Private schools don’t help raise overall performance level of school systems, says OECD

Janet Downs's picture
The latest edition of PISA in Focus "Private Schools: Who Benefits?" that pupils who attend private schools tend to perform significantly better in PISA tests than pupils in public schools but pupils in public schools with a similar socio-economic background as private schools tend to achieve the same results. OECD research found that although the typical private school pupil outperforms the typical public school student by 30 points on the PISA reading score, three-quarters of that 30-point difference could be attributed to the private schools’ ability to attract socio-economically advantaged pupils. These schools are more likely to attract better-performing pupils and greater resources. In the UK that gap between private schools and public schools is even greater, but OECD discovered in December 2010 that once socio-economic background was accounted for UK public schools outscored privately-managed ones by 20 score points.

PISA found that when public schools were given similar levels of autonomy as private schools, and when the former comprised a student intake similar to private schools, the difference between the two was not apparent. In many cases, PISA found, “it’s the students who make the school”.

The report also found that “there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help to raise the level of performance of the school system as a whole”.

The OECD describes private schools as those that are managed locally, without regard to funding. Some privately-managed schools can be funded from governments but managed by non-government organisations. Academies could fit this definition, but in 2009 when the last PISA tests were taken there were very few academies, and OECD makes it clear that for the UK, the term “private school” means private schools not dependent on government funding ie fee-paying schools.
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