Comprehensive school pupils outperform their private peers at university

Roger Titcombe's picture
This issue was tackled by Guardian Education editor Richard Adams (6 and 7 June).

It was taken up in the Daily Mail on 8 June.

For once I find myself agreeing more with the coverage in the Daily Mail.

"Universities are set to discriminate in favour of state school applicants following research which found they get better degrees than privately-educated pupils with the same A-levels.

"A major new study found that two thirds of state school pupils who achieved Bs and Cs at A-level went on to gain first or upper second class degrees - the research also suggested that ‘contextual’ admissions policies which take into account the average performance of an applicant’s school are flawed.

"[the study] claimed that the performance of a school - whether high or low-achieving - made little difference to a pupil’s chances of achieving a first or 2.1 at university."

These paragraphs from the Daily Mail coverage are of enormous importance. They chime with many of Janet Downs's previous posts on this subject and also with the increasingly established pattern that in general, able pupils that attend comprehensive schools are not disadvantaged by their school's 'poor' league table status, OfSTED criticism, or even failure to meet DfE 'Floor targets'.

They reveal that able comprehensive pupils that attend 'poor' comprehensive schools are not actually disadvantaged at all, even if league tables, OfSTED judgments and DfE pronouncements say that they are.

If they are not disadvantaged then plainly they do not need preferential treatment in terms of university admissions.

It is also likely that the relative failure to equip pupils with the learning resilience to succeed at university may not apply to the very best independent schools. See this thread about the work of some ex Eton College students.

Fiona Millar in responding to the thread (7 Feb 2014) drew attention to the 'slow education' movement and the work of Eton College House Master Mike Grenier that was reported in the Daily Telegraph here.

This is from the Telegraph article.

" we try very hard to get the balance right here. That ambition has led him [Grenier] in recent times to join forces with a group of like-minded professionals – who fear that our entire education system is hopelessly out of sync with what children actually need. Among the key complaints of this informal alliance – which, Grenier is keen to point out, includes practitioners in both state and independent sectors – is that the current “debased curriculum”, with its emphasis on testing, prescribed goals, a rigorous regime of inspections, league tables and top-down diktats from Whitehall, is doing the nation’s youngsters no good at all." (Our emphasis)

It is therefore the other side of the issue that requires attention. What if able pupils from some schools that get 'outstanding' judgements from OfSTED also perform worse at university than pupils with the same high admission CATs scores from 'failing schools'? Unfortunately we don't know the answer to this because there is not yet enough data.

I have long been arguing that such a counter-intuitive consequence is quite likely because the successful pursuit of 'spectacular' school improvement within the terms and culture imposed by marketisation has required 'gaming' in both curriculum design and teaching methods.

It is schools that don't do this and which use sound, slow, developmental teaching methods that are condemned as 'coasting' or else forced to become Academies. They are then likely to degrade their educational provision in pursuit of the mistakenly coveted 'Outstanding' status.

In the chapter that deals with banded admissions systems in my forthcoming book I argue as follows.

"It is important to note that there is no necessary disadvantage to any pupils attending a lower average intake CAT score school provided their GCSE results do justice to their cognitive abilities. A school with a poorer intake ability profile could be achieving just the same success for their more able pupils [as a high attaining school], but there will be proportionately fewer of them, resulting in the league table position of the school [and OfSTED judgments] being poorer."

My solution to the apparent anomaly of pupils from 'poor' schools doing well at university and vice-versa lies with reforming OfSTED. Tristram Hunt is rightly arguing for a much stronger role for OfSTED inspectors in observing and judging the quality of the actual curriculum experienced by pupils, rather than Inspectors making their mind up before they step through the door then spending a couple of days doing shallow, 15 minute lesson observations in a search for padding for the report, whose judgments they decided in advance on the basis of flawed data.

Tristram Hunt is right that a new OfSTED approach is needed in the context of the 'Trojan Horse' revelations. OfSTED now needs generally to start inspecting teaching and the curriculum properly instead of ignoring 'gaming' and shallow behaviourist teaching as long as it appears to be getting the C Grade-driven results they appear to be looking for.

Just as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspects health care providers in the public and private sectors on the same 'no fear or favour' basis, OfSTED should be doing the same with schools, including the fee-paying independent sector. This would require OfSTED to use only HMI Inspectors, not private sector contractors, as I have long argued.

The Chief Inspector of Schools now appears to agree with this. He is bringing Ofsted inspection in-house by ending the contracts with the three companies doing inspections.

He is right but this could be interesting in terms of his relationship with Michael Gove. The Chief Inspector should be supported.

Proper, rigorous OfSTED inspections might find the reasons why many Independent School pupils do so badly at university compared to their comprehensively educated peers.

This too needs to become Labour Party education policy. Your star is rising at last Tristram. Get onto it.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 15:00

Just watched Tristram in the Commons replying to Gove's 'Trojan Horse' statement. In my view, 'the lad did well'.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.