Privilege Over Potential?

Star pupils may lose university places to disadvantaged.

My place in society was confirmed from a young age. My first experiences with the world being a council/housing association estate in Scotland’s capital.

I lived in a small three-bedroom house that was massively overcrowded for the first nine years of my life. There were nine of us in total — seven children, made up of step siblings and two parents. The five boys had to share one cramped room, while I was somewhat lucky to share a room with my only sister.

The truth is, there are very few times I felt ‘lucky’ as a child. My household was one where abuse of all types were a daily occurrence.

I was beaten for taking ‘special food’ from my stepmothers’ shelf in the cupboards, fridge or drawer in the freezer. This, however, wasn’t the most traumatic experience of my childhood. In fact, this trophy goes to the years of sexual abuse I was subjected to every evening after school before my parents got home.

This was my life.

I understood this wasn’t happening to everyone in my class at school. I knew this wasn’t the way a normal family unit operated, but it was the cards I was dealt and there was nothing I could do about it.

I started high school like any ordinary teenager. I received the classic judgement from teachers as the youngest of large family of siblings, who had acted out in school as a result of the unknown circumstances going on at home.

It all came to head when I was thirteen and I found the courage to tell my Dad about the abuse I had suffered my entire life. My abuser was charged and before I knew it, I was taking time out of school to deal with a live court case that ultimately led to a not proven verdict. In my eyes, this verdict only confirmed how little I was worth. I was taken into care that very year.

I had to move local authority when I went into the care system and this meant I would have to move school too. All of this occurred, halfway through my fourth year of high school arguably the most important year of my school career.

I lost everything. My life. My friends. My coursework. It wasn’t long before I had no interest in education. I had more important things to worry about and I felt drained from hearing of how much of failure and disruption to other students I was. I left soon after my sixteenth birthday with it firmly programmed into me that university wasn’t going to happen, not for someone like me.

Fortunately, I started working almost immediately after I left school and five years later I am a twenty-one year old young woman who has worked damn hard to make something of my life despite the odds stacked up against me, grasping every opportunity for development afforded to me as if it’s the last.

It’s only now, at a stage where I am comfortable with my life, am I setting my eyes on gaining entry into university. Much later than my friends from school. This ambition will still take some work to achieve, however, nowhere near as much as before, now Universities Scotland has announcement that all Scottish universities have agreed to introduce a guaranteed offer for Care Experienced applicants who have the new minimum entry requirements.

An announcement that has been met with praise from Care Experienced people, including myself, from across the United Kingdom.

However, after the announcement of the guaranteed offer, I came across this article by the Times. Since the article was published, I have been in contact with the journalist who wrote it asking for a right to reply. Sadly, this wasn’t to be. So, I want to use this space to create one.

This article has made me feel like I have to explain the circumstances above to an audience of strangers that have pre-judged me as a second class citizen, who is undeserving and unworthy of a guaranteed offer into university, as this would mean displacing a more qualified, straight A student who hasn’t experienced adversity.

Again, I have to reiterate that the state intervening in my life, the disadvantage I faced growing up, and the impact this had on my education were things I had absolutely no control over and that as an adult, I still have to suffer the consequences.

Unlike the students described in said article, for me to progress further with my education, I have to keep a roof over my own head, hold down a full time job, whilst applying for evening courses at college and completing an apprenticeship before universities can even come close to guaranteeing me a place. I’m doing this with no finical support from parents, no fall-back plan and I am fully aware that all of this could collapse within an instance.

In comparison to my more privileged peers, I have had to and still have to work twice as hard to get to even consider applying for university.

Unfortunately, the achievements I have worked hard to get won’t level the completely uneven playing field Care Experienced people encounter when seeking to access university, often much later in life than those who have straight A’s leaving school. Nor will a guaranteed offer into university if you meet minimum entry requirements. This is, however, a start and an extremely important one at that.

It needs to be understood that Care Experienced people simply do not have the same privileges our peers have. That is a fact. Our education is not only disrupted, many of us don’t stay on until our final year of school. We certainly do not have the luxury of a stable home setting. We spend our childhood’s in legal processes, not knowing when we are going to see our siblings and worrying about being moved from one home to another again.

One crucial thing about this article is that it is completely missing the voice of a Care Experienced person. Instead there are comments from professionals and academics accompanied by poorly placed statistics on the cost of a pint and a kebab.

What this type of article does is fuel discrimination towards Care Experienced people. It creates separation between ‘star pupils’ and Care Experienced pupils and it can be understood to be implying that someone cannot be both. This has been demonstrated by comments underneath the article, outraged that pupils “who happen to have stable and functioning families are penalised”.

The guaranteed offer is not about discouraging applicants who have had fortunate upbringings and were already likely to succeed. It is about giving the people who missed out on so much as result of childhood trauma and state intervention a chance, so that they too, can reach their full potential and go onto live prosperous and successful futures.

It won’t turn privilege into disadvantage. Those with straight A’s will still gain entry into university. It just means Scottish campuses will provided the opportunity to learn to a more diverse array of students.

It’s time we move passed the notion that only people with traditional upbringings and private education deserve a place at university.

Care Experienced people deserve one, too.



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