How Stoke Newington School Outperforms Wellington College

Henry Stewart's picture
The media often quotes headline exam results to show the supposed superiority of private schools. However a fair comparison is only possible if the intakes are similar. Within the state sector comparisons can be made with value added figures, but these aren't available for private schools. It is interesting then to compare a school from each sector.

Wellington College is a highly regarded elite private school with an exam to gain entry. Its web site publishes its exam results. Last year 75% of GCSE grades were A or A* (a record, up from 63% the previous year). For A levels, 66% were A or A*.

Stoke Newington School is a comprehensive school in Hackney (which I chair) with a wide range of students. There is no selection on entry and so it would be an amazing achievement to match the Wellington figures overall. However we can create a comparison by analysing the results of  the most academic students within the school.

Those students who arrived at Stoke Newington School with a 5b or better in English , Maths and Science make up 8% of the intake. Among this group are the students who might have stood a chance of gaining entry to Wellington College. Tracking these students to GCSE last year, we find that 70% of their GCSE grades were A or A*, above the figure for Wellington.

The same is true of A level results. Taking the top 10%, by GCSE results two years ago, we find that 77% of their A level grades this year were A or A*. Again this is a little above the Wellington figure. So Stoke Newington School could be said to outperform Wellington College, when comparable groups of students are used.

Too often there is an assumption in the British media that private schools are somehow better. This is only one example, comparing two schools (though I chose Wellington because of its reputation for academic excellence), but it is perhaps an indication that with comparable intakes it isn't clear there is any better performance in the private sector.

Note: This analysis was prompted by this year's A level results. However inevitably most of the figures above are based on last year's results (as 2012 GCSEs aren't available yet and the Wellington College web site figures are still those for 2011 A levels). I will seek to update them once the full 2012 figures are available and published.
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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 17/08/2012 - 08:11

Thanks, Henry, for pointing out that when comparing selective independent schools with non-selective state schools that it's important only to compare like with like (ie the pupils in the non-selective schools who are at the same attainment level as those in the selective independent school).

Another case from last year's GCSE results is that of the Woodbridge School, a highly-selective independent school run by the Seckford Foundation which is behind that Beccles free school allegedly set up to improve education is Beccles. 95% of Woodbridge's high-attaining students achieved the benchmark 5 GCSEs A*-C (including Maths and English). But at the state comprehensive in Beccles, Sir John Leman High, 96% of high attaining pupils reached the benchmark.

Bob Woods's picture
Sat, 18/08/2012 - 08:24

I visited Stoke Newington School in June to attend a training session with Elly Barnes on tackling Homophobia in Schools, the atmosphere arouind the school and with the students I saw was very impressive, What a joy to witness. Any school that challenges bullying creates a working environment that will succeed academically and holistically. Congratulations to staff, students and management!

michele robbins's picture
Sat, 18/08/2012 - 10:00

Well done! Why can't the DfE do likewise and give us some decent comparative data? Maybe you should present your data to Gerard Kelly at the TES? It would be the basis for a very good article following on from the ridiculous comments from Cameron about gold medals/state school students etc.

Cath Prisk's picture
Mon, 20/08/2012 - 18:39

Lovely piece illustrating the hard work of the staff at Stoke Newington and timely reminder. My nephew attends your school so I'll be showing this to his mum!

One question - I know you have some great after school programmes and good sports activities, but do you also concentrate on the 'wellbeing' side like Wellington do? Exam results aren't everything and Anthony Seldon, Master at Wellington College, places a big emphasis on the whole child/young person, on ensuring they have an environment that encourages them to take risks, to have fun and to engage with nature. Few secondary schools in the state sector have access to the expansive grounds that private schools have, places for the young people to relax and have fun in. But many could learn a thing or two about their approach (and indeed the approach in enlightened primary schools) to providing enabling outdoor environments and developing the rounded capabilities of young people.

Michael's picture
Tue, 21/08/2012 - 11:33

Good for Stoke Newington!

I don't want to take anything away from the work they do but I'm puzzled by your throwaway comment "I chose Wellington because of its reputation for academic excellence". There are some 250 public schools in the UK (members of the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference) and Wellington doesn't even make it into the top 50 academically (74th in 2010). This is not a criticism of Wellington but a gentle question mark raised over your claim. One of the positive things about most public schools to my mind is that they take pupils of mixed abilities.

Leonard James's picture
Tue, 21/08/2012 - 11:44

While I think it is pretty obvious that the ability spread of a cohort will have an effect on the end of KS4 results I just can't get that enthused about this.

My issue is with that there are so many better ways of measuring student ability and student outcomes than the governments benchmark of 5 A*-C. Comparing the average or median GCSE grades instead of the benchmark would be a step forward. It would be even better if one could compare students based on UMS marks from exams and, say, CAT scores.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 27/08/2012 - 12:57


I'd be interested to know how the picture changes if you were to re-run the model using those arriving with 4b and above rather than 5b+.

I'm not sure Wellington is quite as cognitively elitist as you think.

Alternatively, you could run the comparison against Winchester, Westminster and St Paul's Girls and see whether your argument still stacks up.

leonard james's picture
Mon, 27/08/2012 - 13:22

Is this sort of data even available for private schools? I thought it was an assumption that students at Wellington started with a 5b?

Cognita schools's picture
Wed, 29/08/2012 - 12:48

Indeed the result comparisons of the schools across different sectors is unfair. And the most important point highlighted would be the selective intake of the private schools. But nevertheless one cannot underestimate the world class facilities provided by these independent schools which is one of the major contributing factor in its brilliant results.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 29/08/2012 - 14:38

Cognita schools - you are correct that school intake affects school performance. This was confirmed by a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies last year:

Unfortunately, the English state system is always being compared with the private sector to the detriment of the former as discussed on the thread below:

You say that independent schools' "world class facilities" contribute to their "brilliant results". But these "brilliant results" are not so brilliant when pupils' socio-economic background is factored in. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), commenting on the 2009 PISA results for the UK, said "once the socio-economic background of students and schools is accounted for, public schools [state schools] come out with a slight advantage of 7 score points, on average across OECD countries (in the United Kingdom public schools [state schools] outscore privately managed schools by 20 score points once the socio-economic background is accounted for)." (page 13)

In other words, once socio-economic background is taken into consideration, UK state schools outperform UK privately-managed schools by a greater margin than is seen in other OECD countries.

And even schools with supposed "world class" facilities can have disgruntled parents:

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