controversy, with a number of high-ranking MPs opposing the move.
Professor Ebdon had threatened to use the ‘nuclear option’ of financial penalties against universities that fail to widen their intake of disadvantaged students.
Leading independent schools, which dominate successful applicants to elite universities, have criticised some institutions for making lower offers to students from low performing schools – a policy backed by Professor Ebdon.
Chris Ramsey, headmaster of The King’s School in Chester and co-chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and Girls’ Schools Association’s universities’ committee, also attacked Professor Ebdon’s comments.
He said: ‘It seems to me that it isn’t snobbery to aim high.’