Much has been said in the last couple of weeks about the superiority of English private schools over state ones. Dr Seldon
, head of Wellington College, suggested state schools should emulate the best features of private schools unaware that state schools do most of these already. Education Secretary Michael Gove said in his latest Govoration
that the standards of state schools should be indistinguishable from those in the private schools.
But do private schools do better than English state ones? The evidence suggests not.
OFSTED INSPECTION DATA
69% of non-affiliated private schools
inspected under the old framework from September 2012 and 31 December 2012 were good or better and 31% were judged “less than good”*.
64% of private schools inspected under the new framework
from 1 January 2013 to 31 August 2013 were good or better; 36% were “less than good” and 13% were inadequate.
For state schools
inspected between 1 September 2012 and 31 August 2013 under the old and new framework:
64% were good or better: 30% required improvement and 6% were inadequate.
These figures suggest little difference between Ofsted judgements of non-affiliated private and state schools although more non-affiliated private schools were judged inadequate.
However, these figures should be approached with caution because there’s no differentiation in the state school data between schools inspected under the old and new regime.
There appears to be no corresponding data about the small number of independent schools inspected by the Bridge Schools Inspectorate
and the School Inspection Service
or the 1,200 schools inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate
(ISI). ISI inspects independent schools affiliated to independent schools associations. Affiliation usually depends on maintaining good or better inspections. This makes it difficult to compare ISI schools, which tend to be highly selective, and the state sector which caters for the whole ability range and does not exclude schools with a poor inspection result from its ranks.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT AND SCHOOL INTAKE
The Institute of Fiscal Studies
(2011) found a school’s academic achievement is governed by the ability range of its intake. The private schools admired by Gove tend to be highly selective so it’s hardly surprising their headline results would be better than non-selective schools with the full ability range or one skewed to the bottom of the ability range.
found pupils who attend private schools tend to perform significantly better in PISA tests BUT pupils in state schools with a similar socio-economic background as private schools tend to achieve the same results.
The private school “advantage”, wrote OECD, may be less than it seems. Any difference that remained after socio-economic background was taken into account could be accounted for by higher levels of autonomy over curricula and resources in private schools. All state schools in England have considerable autonomy over budget spending and the strictures of the national curriculum could be untied by allowing all schools the freedom to opt out.
The OECD** recognised that UK independent schools achieved high results BUT when socio-economic background was taken into account UK state schools outperformed independent ones.
It’s worth repeating that last finding: UK state schools outperform UK private schools when socio-economic background is factored in. In other words, UK state schools do a better job than UK private schools in more difficult circumstances. The seeming superiority of UK private schools is down to their advantaged intake.
*The description “less than good” referred to Grade 3 private schools officially judged “Satisfactory” until December 2012 and “Adequate
” from January 2013. Grade 3 state schools are neither “Satisfactory” nor “Adequate” but judged as “Requires Improvement”. Grade 3 schools inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (if any exist given that affiliation depends on a good quality inspection) are neither “Satisfactory” nor “Adequate” and certainly not “Requires Improvement”. They are “Sound
**OECD 2010 Viewing the UK School System through the Prism of PISA
CORRECTION 5 FEBRUARY 2014
The above has been amended. I wrongly said Dr Seldon was head of Westminster College. It should, of course, have been Wellington College. Thanks to Matt for pointing this out.