State school pupils 'fare better' at university

Students from state schools more likely to succeed than privately educated peers from similar backgrounds, study shows

Students from state schools do better at university than those from similar backgrounds who were privately educated, a study revealed today.

They are four percentage points more likely to get a first or 2:1, and also outperform their independent-school peers by almost as much at the country's top institutions, the team from the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance found.

Researchers suggest it could be because the in-depth preparation to get into university given to pupils at independent schools – including intensive tuition to get the necessary grades and coaching and advice for applications and interviews – means that those who get in from state schools without such help, have greater innate ability on average. They may also be less likely to struggle in big teaching groups at university, and more used to the kind of unsupervised learning necessary in degree study, because they were taught in larger classes at school and received less individual attention than those at private institutions.

When the results of all undergraduates are considered, those from private schools are more likely to get a first or 2:1, with 68% doing so, compared with 64% of those from state schools. But when students from the same family backgrounds, studying the same subjects at the same universities were considered alongside each other, it was the former state school pupils who got better degrees.

Bearing in mind that three-quarters of students from independent schools go to the leading research universities, compared with only 38% of those who are state-educated, the team then focused their comparisons on the Russell Group and 1994 Group institutions. They found the result held in that sample, with privately educated students still 3.1 percentage points less likely to get a first or 2:1.

One of the researchers, Richard Murphy, said: "Private schools are really good at preparing students for A-levels and going through the process, whereas students from state schools may get less coaching. If they've managed to get to the same university with the same high grades and it was that much harder for them to get there, their innate ability is higher than someone from independent school. When they haven't got that support from the private school system they have to rely on their individual ability."

Another reason for the results could be the fact that there are far fewer teachers per pupil in state schools. "In the state sector there's more independent learning," Murphy said. "Students are more used to working things out on their own rather than having a teacher giving them individual attention. When they get to university, where the classes are much larger than at school, they're better equipped to cope than those from private schools."

The results are part of a larger study into the growth of postgraduate education. They come from data of UK-born students who graduated in the years 2004, 2006 and 2008.


Rachel Williams

The GuardianTramp

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