Privately-educated pupils ‘better prepared for top universities’

In an article in the Telegraph, 24/01/13, HMC Chair Elect and Master of Magdalen College School, Dr Tim Hands warns against the use of narrow performance measures following the publication of GCSE and A level league tables.

The extent to which private school pupils are being prepared for places at elite universities was laid bare today in new-style league tables showing how they dominate top grades in core academic subjects. For the first time, data shows how many teenagers are leaving schools and colleges in England with good A-levels in a range of core disciplines seen as a vital stepping stone to sought-after Russell Group institutions.

It emerged that 150 out of the top 200 schools in the new table are from the fee-paying sector. St Paul’s Girls’ School in west London and Magdalen College School in Oxford saw 70 per cent of 18-year-olds reach the standard – the highest proportion in the country. At the same time, around a quarter of sixth-forms – almost all from the state sector – failed to produce a single pupil with good A-levels in a range of academic subjects such as maths, English, science and foreign languages.

The results are likely to tighten private school pupils’ grip in places at leading universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and University College London which demand a string of top grades as a basic entry requirement.

Tim Hands, the master of Magdalen College School, welcomed the figures but warned against the use of narrow performance measures.

“Of course it’s right to ensure the right pupils get access to the right subjects and then on to the right university destinations,” he said.

“Independent schools, not least because they are less subject to Government interference, have a greater chance of doing this, as the table makes very clear.

“However, suddenly inventing this new competitive measure is yet another unnecessary political initiative and a further misuse of league tables. There is a danger of making many pupils who want artistic, vocational or practical qualifications feel further undervalued.”

Today’s performance tables show how many students get two As and a B at A-level in key subjects – maths and further maths, English literature, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and modern and classical languages. Data relates to more than 2,500 schools teaching A-levels in England.

But figures show that 600 – one-in-four – did not produce a single pupil with good A-level grades in these subjects. Just 60 were from the independent sector.

Click here to read the article © The Telegraph