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Pernicious Personal Statements?

October 15, 2012

According to The Guardian this week, some students are paying up to £350 for a personal statement that will make them look good when they apply to university. Students can pay for something that can be anything from a false statement to a bespoke version based on their experience. According to the same article UCAS catch up to 8,000 about 1% of students sending in false or copied statements. This, apparently is not the major crime that students commit when they are constructing their UCAS application for, according to Jon Keighren, a spokesman for Manchester University “It is not just that a minority of people may be paying for these services: many, many more have the simple advantage of being from a family where mum or dad are themselves able to help them with their personal statements across the dinner table, entirely for free. This is natural, far more widespread and a much more pernicious aspect to unfairness in admissions.”

Say what?!

Okay let’s unpack that a little:

  • Yes – there is a class problem in education as everywhere else, but class does not define parenting
  • Yes – some students do not have access to good facilities, parents who know the system or even schools that know the system; and
  • No – parents should not be writing their children’s statements for them.


  • Talking about it over the dinner table – pernicious?
  • Proof reading it for errors – pernicious?
  • Reminding them of relevant experience – pernicious?

Effectively, what Jon Keighren has said is that parents helping their children apply for university places is pernicious. What are parents supposed to do give the kids a tenner, send them down the chip shop and tell them not to come back until they have done their UCAS form? The issue is the equality of access to the system. The question is how do we include those who do not have access to that help at home, not how do we block that help from those who already get it? The quest should be about raising the game, rather than lowering the bar.

A quick look at the comments on The Guardian article suggests that admissions tutors are, to say the least, ambivalent about the personal statement while Ox-bridge interview. Government has succeeded in increasing the number of universities, university places and students at university so the enrollment process is more dependent on applications and grades than on interviews. There’s no time for staff to interview the thousands of students who apply and thus the personal statement is a huge part of a student’s application, at least for the student, apparently not so for many admissions tutors, who seem to dismiss it as either useless or the product of pernicious interference of perfidious parents.

It is, no doubt, pernicious to lie about your past, but for parents to help their children is the role of a parent, not to mention that most middle class parents will “help” their child at university, usually by paying their rent. The £9,000 a year is tuition only, then there is rent – oh and food and most parents, I suspect stump up for a lot of that, so perhaps they have a vested interest in their child going to the university of their choice, non middle class parents

Click on the image for more media.

my have an interest in their child going to a local university which brings me to…

And finallygood parenting is not the preserve of the middle class, pernicious

parenting is not confined to the under privileged, neglect and abuse cross class barriers just as wanting the best for your child, and helping them with that, is a universal impulse. That impulse should be lauded by educationalists whatever class it comes from, not criticised – of course every good parent supports and helps their child across the dinner table or over a tray on their lap, every parent offers support and advice this does not make them cheats, nor does it make them pernicious.

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