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Articles ❱❱ State-schooled students can be high achievers

State-schooled students can be high achievers

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Grammar school educated pupils are not necessarily more likely to obtain a degree, or even to achieve a higher degree classification than their state-schooled peers.

In 2014 researchers at the Institute of Education (IOE), and the The University of Manchester gathered and analysed education histories of more than 7000 people in England and Wales, beginning from the 1970s. The research showed that students of private secondary schools in the 1980s were twice as likely to obtain a degree from a Russell Group university as comprehensive or grammar school students who had the same A-level qualifications. They were also nearly twice more likely to graduate from a mainstream institution than their state-schooled peers.

The study lead’s author, Professor Alice Sullivan of the IOE said “It was surprising that Grammar schooling was not linked to any significant advantage in getting a degree” and that the investigation suggests grammar schools can make a difference at GCSE level but not at gaining entry into university. Although, having a parent or guardian with a degree in the 1970s would have significantly increased a student’s chances from graduating from an elite university.

The Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) also reported similar results by tracking 130,000 students who began degrees in 2007 and researched their schooling, background and ethnicity. The Independent Schools Council highlighted from this study that 67% of independent school pupils achieved a 2:1 or above compared with 62.3% of college and state school pupils. However, individuals with the same A-level grades showed different results, with students from independent and state schools obtaining a 2:1 or above being 69% and 77% respectively. This data shows that state schooled individuals can achieve better grade results than independently schooled students at university.

Professor Atkins, Hefce Chief Executive said that the report also showed that some independent school candidates who came to university with better A-level grades had actually performed less well than their state school peers by the end of the degree course.

Director of fair access to higher education Professor Les Ebdon said “Private schools do a very good job and produce students with grades that maximise their potential”. “Many state school students could have performed even better if they had the opportunities that private school students did” he added.

These figures are likely to reopen the debate over whether state school pupils should be expected to achieve lower grades to get into university in comparison to those who are privately educated.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK commented that the study “underlines the importance of universities being able to consider a range of factors alongside applicants’ entry grades” and that “many universities have always used such contextual information to help identify an applicant’s potential, which cannot always be determined from entry grades alone”.

Hefce conclusions state that a state-schooled pupil with BBB A-levels is just as likely to obtain a 2:1 or first-degree classification as their privately schooled peers who had ABB at A-level.


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