A Levels: State schools close the gap again

Henry Stewart's picture
 16
The percentage of A levels in state schools that are A* or A rose last year from 22.2% to 22.7%. This year it has risen again, to 23.4%. This appears not to have been due to 'grade inflation' as the proportion in private schools stayed the same at 50.8%.

The figures are given in documents for 2010 and 2011 on the Joint Council for Qualifications web site. The figures above are the result of combining the different types of school in the state sector. (The categories Comprehensives or Selective schools are difficult to compare between 2010 and 2011 as many of the 'outstanding' schools from those sectors have transferred to the new category of  'academies').

The figure in private schools is still higher, as can be expected from the background of those attending such schools, but the gap is steadily - year by year - closing. It is clear that the performance of state schools is consistently improving. 

This is not the message we hear from media coverage and is surely an indication of the benefit of investment in education over the last few years. As we send out and tweet these statistics I look forward to seeing coverage of the closing gap in newspaper in the next few days and discussion of what has gone right in our schools.

 

(Statistical note: There is a small element of approximation in calculating the above figures as absolute numbers have only been given by JCQ for 2011. I have assumed the proportions between different types of state schools nwere the same in 2009and 2010.)

 
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Comments

JimC's picture
Thu, 18/08/2011 - 15:26

The obvious retort from private school champions will be that by using results from all A Levels you are not actually comparing the same thing?

A comparison of grades subject by subject sorted into the different examination boards would be far more useful here.

Also you are using a different causal factor for academic performance in private and state schools - student background and good schooling respectively. How can we tell if the rise in state school grades is because of school improvement or because of a small rise in living standards for some of the state educated cohort? How can we tell if the flatlining standards in private schools is down to stagnant teaching practice or a slight drop in living standards amongst the well off?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 18/08/2011 - 17:53

It's the intake - private schools attract the socio-advantaged who tend to do better at school than the disadvantaged. That's the opinion of PISA in their latest PISA Focus discussed here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/08/private-schools-don%e2%80%...

JimC's picture
Fri, 19/08/2011 - 09:56

If a child success at school depends on their socio economic background (not entirely) then what has state schooling got to boast about aside from 'our students are getting richer'?

Henry Stewart's picture
Fri, 19/08/2011 - 11:27

We know there is a link between socio-economic background and GCSE/A level achievement. Though we also know great schools can help all students to succeed.

And the "students getting richer" explanation of state school success is a bit silly, because they aren't. Over the last three years average real incomes in the UK have actually fallen. So it seems it is to do with state schools getting consistently better.

JimC's picture
Fri, 19/08/2011 - 12:34

"We know there is a link between socio-economic background and GCSE/A level achievement. Though we also know great schools can help all students to succeed."

There are many factors that statistically affect a students chances of success. My problem here is the apparant cherry picking of factors to support one's personal point of view. Arguing along of the lines of 'Independent schools get good grades because they only have well off students but state schools are closing the gap because they are better schools' is a weak argument given the evidence presented.

"And the “students getting richer” explanation of state school success is a bit silly, because they aren’t."

Then we accept that factors other than wealth influence a childs academic chances and ought to give some begrudging credit to independent schools.

"Over the last three years average real incomes in the UK have actually fallen. So it seems it is to do with state schools getting consistently better."

I'm not going to dispute that the majority of people are worse off now than they were three years ago but this evidence doesn't actually prove it. It is possible for average income to fall even if the majority of a population are experiencing an increase.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 19/08/2011 - 17:50

See my post above which gives the opinion of the OECD about the effect of pupil intake on a school's academic achievement. This subject was discussed in the latest OECD publication PISA Focus. And the OECD found that UK publicly-funded schools outperformed private ones when socio-economic advantage was taken into account.

JimC's picture
Sat, 20/08/2011 - 14:32

My issue isn't that one type of school is better than the other it was that biased assumptions about state and private schools were made.

I don't have as big an issue with your statement because you have some evidence to back it up. That said we are limited to reading levels here and I would want to see the methodology behind some of that analysis before I started singing the virtues of state schooling.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 20/08/2011 - 16:26

The reason why PISA Focus based its conclusion on Reading was that this subject was the main focus of PISA 2009 although PISA still tested for Maths and Science. In 2006 the main focus of PISA was Science, although Reading and Maths were tested at the same time. In 2003, Maths was the main focus. In 2000 it was Reading. You would need to go back through PISA 2006, 2003 and 2000 to see if the conclusion held for the other subjects. A Danish report published in 2005 suggests it might.

This report by Danish academics was published by the OECD and commented on how differentiated schooling worsened the effects of socio-economic disadvantage . The report also described the negative effects of streaming. A fuller description of the report is below this thread:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/08/school-intake-governs-acad...

Note that the Danish report is based on research from PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS which can't just be described as "some evidence".

JimC's picture
Sat, 20/08/2011 - 17:08

Janet my issue isn't with the amount of evidence it is with the quality.

The chart in the PISA circular suggests that they are increasing some test scores to compensate for a childs socio economic background - how is the level of compensation decided? Since a childs socio economic background isn't a direct cause of high academic achievement why is it even being used this way in the first place?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 21/08/2011 - 12:12

OECD finds repeatedly in its research that disadvantaged socio-economic circumstances has a detrimental effect on children's academic achievement. A majority of disadvantaged children in a school has a negative effect on all children who attend that school (even pupils from an advantaged background). An advantaged socio-economic background has a positive effect on children's achievement and OECD found that a school with a majority of such children had an equally positive effect on the achievement of all children in that school (even the disadvantaged ones).

Reports from the OECD, the Education Endowment Fund and the recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies have linked socio-economic advantage or disadvantage with school results. In order to judge schools fairly, OECD factors in socio-economic circumstances in order to differentiate between schools with an advantaged intake and those with a disadvantaged intake who may be coping with problems that are not seen in the more advantaged schools but are nevertheless doing a good job with their intake. Judging the latter on raw exam data is unfair - that's why Contextual Value Added, with its flaws, was a recognition of this.

More detailed discussion of the OECD findings about socio-economic disadvantage, and the report by the Education Endowment Fund can be found here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/socio-economic-disadvantag...

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/disadvantaged-pupils-do-wo...

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 21/08/2011 - 13:25

PISA feels that socio-economic information needs to be taken into account when judging the effectiveness of schooling. PISA uses the Index of Economic Social and Cultural Status (ESCS) which "captures a number of aspects of a student's family and home background". This index look at three variables:

1 The highest socio-economic occupation status of father or mother.
2 The highest level of education of father or mother.
3 The number of books at home/access to home educational and cultural resources.

The rationale for choosing these variable is that it is a way of determining the socio-economic status of a family in the absence of data about parental wealth. The latter information is not available to PISA so the three variables stand as proxy.

http://ec.europa.eu/education/pdf/doc282_en.pdf (pages 75/76 footnote)

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 21/08/2011 - 13:27

OECD finds repeatedly in its research that disadvantaged socio-economic circumstances has a detrimental effect on children’s academic achievement. A majority of disadvantaged children in a school has a negative effect on all children who attend that school (even pupils from an advantaged background). An advantaged socio-economic background has a positive effect on children’s achievement and OECD found that a school with a majority of such children had an equally positive effect on the achievement of all children in that school (even the disadvantaged ones).

Reports from the OECD, the Education Endowment Fund and the recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies have linked socio-economic advantage or disadvantage with school results. In order to judge schools fairly, OECD factors in socio-economic circumstances in order to differentiate between schools with an advantaged intake and those with a disadvantaged intake who may be coping with problems that are not seen in the more advantaged schools but are nevertheless doing a good job with their intake. Judging the latter on raw exam data is unfair – that’s why Contextual Value Added, with its flaws, was a recognition of this.

More detailed discussion of the OECD findings about socio-economic disadvantage, and the report by the Education Endowment Fund can be found here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/socio-economic-disadvantag...

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/disadvantaged-pupils-do-wo...

JimC's picture
Mon, 22/08/2011 - 09:52

So (and please correct me if I am wrong) the mean difference in points for the reading est between students whose parents are in the bottom and top quartiles for occupation is 91 (2003 data - table on page 83).

If that is the case what are PISA doing with such numbers in their documents order to make judgements about state schools? They really aren't going out of there way to explain this or put the raw data in a manageable form so that it is clear.

Ironically PISA's adjustments for state schools in the 'private schools: who benefits' answer involved adding around 91 points to their mean reading scores so - lo and behold - state schools appear to be out performing private ones. How was this number reached and justified in the case of the UK? Why roughly 91?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 22/08/2011 - 13:36

I'm sorry, Jim, I can't answer your query about how PISA presents its statistics. I posted an earlier comment but this seems to be stuck in moderation which is not helpful when trying to build a coherent argument. However, if you think that the PISA statistics are wrong, or misleadingly presented, or biased against "private schools" and so on, I suggest you email OECD yourself. The contact details are here:

http://www.oecd.org/pages/0,3417,en_36734052_36734103_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

In the meantime, it's worth remembering that OECD statistics are trusted by governments and its research is highly valued (so much so that Mr Gove misrepresents OECD data in order to make his statements appear to have the OECD seal of approval). If the statistics were felt to be dodgy then governments would not trust them, nor would they try to justify their policies against OECD yardsticks.

JimC's picture
Mon, 22/08/2011 - 16:23

Thanks anyway Janet I do find the links interesting so please keep posting them.

Nigel Ford's picture
Sat, 27/08/2011 - 21:53

I see that quite a few public school students who took the International Baccalaureate exam which is meant to be a superior and broader syllabus than A'levels have fallen short in attaining the required standards to access their chosen universities, while if they had taken the easier (module) A'level route, the chances are they would have achieved the required points tally.

Slightly ironic that parents who make a massive financial outlay for their childrens' education failed to reach the Russell/1994 Universities because they had been pushed in that direction yet had they attended their local comp/6th form college, the outcomes would probably have been more favourable.

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