‘For all but those with the very highest A-level grades, state school graduates tend to have higher degree outcomes than independent school graduates with the same prior educational attainment.’
Higher Education Funding Council for England analysis of 2014 university cohort
This confirms analysis by the Sutton Trust
in 2010 which went even further: students from comprehensive schools outperformed their equally-qualified peers from both independent and state grammar schools when at university.
Two further reports
published in 2013 also found state pupils outperformed private ones in the degree stakes.
Commentators, however, argue that bright disadvantaged pupils should be given help so they can attend private schools in order to realize their potential. This implies state schools just aren’t up to the task.
But the HEFCE analysis and earlier research shows attending a private school does not automatically translate into a higher degree at university. Quite the opposite – the HEFCE research together with the earlier reports show there is little benefit in terms of degree quality in attending an independent school.
Mature students on a like-for-like basis outperformed their younger counterparts, the analysis found. This is despite graduates studying part-time being less likely to obtain a first or upper second class degree. The number of part-time undergraduates has fallen
according to the Office for Fair Access to Higher Education (OFAHE). This appears to be linked to the hike in tuition fees – part-timers tend to be older and juggling study around family and work commitments. The OFAHE said the reduction in the number of part-time undergraduates ‘should be a significant concern for policymakers’.
HEFCE found female graduates were more likely to achieve a first or upper second degree and white graduates significantly outperform those from black or minority ethnic groups (BME). Graduates with disabilities tended to do less well than those without reported disabilities.
The most significant finding, however, is the one confirming that state pupils are likely to outperform those from independent schools (except for those with the very top grades where there was a ‘small difference’ in favour of privately-educated students)
As I said, this finding isn’t new – it should be well-known. According to a Warwick university analysis
of the 1993 university cohort, the fact that ‘students who attended state schools prior to university had a significantly higher probability of graduating with a good degree class than otherwise observationally-equivalent students who had been educated in private schools’ was a ‘well-known result’.
But it isn’t ‘well-known’ because it’s ignored. It’s ignored by politicians and commentators who say state education needs an injection of private school ‘DNA’ and it’s ignored by much of the media who promote the idea that private schools are better than state ones.
The Daily Mail
, predictably, downplayed the HEFCE report by claiming the data showed state schools weren’t doing enough to ‘fully develop the potential of all their pupils’ and university education, therefore, developed them further. It didn’t occur to the paper that this could also suggest the potential of privately-educated pupils peaks at 18 and then stalls. Neither did it occur the reason might be that independent schools are teaching to the test rather than preparing pupils for university study.
These reports show it isn’t necessary to attend a private school in order to gain a first or upper second degree at university. It’s isn’t even necessary to attend a state grammar – research rather undermines the argument that selection at 11 is necessary if high-ability pupils are to fulfil their potential.