My response to Lord Waldegrave in the FT

First published in the Financial Times – June 6th.

Judging achievement in context is not new

Sir, How, and where, we grow up has an effect on what we might be able to achieve. For some, it matters not; for others it is inescapable. Either way, upbringings are unequal. In reporting about the prime minister’s drive to improve the life chances of young people from tough backgrounds, and reacting to Lord Waldegrave’s comments (“Anger at Eton over social mobility plan”, May 31), many seem to have overlooked this.

If you look closely, though, the issue is not as binary as whether someone went to a posh school or not. Matt Hancock’s proposal calls for the judgment of achievement in context. Clearly, an A* grade will always be that, no matter where it’s from; nobody will be punished. But what about the A or the B grade achieved at a school where the average is little more than a D, when people complete exams at all? Context matters.

This thinking is not new — dozens of the country’s leading graduate recruiters have been doing this for a few years and university admission teams too for over a decade. To know that you’re picking the “best people for the job” you need all the relevant information. It follows that, sometimes, to understand the true extent of someone’s achievement we have to look in slightly different ways. If we don’t, we risk missing some of the most impressive and resilient young people of our time.

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