Privately-educated 25 year-olds earn more – education quality or unfair network access?

Janet Downs's picture

Young people educated in a private secondary school were 12 percentage points more likely than their state-educated peers to have entered a managerial or professional occupation by the time they’re 25, latest research from UCL’s Institute of Education (IOE) suggests.  They’re also earning ‘on average 17 percent higher pay’.

IOE looked at those born in 1990 and compared privately-educated young people with ‘similar [state-educated] others'.   

The evidence showed that on average paying for private secondary education bestows a benefit in terms of employment and pay at age 25.  This will no doubt be used by some as 'proof' of the educational superiority of fee-paying schools but this isn't necessarily so.  The OECD found state schools with a similar socio-economically advantaged intake conferred the same benefit in terms of results* as private schools. 

In other words, the greater academic success of schools with socio-economically advantaged pupils, whether private or state, is because of their intake. 

In any case, the private sector advantage – the higher exam scores generally achieved by independent schools – disappears when socio-economic background is taken into account (see here).

If the educational advantage of attending a private school disappears when socio-economic background is factored in, then the employment/future pay advantage found by researchers must be caused by something else.  One reason could be access to a network of similarly-educated people favouring those like themselves.  This access can be bought.

This is unfair to equally-qualified state-educated pupils who find themselves excluded.  

Labour has said it will put the abolition of private schools in its manifesto.  But this strident approach could be counter-productive.  Far better to push the advantages of being educated in the state system.   Even the Tatler has said private education isn’t superior any more.   In a state school ‘your child gets a better preparation for the real world, the one where not everything is handed to them on a sterling-silver platter, where there is a cosmopolitan mix, where you will have to fight to get to the top.’

That’s not to say private schools couldn’t be integrated into the state system in time.   But that’s an argument for the future.

The researchers also looked for evidence showing fee-paying schools benefitted society by instilling ‘community-oriented attitudes and behaviour, such as volunteering and charitable giving’.  The question was relevant, researchers said, because some independent schools claim this is part of the ‘public benefit’ which earns them their charitable status and consequent tax breaks**.

IOE found no difference in charitable engagement between those educated privately and those who attended state schools.

*As measured by the three-yearly PISA tests

**The report pointed out that not all independent schools make this claim and a ‘large minority’ of independent schools don’t have charitable status.


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Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 04/11/2019 - 18:21

Once again the obvious pattern is being missed

1. Adult earnings are mainly driven by IQ

2. Higher IQ adults have higher levels of education, higher qualifications and live in posher neighbourhoods (because they can afford to)

3. The children of parents with higher qualifications have higher CATs/IQ scores and do better at school and vice-versa

4 This applies regardless of the type of school private/state

All of the patterns revealed in the report are predicted by the above facts.

Therefore all schools should prioritise raising the cognitive ability of their pupils over getting better exam results for the purpose of improving the league table status of their schools but the perverse incentives of marketisation result in the opposite

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