The Director of the Office for Fair Access, Les Ebdon, seems to think potential university students can be "spotted" at the age of seven. I find such a view in such a senior public servant unutterable sad, if not worse.
In an interview published in yesterday's Sunday Times (£wall), it seems Les Ebdon has been saying that "universities must begin working with children as young as seven, especially those from poorer families, to 'spot their potential', track them as they grow up and prepare them for the challenges of being a university student". Apparently this includes children dressing up and playing 'mini-graduation ceremonies': "quite a few universities have a cupboard full mini gowns and mortar boards tucked away somewhere, because they have graduation ceremonies for young children after working with them in schools". Liverpool University's scheme is called the "Professor Fluffy Project".
Asked "can you really spot at the age of seven whether a child is gifted enough to apply for Oxford or Cambridge?", Les Ebdon responds "Oooh, yes, especially in maths and things like that".
"... and things like that". Professor Fluffy, indeed. Does this fellow have any hard evidence whatsoever that this stuff has any basis in any reality?
What this forcefully reminds me of is my first days at Grammar School in 1957. Boys whose "potential" at football, or cricket and athletics in summer, was "spotted" were given extra coaching. Those who weren't "spotted" did not get the extra coaching. Guess which boys from Year 2 to Year 6 went on to represent the school?
Football clubs still do it, of course. Scouring junior soccer leagues for "potential" and then signing children up for intensive coaching schemes. Few make it to playing for a Premier League team.
Personally, I find the idea that "potential" is somehow innate, waiting to be "spotted" in children just 7 years old (or younger, or older, take your pick), presumes an utterly negative view not just of education (of learning and teaching and upbringing) but of Humanity in general.