Sunday, January 13, 2008

British government-school teachers keep pupils in the dark about Oxbridge

Although he is a high achiever, nobody had suggested Oxford to my son for his postgraduate work until I brought it up. He will now apply

Half of state school teachers would never or only rarely encourage their brightest pupils to apply to Oxbridge, according to research published today. It uncovered widespread ignorance among teachers about Oxford and Cambridge, indicating that the brightest pupils could miss the opportunity to apply to leading universities.

The MORI survey of 500 teachers was commissioned by the Sutton Trust, an educational charity committed to increasing university intake from deprived backgrounds. It found that nine in ten teachers underestimated the number of Oxbridge students from state schools. Sixty per cent thought that fewer than 30 per cent of Oxford and Cambridge students were from state schools. The correct figure is 54 per cent.

More than half thought that it was more expensive to study at Oxbridge, although both charge the same tuition fees as most other English universities, and offer generous bursaries. And while 54 per cent said that they always or usually encouraged gifted children to apply to Cambridge or Oxford, 25 per cent said that they would rarely do so, and 20 per cent would never suggest this to pupils.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The misconceptions among secondary school teachers about Oxbridge are alarming and clearly have an impact on the number of bright state school students applying to these two great universities, despite the considerable efforts that both are making to reach out to them. "It is clear that much more needs to be done to dispel the myths about Oxbridge, and other leading universities, and to ensure that young people's higher education decisions are based on fact, not fiction."

He said that teachers' perceptions were inaccurate but unsurprising, adding: "These misconceptions are as strong as ever. We have teachers thinking that pupils from below-average backgrounds won't get in to Oxbridge, and if they do they won't fit in. Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of truth to that, with the social mix largely from the upper incomes. We're trying to tackle that and so are Oxbridge."

Research published by the Sutton Trust three months ago found that pupils from 3 per cent of schools were taking a third of places at Oxford and Cambridge. Six per cent - or 200 schools - accounted for half of admissions; the trust is encouraging them to work with neighbouring state schools to help aspiring Oxbridge applicants.

A spokesman for University of Cambridge said: "The findings accord with our own anecdotal experiences about schools' misconceptions regarding admissions, and the university recognises that more needs to be done to dispel them." Geoff Parks, the director of admissions, said: "Teachers are key influencers and advisers of young people and it is vital that the advice they give is based on up-to-date and accurate information." The university is also increasing its provision of bursaries to counter the myth that it is more expensive to go to Cambridge.

Yesterday government figures showed that tuition fees of 3,000 pounds per year deterred students from applying to university when they were first introduced.In England and Northern Ireland, where the higher fees were introduced in 2006, enrolments to full-time undergraduate courses fell, the Higher Education Statistics Agency said. In Scotland and Wales, where no top-up fees were charged, the number of students continued to increase.


Cancer breakthrough may stop spreading through the body

Cancer could be stopped from spreading throughout the body following breakthroughs from researchers in the US and Britain. Scientists from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York have discovered that a handful of tiny scraps of genetic material, known as ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules, may control whether or not breast cancer travels to the lung and bone. When "microRNAs" are missing, cancer can spread freely, the scientists found. When they are restored, however, the cancer cells lose some of their ability to metastasise, putting the brakes on the proliferation of cancer.

The findings, which appear in the journal Nature, could help with the diagnosis and prognosis of cancer patients, according to Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Associate Prof Jane Visvader. "If we can understand how these microRNAs work, in the long term we can design therapeutic mimics," she said.

In Britain, by studying the growth of human embryonic stem cells, Dr Chris Ward and his team of scientists at the University of Manchester have discovered a key process in the spread of cancer. The study, published in the journal Cancer Research, used the stem cells to investigate how some tumours are able to migrate to other parts of the body, making cancer treatment much harder. The research, funded by the Association for International Cancer Research, found the protein E-cadherin stopped cells from migrating during normal growth. As well as helping cells stick together, researchers found that E-cadherin blocked the action of another protein known to increase the mobility of cells, opening up the potential for new targets to prevent tumour cells from spreading.

Australian Stem Cell Centre CEO, Prof Stephen Livesey, said the breakthrough could help pave the way for new drugs. "An understanding of this mechanism will allow researchers to develop and target more effective treatments to prevent the cancer spreading to other tissues," Prof Livesey said.

Dr Ward said the finding could be applied to 90 per cent of all cancers. "Finding out more about the mechanism that controls the spread of cancer cells will help us find new treatments that can prevent tumours spreading and make them essentially harmless," he said.

However Prof Livesey cautioned the cancer treatment was still far off. "While each new breakthrough such as this one from the University of Manchester is a step closer to more effective cancer treatments, it is also practical to remember that the development of new drugs is a complex process that can take many years," Prof Livesey said.


NHS 'now four different systems'

There are now four different NHS systems operating in the UK since devolution, according to health chiefs. As the NHS enters its 60th year, NHS Confederation boss Gill Morgan has told the BBC the health service is now in a unique position in its history. Ms Morgan said while the underlying principles of free health care still stand, patients in the UK's four nations are getting different services. Patient groups said the situation was breeding envy.

Ms Morgan, whose organisation represents NHS trusts and health boards, said there was no longer a universal system across the UK, as there had been when it was set up by the Atlee government in the summer of 1948.

England - NHS market created whereby hospitals and community services have to compete with the private sector for patients, resulting in big falls in waiting times

Scotland - Doctors have much more of a say in services, with limited involvement from the private sector. Meanwhile, patients enjoy free personal care, unlike the means-tested systems elsewhere

Wales - Close working relationship between the NHS and local government, which has meant more innovation on public health, but less emphasis on waiting times

Northern Ireland - Somewhat hamstrung by political situation, but re-organisation of trusts pushed through and good integration between social care and NHS

She told the BBC News website: "We basically have four different systems albeit with the same set of values. "This period [since devolution] has been unique in the history of the NHS as it was essentially the same across the UK before devolution. "We have had a complete split in philosophy. "The model in England is about contestability and choice driving service improvements. Outside organisations have been brought in and patients can shop around. "That model has been rejected by the other three."

In Scotland, where people have been given free personal care - unlike the means-tested systems elsewhere - Ms Morgan said there has been much more consensus. She described the approach as the "collectivist model". "They have very little contestability. "They have been slower to improve waiting than England, but much less tension between doctors and managers. "In Northern Ireland there has been very big structural change and more integration between health and social care." And in Wales, which has received praise in England for introducing free prescriptions, she said the close working relationship between local government and the NHS had had an impact on public health.

She said it was too early to say which was more successful and in the coming years the differences would become even "greater". "All we can say is that patients are experiencing different systems, each one has its advantages and we will have to wait to see what happens."

But Joyce Robins of Patient Concern said the differences were "breeding envy". "Patients are increasingly looking across national borders and wondering why they are not getting the care others are getting. "I am not sure that is good for the NHS."

Michael Summers, vice chair of the Patients Association, said England was lagging behind the rest of the UK. "England - for some reason - seems to have been the poor relation." And Professor Chris Ham, a former government adviser and Birmingham University heath expert, said the NHS had proved an important battleground since devolution. "Health is the most important service devolved governments have power over."


Guantanamo detainees 'have no right to sue Pentagon': "A US appeals court ruled that four former Guantanamo prisoners, all British citizens, had no right to sue top Pentagon officials for torture and violations of their religious rights. The decision by a three-judge panel to dismiss the lawsuit was issued on the sixth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba."

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