State schools are better at preparing pupils for the ‘new economy’, Ucas chief warns private headteachers

State schools are better than private schools at preparing their pupils for jobs in the “new economy”, the head of the university admissions service has said.

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of Ucas, said just 13 per cent of privately educated university entrants studied “new economy subjects” such as biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, cinematics and creative art and design.

For the state sector, the figure was twice as high at 26 per cent, Ms Curnock Cook said in an address to the annual gathering of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of leading independent school headteachers.

Private schools had been “a little bit slow on the uptake” in encouraging their pupils to choose these subjects, she said.

She added: “Not only are your students going to the same universities their parents went to, but they’re studying the same subjects that their parents did.

“If I were to believe a recent report from one independent school head, your students and their parents often seem to think the only jobs worth shooting for are medicine, law, financial services and the media.”

This year-on-year preference for traditional employment areas meant that big City firms and the “magic circle professions” were ending up with a workforce that was drawn from such a narrow pool it seemed to be “impeding their ability to be effective”, she said.

Ms Curnock Cook added: “I worry about a sub-section of society which is sleepwalking through an identikit educational experience into an off-the-peg life which mirrors what generations of the affluent classes have aspired to.”

She said the most popular degree choices for privately educated pupils included medicine, history, economics, English, law and geography.

“Perhaps…these predictable course choices to the same old universities are not always the right choices for all of your pupils,” she said. “Maybe some of them should give serious thought to choosing to study something different somewhere else.”

Instead of “worrying about social engineering”, she said, private schools should “think about encouraging their students to be independent-minded and to develop a sense of future self that breaks the mould a bit.”

During her speech, Ms Curnock Cook also said that a focus among universities on increasing their intakes of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds “probably did not” threaten the prospects of privately-educated pupils because falling pupil numbers meant that “students with good A-levels will be in more demand than ever”.

This meant students with good grades would be “lovebombed with offers” from universities, she added.

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