So, what did Assisted Places research find? Was the scheme beneficial for individuals or did their own hard work and ability lead to success?

Janet Downs's picture
“The benefits of an independent education have lasted well into adulthood. Even those who left their independent school before gaining A-levels are in solidly middle class occupations with a good income.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust, Foreword, Lasting benefits: the long term legacy of the assisted places scheme for assisted place holders October 2013

But how do we know private education was responsible for these benefits? The respondents didn’t think their schools were responsible – they put their success down to ability and hard work. The researchers say it could be argued the respondents are wrong - their assisted places enabled their hard work to be rewarded. (In other words, if respondents’ answers don’t fit the hypothesis then argue they’re wrong.)

Despite this tortuous logic, the researchers issued a warning:

it’s “impossible to ascertain…how our respondents might have fared had they not received an Assisted Place”. This should be borne in mind by those who use this research to argue for a similar scheme to be introduced.

So what did the research find?

1 88% of the respondents were in professional/managerial jobs.

2 5.3% were in intermediate level jobs.

3 6.7% were not in paid employment.

4 Assisted place holders from the most disadvantaged backgrounds didn’t always gain high level qualifications and were more likely to leave school at 16.

5 This group didn’t do as well as might have been expected and less well than their state-educated peers. (In other words, they would have gained higher qualifications if they’d stayed in state schools.)

6 However, even these were likely to be in the higher levels of employment.

7 There didn’t appear to be much difference between graduates and non-graduates. This suggested there was a “premium in the labour market” from attending a “prestigious private school”. (Or it could suggest they worked hard and used their natural ability as the respondents themselves claimed.  Or that some employers favour ex-private school pupils and discriminate against the 93% who are educated in the state sector.)

The report contained a further warning:

“It is important to note that in this Report we are assessing the legacy of the Scheme for individuals rather than for the education system as a whole. Many critics of the Scheme have argued that any benefits experienced by Assisted Place holders (and the schools they attended) have been at the expense of neighbouring state-maintained schools and their children… We are not seeking to evaluate these claims here.”

Sir Peter Lampl seems to have ignored the criticisms in his whole-hearted endorsement of his Open Access scheme despite the OECD finding that the most successful school systems tend to be those that don’t segregate children academically.

But we’ll never know if the respondents would have been just as successful if they’d remained in state schools. And no amount of tortuous spinning alters that fact.


ADDENDUM Researchers looked at 77 questionnaires completed by people now in their forties who had taken up assisted places at independent schools. 75,000 pupils took part in the Assisted Place Scheme. However, the majority were not “plucked from poverty” as is often claimed (see here).

The results:

23 respondents earned £90K+;

9 earned between £60k and £90k;

17 earned between £30k and %60k;

8 earned less than £30k;

5 were unemployed

This still leaves 15 unaccounted for. The researchers state 40% of respondents earned above £90k but 23 out of 77 is not 40%.

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