Comprehensive pupils outperform independent and grammar pupils in university degrees

Janet Downs's picture

“Students from comprehensive schools are likely to achieve higher class degrees at university than independent and grammar school students with similar A-levels and GCSE results, a major study commissioned by the Sutton Trust and the Government shows. This is one of the main findings from a five year study by the National Foundation for Educational Research tracking 8000 A-level students ”

There doesn’t seem to have been much publicity given to this report – it was published on 3 December 2010, shortly before the launch of the OECD PISA results for 2009 which, as we all know, were compared with the discounted PISA 2000 results so that the Government could show UK education in a bad light. And yet, here we have another survey showing how well UK comprehensive school pupils perform at university. Mr Gove should stop rubbishing UK state education and start praising it.

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Janet, I completely agree. It is terrible that students at university of similar ability are likely to have lower GCSE and A level results if they went to a comprehensive.

Julian Mortimer's picture
Thu, 31/03/2011 - 21:17

It comes as no surprise to me. Anyone with the resourcefulness and determination necessary to escape from that quagmire is guaranteed to do well in practically anything they attempt. But you have proven nothing. Few people make it that far.

I would be very interested to hear what these successful people think of their schooldays, and would be interested to know what sort of education they would choose for their children.

There was a provocative article published recently by The Guardian entitled something like "Is it safe to send my to my local comp?"

All traces of the article seem to have disappeared, but, no matter because I copied the URL and tomorrow when I return to work I'll post it.

The cif reactions were, to say the least, mixed, but among those who succeeded in obtaining places at good universities having attended inner city comps the reception was, at best, reserved.

It's okay for people who, like FM, have money and clout, to school their children in whichever way seems politcally expedient, since places at universities like Oxford materialise for them in ways no different from the manner in which they do for any other influential person. They are also in a position to give and/or pay for private tuition.

I wonder, though, does it ever cross your mind that she might be taking you for a ride? What's the social dynamic when you're in her company?

Regards, Geoff

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 01/04/2011 - 07:31

I am not sure what point you are seeking to make here but just for the record, none of my children has ever had private tuition. The two who have now graduated were well taught at their local schools ( neither of which were particularly high performing) and worked hard to get their places at university and their degrees.

Julian Mortimer's picture
Thu, 31/03/2011 - 21:24

In the above, between "my" and "to my" there was an editorial instruction, placed in parentheses which signify a URL and so rejected: I'll use quotes, instead.

"Place silly posh-sounding name and picture of scared, sensitive-looking daughter in expensive car here - ed"

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/04/2011 - 08:05

The report said that comprehensive school pupils performed better than their independent/grammar school peers with similar qualifications. The Little Oxford Dictionary definition of "similar" is "like, alike, having resemblance to, of same kind". I interpreted this as meaning that a comprehensive pupil with grade A would be more likely to achieve a higher degree than a pupil from independent or grammar schools with grade A.

However, I think the research results are more nuanced than a blunt conclusion that comprehensive pupils are better or that comprehensive pupils are disadvantaged at school because they achieve lower A level grades than pupils in independent/grammar schools. There may be many contributory factors.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/04/2011 - 08:21

It's a pity that a post should include such emotive words as "quagmire" when referring to comprehensive education. In Finland, the top-performing European country in recent OECD PISA results, all the schools are fully-comprehensive and fully state-funded. Not very bog-like, then.

I'm also disappointed that a post should include personal attacks. Nevertheless, the point about influential parents raises an interesting question: if a child of an influential parent receives a university place is it because of the child's abilities or because of the parent's status? Or is such a question a slur on the integrity of universities?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/04/2011 - 14:05

My point in drawing attention to the Sutton Trust report is that comprehensive pupils are not inferior to pupils from selective schools. Unfortunately, there is prejudice in the UK against comprehensive schools (a quagmire, as one post above described them) and an assumption that independent and grammar schools are better. If this were so, then one would expect the pupils from these schools to outperform their comprehensive school peers at university.

The survey raises further questions. If pupils in independent and grammar schools receive higher grades than pupils of similar ability in comprehensive schools, then we need to ask why. Is it the quality of teaching, or are some teachers better at anticipating what the examiner wants? Are some schools better at teaching to a test than others? Is this necessarily a good thing?

A further question is why pupils who have the same A level grades on entering university end up with different levels of degrees. Could this also have something to do with the type of teaching experienced in Years 12 and 13? Could it be that a too narrow focus on the end result means that some pupils don’t have the skills of research, interrogation and analysis which are essential for a high grade degree?
There is also the broader question of how far A level grades are indicative of a good degree. The report suggests that they aren’t.

I don’t have the answers, but the questions are worth asking.

Julian Mortimer's picture
Sat, 02/04/2011 - 16:50

I apologise without reservation to Fiona for a completely unjustified attempt to cause her personal offence.

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