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State schools versus private schools: Hefce sets the record straight

State schools versus private schools: Hefce sets the record straight

It should come as no surprise that journalists pounced on statistics that apparently showed that students who went to a state school were more likely to leave university with a first or a 2:1 than graduates who attended a private school.

“State-schooled are more likely to get a good degree,” read the headline in Times Higher Education, and there were plenty of plausible explanations offered by commentators: state school students having potential that remained untapped at age 18, and university admission processes failing to spot talented learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What is surprising, however, is that the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which produced the data, had got its figures the wrong way around.

It said that, in 2013-14, 82 per cent of state school leavers who graduated from English universities achieved a first or a 2:1, compared with 73 per cent of independent school students.

In fact, the reverse was true. This was, Hefce said, down to a “transposition error”.

The correction will be welcomed by private school headteachers, for whom the Hefce report had made uncomfortable reading; and they will call on the funding council to stop drawing conclusions based on school type when they argue that there are many overlaps between sectors in terms of quality and intake.

But the reality is more complex. The points difference in favour of independent school students largely reflects the fact that independent school students, on average, achieve better A levels than state school students, and in particular are more likely to get the very highest scores, such as four A grades.

Once prior attainment and other factors such as socioeconomic background are controlled for, Hefce says that state school students still perform better than expected against independent school leavers.

Overall there is, the funding council says, “an unexplained four percentage points advantage” to state school students.

This has been an unfortunate episode for Hefce: a worrying error that won’t have done it any favours with ministers at a time when the council’s future is under scrutiny.

But this shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the corrected figures still demonstrate the complex task that universities face in identifying students with the strongest potential to succeed; and that more work is needed to identify why certain groups of students do better than others in higher education.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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About Ellis Ferdinand

Ellis Ferdinand is the Founder/Chief Executive Officer of EducationGhana Limited and the Managing Editor at EducationGhana.net . He is a passionate writer,a publicist and an online Marketer and Promoter. He is Ghana's number 1 Education Blogger who brings all happenings in the Ghanaian Education Sector ,from Basic to Tertiary, to the doorsteps of readers on EducationGhana.net He is also the Founder of Education Awards Ghana which will soon be launched in Ghana to help boosts the Education Sector. He is Passionate about Promoting Education in Ghana, Africa and the world at large. Ferdinand Completed Accra College of Education and was Awarded a Diploma In Basic Education by the University of Cape Coast and Currently reading Psychology and Foundation of Education with Management and Accounting Options at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Ferdinand is willing to work with any organization who believes in Promoting quality business as well as Education in Ghana and Africa. You can Contact him for Promotion of Events,Advertisements,Publications and any other business through Education Ghana.

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