Do private schools give students an educational advantage?

Researchers at the Institute of Education at University College London have conducted a study that looks at whether there are any educational advantages to attending private schools in the upper secondary years (Years 12 and 13).

Published in the Oxford Review of Education, the study used data from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ Next Steps cohort study and linked this to national pupil achievement information between 2005 and 2009. The researchers followed a sample of 5,852 pupils who attended a private or state school while doing their A-levels.

The profiles of the two groups of pupils were very different – pupils arrived in private school sixth forms with significantly higher prior attainment in GCSEs, and from households that had twice the income of families whose children attended state school sixth form. However, the researchers used the data available from Next Steps to allow for socio-demographic characteristics and prior achievement. Allowing for these characteristics, pupils at private schools outperformed those at state schools in their total A-level score by eight percentile points. Private school pupils also performed better on those subjects deemed to be more important to elite universities.

The researchers suggest that the reason for the difference may lie in the vastly superior resources per pupil in private schools (three times the state school average), including smaller pupil-teacher ratios (roughly half the state school average). However, they caution that their results are not truly causal.

Source: Private schooling, subject choice, upper secondary attainment and progression to university (November 2019), Oxford Review of Education

What difference does it make?

We regularly quote effect sizes in Best Evidence in Brief as a measure of the impact of an intervention or approach. But what is the impact of a normal school year on children, and how much of that impact is due to the school? A study by Hans Lutyen and colleagues, published in School Effectiveness and School Improvement, attempts to find out.

The study analysed 3,500 pupils from 20 mostly independent (private) English primary schools on four different learning outcomes. These measures, part of the Interactive Computer Adaptive System (InCAS), were reading, general maths, mental arithmetic and developed ability, the last of which measures items such as vocabulary and non-verbal pattern recognition.

Children were measured on these outcomes from Years 1 to 6. Using a regression-discontinuity approach that exploited the discontinuity between the youngest pupils in one year and the oldest pupils in the year below, the researchers were able to identify the overall progress of the children, and the extent to which this was a result of the impact of the school.

The results showed a declining impact of a school year as children got older. The effect size of Year 1 ranged from +1.18 for mental arithmetic to +0.8 for general maths. By Year 6, effect sizes varied from +0.88 for general maths to +0.49 for reading and developed ability.

The effect of schooling itself accounted for an average of between 23.5% and 43.4% of this impact across the four measures. Put another way, the effect size of schooling in Year 1 ranged from +0.55 for reading to +0.31 for developed ability. By Year 6, effect sizes had fallen to between +0.27 for general maths and +0.08 for reading and developed ability.

The researchers suggest that, when setting benchmarks for educational interventions, it is not only important to consider the phase of the educational career, but also the specific measure.

Source: The contribution of schooling to learning gains of pupils in Years 1 to 6 (February 2017), School Effectiveness and School Improvement

A-level gender bias worse in the state sector

A new report from the UK’s Institute of Physics looks at patterns of gender bias in six A-level subjects, all of which are taken by large numbers of pupils and all of which have a significant gender imbalance. The subjects considered are English, biology, and psychology (which are more popular with girls) and maths, physics, and economics (which are more popular with boys). The findings are based on data taken from the National Pupil Database on all co-educational schools in England between 2010 and 2012, providing they had at least ten pupils in Year 13.

The authors were particularly interested to know whether schools that send relatively more girls on to A-level physics also have a smaller gender imbalance in other subjects. They found that the 19% of schools that send relatively more girls on to do A-level physics also have a smaller gender imbalance in progression to other subjects. They suggest that changes in the uptake of physics amongst girls would require changes to the whole school culture.

The report found that the relative size of the school had little effect on its “gender progression score”, nor did its relative socio-economic status. However, 22.5% of independent (private) schools had equal numbers of boys and girls progressing to the A level subjects, compared to 3.9% of state-funded schools.

Source: Closing Doors: Exploring Gender and Subject Choice in Schools (2013), Institute of Physics.

Privileged graduates get the top jobs

New research funded by the UK’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has found that socio-economic status and private schooling still affect an individual’s chance of securing a top job, even when comparing students from the same institution type, taking the same subjects, and with the same degree class.

The study looked at the destinations of over 20,000 young people who graduated from university in England, Scotland, and Wales in 2006/07. It found that socio-economic background was not associated with an increased chance of securing a top job six months after graduation, although graduates who attended private schools were more likely to have secured a top job by this point.

However, three years after graduation those from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who attended private schools were more likely to be in top jobs, including top administrative, professional, and managerial roles in professions such as law.

Source: Mapping the occupational destinations of new graduates (2013), Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.