Comprehensive students do best at university

Dominic Self's picture
Students who benefit from a comprehensive education do better at university than their peers from grammar or private schools with the same A-Level results, according to a five-year study released today for the government and the Sutton Trust.

Comparing students with similar prior attainment reveals that those from comprehensives were more likely to attain a 2:1 degree class and more likely to achieve a first. Only 5 per cent of privately educated students graduated with a first class degree compared with 7 per cent from grammars and 10 per cent from comprehensives.

This report notes that this translated into comprehensive students who left school with grades BBB at A-Level doing as well as private or grammar pupils with grades ABB or AAB. And these differences held up even in the country's most selective universities.

It seems clear that an unhealthy obsession with A-Level grades at grammar and private schools is not translating into sustained educational achievement. Parents with children at comprehensives will be reassured, however, that high-performing children are laying a firmer foundation for self-sufficiency and independent learning which will serve them well at university.

Of course, comprehensives should always be working on improving their provision for A-Level students. But raw grades will never be a substitute for real learning, as this report clearly demonstrates.

The study also mentions familiar problems within our university application system: children from wealthier backgrounds tend to get higher predictive grades at A-Level relative to actual performance, and privately educated children are twice as likely to apply to top universities as their comprehensive peers with similar attainment.

Given the likelihood that higher tuition fees will fuel demands for reforms to address these inequities, can savvy parents really afford anything but a comprehensive education for their children?
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