“Comprehensive schools prevent pupils from poor backgrounds achieving their potential, a study has claimed.”
, 15 March 2014
But the research summary
says the opposite:
“…early selection with numerous tracks of study, a great significance of public selective schools, as well as of private schools with fees, jointly amplify socioeconomic inequalities in performances between students essentially by magnifying the effect of schools’ social composition on students’ competences.”
The research looked at 22 European countries to test how far selection and the presence of private schools affected the difference in performance between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.
The full report* found selecting pupils early lowers the effect of socio-economic background on the children in the selective school. This would appear to support the Mail
’s argument. However, what the Mail didn’t say was early selection increases differences between schools. The earlier selection begins, the wider the gap between schools.
The full report also concluded the existence of private schools fostered “socioeconomic inequalities in performances between students”.
’s article missed these findings. The writer used one small part of the report to say comprehensive schools “prevent pupils from poor backgrounds achieving their potential”. But it said no such thing: it said selective education widened the gap between schools.
The Mail wasn’t entirely wrong, however. It correctly said “the results showed how much influence wealth had on pupils’ marks. Overall, 9.4 per cent of the variance in UK performance was explained by the student’s social background, compared with a European average of 4.5 per cent.”
But its conclusion that grammar schools are needed to eradicate the effects of socio-economic background is wrong. The report showed selective systems, particularly where selection is early, worsen the effect of socio-economic background on pupils not selected (the majority). This confirms OECD findings: top performing school systems tend to be ones that do NOT segregate pupils academically or by virtue of where they live
(OECD Education at a Glance 2011).
Four countries were held up by the Mail
for special praise: the effect of a child’s socio-economic background had been “virtually eliminated”. These were Germany, Hungary, Romania and Austria. And the Mail
implied they all retained selection. But Hungary and Romania don’t separate children until age 14/15. Austria selects early as does Germany but Germany is moving away from selection following its “PISA shock” in 2000 (Andreas Schleicher OECD
What the Mail
didn’t say is that in these four countries, the socio-economic status of the school has a considerable impact. In the UK, about 8% of the variance in performance was explained by the social background of the school. In Romania it was 17%, Austria 23%, Germany 29% and Hungary 30%. This confirms the researchers’ findings: selection increases the effect of a school’s social background on its pupils’ cognitive achievement.
16 March 2014 8.17am
The Mail also forgot to mention Finland.
Around 3% of the variance in performance in Finland is explained by students’ social background which is more than the four countries praised by the Mail
(Germany 1.4%, Hungary 1.4% Romania 1.6% Austria 2.6%). But the variance in performance attributed to the social background of the school is the lowest of the 22 countries – less than 1%. Finland has, of course, a fully comprehensive system.
*Le Donné, Noémie, "European Variations in Socioeconomic Inequalities in Students' Cognitive Achievement: The Role of Educational Policies", in European Sociological Review
(2014) first published online February 18 2014. Full report available only to subscribers here
. Follow the same link for the abstract (free).