State school students outperform their independent school equivalents at university


Andrew Morris of the Policy Consortium explores the implications of some new research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England …

Research by HEFCE, published on 28 March, offers plenty of food for thought on equality and diversity in education. The study followed the entire cohort of young people entering full-time higher education in England in 2007 – some 130,000 in all. Their degree results were linked to their A-level results and cross- checked against the type of school from which they came, their gender, ethnicity and relative disadvantage. The degree results for students who had achieved the same A-level results were compared. Thus, for example, students who had all gained BBB at A-level were tracked to see which ones got a 1st or 2.1 degree.

The headlines are:

State school students tend to do better in their degree studies than students from independent schools with the same prior attainment.

• 65% of state school students, compared to 53% of independent school students – all with grades BBC at A level – gained a 1st or 2.1 degree

Students from disadvantaged areas tend to do less well in higher education than those with the same prior educational attainment from more advantaged areas.

• 77% of students from the most advantaged areas, compared to 67% from the most disadvantaged areas – all with ABB at A level – gained a 1st or 2.1 degree.

There is significant variation for students of different ethnicities.

• 72% of white, 56% of Asian and 53% of black students – all with BBB at A level – gained a 1st or 2.1 degree.

Females are more likely than males to achieve an upper second or higher than males with the same prior educational attainment.

• 79% of female students, compared to 70 % of males – all with grades AAB at A level – go on to get a 1st or 2.1 degree.

The researchers are at pains to point out that these figures simply record the state of affairs. They say nothing about the causes of these differences in degree attainment, nor do they have anything to say about the effects of various HE admissions procedures or school practices. However, the chief executive of HEFCE, Madeleine Atkins, speaking at the Education Media Centre launch of the report said that the study was even more robust than previous ones and the differences found are statistically significant. Comments from HEFCE and academic experts and a link to the report are on the Education Media Centrewebsite. Here, for example is a 4 minute interview with HEFCE’s Dr Mark Gittoes, in which he carefully explains that the research shows:

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1 Comment on “State school students outperform their independent school equivalents at university

  1. Interesting piece of research Andrew. Thanks for this update. The stats for learners from disadvantaged areas indicates the need for follow-up research about ‘Why’and what support may be needed to give those learners better results. Could this indicate some form of latent inferiority complex or lack of self-confidence perhaps? Or do their lecturers/tutors convey a sense of lower expectations, or possibly even subconsciously mark down their assignments,etc. in a manifestation of’confirmation bias’ influences? Or is some other factor at play? Whichever – it certainly begs further investigation.


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