Private school gives pupils a boost worth two extra years of education, research shows

Guardian, 26.02.16, independently-educated pupils receive a boost equivalent to two years of extra schooling over state school pupils even after adjusting for social and economic bias, according to new research. HMC General Secretary Dr William Richardson is quoted.

The study by Durham University – the most sophisticated of its type to date – found that independent school pupils in England gained an advantage worth nearly two-thirds of a GCSE grade higher once the effects of income, gender and prior attainment were stripped out.

“This difference equates to a gain of about two years’ normal progress and suggests that attending an independent school is associated with the equivalent of two additional years of schooling by the age of 16,” the research says.

The Durham research, funded by the Independent Schools Council, suggests that the attainment gap is larger than previously thought and can be found among all age groups, starting from the first years of primary school where pupils are aged four.

However, the researchers, led by Robert Coe, professor of education at Durham, confessed to being at a loss to explain exactly why private school pupils enjoyed such a large advantage in exam results.

“It is always difficult to unpick the causes of any differences – and we think it is unlikely to be purely an effect of better teaching in independent schools. But we find a clear and significant difference in the GCSEs achieved that is not explained by any of the factors we can account for,” said Coe.

The report said that “unobserved factors” could have affected the differences in GCSE results. “Due to these limitations the results must be interpreted with caution,” it noted.

William Richardson, former professor of education at Exeter and general secretary of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference of leading independent schools, said: “This is a particularly important piece of research which resets the dial on understanding how well pupils in England perform at different types of schools once background factors are taken into account.

“The Durham researchers say they can’t explain the reason for the difference but the most obvious contender is the overall quality of teaching and learning, linked to a holistic education through which each child develops the confidence to do well.”

The Durham researchers estimated that if state schools improved their results to the level seen at independent schools, England would shoot up the league tables produced by the OECD’s programme for international student assessment (Pisa), putting the country ahead of European leaders such as Finland and on a par with Japan.

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