Students from private schools tended to have a lower average mark at end of first year, Nottingham University researcher found, but more research was needed

Janet Downs's picture
What effect, if any, does a private education have on university marks? That was the question a Nottingham University undergraduate, Ingrid Chiu, attempted to answer in a survey of Nottingham students.

First, Chiu reviewed the relevant literature. She found a dearth of such research but quoted what she considered to be one of the most influential – the analysis by Smith and Naylor of university students who graduated in 1993. Smith and Naylor wrote:

“The most striking result is that, compared to the default case of a student having attended an LEA [Local Education Authority] school, attendance at an independent school is associated with a statistically significantly lower level of degree performance.”

Chiu’s research at first contradicted Smith and Naylor – it suggested private school education had no impact on marks attained at the end of the first year. However, further statistical analysis suggested that attending a private school did indeed lead to a lower average mark. Chiu thought this may have been due to the tendency of students from a private school background to go to fewer lectures.

Attending a private school increased the chances of becoming an intern, Chiu found, but she admitted the results contained “a lot of bias due to the fact that there are no other explanatory variables.” When these were factored in Chiu discovered that being privately educated did not seem to affect the chances of gaining an internship. She suggested this might be because modern society puts more emphasis on individual ability rather than employer connections. But more research was needed, she wrote, on the issue of networking.

Chiu admitted there were flaws in her paper:

1 The research was biased towards higher achievers.

2 The response rate was low.

3 The survey suffered from self-selection – lower achieving pupils may not have wanted to reveal low marks.

4 Nottingham University was not representative of all students in British universities.

Chiu again mentioned the need for more research which included students from a wider range of universities.

Chiu’s paper was limited to one university and was flawed. Nevertheless, it seems to confirm that being privately educated does not relate to higher marks at university. This is in line with other research in the last few years.

UPDATE 6 September 2013.  The above has been changed to correct a spelling error - "affect" in the first line has been changed to "effect".  My thanks to Vanessa King for pointing out the typo.

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