Independent Schools in Crisis?

In his blog, 22.02.16, HMC member Kevin Fear, headmaster of leading independent Nottingham High School writes:

Recently the Times ran a front page article suggesting that independent schools across the country are in crisis. This came as a huge surprise to me as the head of Nottingham High School as we have just had record numbers sit for entry next September to our school.  Many more families are currently expressing interest in independent education as the austerity cuts start to hit state education and with ever-growing class sizes. In fact, numbers of pupils at UK independent schools has never been higher and overall across all independent schools our exam results remain unparalleled. Nationally, nearly a third of pupils received A or A*s at GCSE in 2015 compared with just 7% in state schools (in fact the figure for the High School in recent years is just shy of 80%), and half of A Level entries were awarded A or A*, again a picture more than matched in most years by the High School.  At A Level pupils are four times more likely to achieve one top grade than in state-maintained schools.

Commentators often bemoan the fact that independent schools are so good that our pupils dominate the most successful universities and careers. How can this be when we are busy failing and going out of business?

Lord Lucas, the owner of the Good Schools Guide, is correct in saying that the best state schools are improving, but that improvement is not across the board. Many parents are not able to find a state school of the standard they want for their child and independent schools offer consistent excellence in teaching, co-curricular activities and preparation for university. Notably, 99.7% of them also work in partnership with state schools to increase opportunities for all pupils.

I have to say though that I find this constant sniping to suggest that there is a ‘battle’ between state and independent schools very distasteful.  We work with many schools across the city in a spirit of collaboration which both our own pupils and many in city schools benefit from greatly.  We open many of our sporting events and facilities to students across the city.  We have a programme whereby one of our coaches provides cricket training in city primary schools.  We support all of the local city championships in many sports and help run some of these.  We invite primary aged children in to our school for a wide variety of educational experiences.  I welcome the improvements that we are seeing in education across the city.  Yes, this increases our competition but that is no bad thing as it removes complacency and after all anyone who believes in the power of a good education must surely want this to spread beyond their own school.  I want education in Nottingham to be superb for all children and we stand prepared to help in any ways we can.

There is often lazy journalism that equates all independent schools with privilege.  This too is nonsense.  We had nearly 100 families this year apply for bursary places at our school.  We will be supporting with completely free places a good number of children from some of the most deprived areas of the city.  The parents of these children can see beyond the terminology of battles and elitism to strive to give their children the best possible opportunity.  We are probably more diverse than some of the state schools in the leafier suburbs.

I urge schools of all types to work together to give the young people of this generation the best possible education.  We need schools to meet the needs of all children and with rising birth-rates and smaller budgets there is more need than ever for schools to work together creatively and collaboratively.  I do not want to ‘battle’ with local state schools, I want to reach out to them to see how we can work together to improve education in all of our schools.  I am certain that many state school heads would want the same.

A few more interesting statistics (with thanks for these to HMC, the association for the Heads of leading independent schools):

Exam results

  • A-level.  In 2015, of all A*/A grades achieved, 49% were in independent schools, compared to 26% nationally.
  • A-level.  Independent school pupils are four times more likely to achieve at least one top grade than state school pupils.
  • GSCE.  In 2015, one third of independent school entries were awarded A*, compared to 7% nationally.

Teachers’ subject expertise

  • Oxbridge graduates.  Since 2003, 6,000 state school secondary teachers have been appointed with Oxbridge degrees (increasing the proportion in the state school workforce from 3% to 5%). The equivalent workforce figure for independent schools is stable at c.17%.

Attainment value added

  • Sixth form. In the sixth form, DFE figures show that 37% of state schools add value compared to 94% of independent schools.
  • Sixth form.  Across all sixth forms the added value average for independent schools is 0.16 and that for state schools -0.09.
  • 16-year-olds.  New research from Durham University shows that once prior attainment, socio-economic background and gender are taken into account, pupils aged 16 in independent schools have gained the equivalent of two additional years of schooling compared to their state school peers.

University entry

  • Russell Group access.  Among children born in 1970 those attending independent schools were c.2.5 times more likely to gain a degree from a Russell group university than their state school peers with the same A-level results.
  • Overall prospects.  2015 was the best-ever year for university entry for schools in independent schools.
  • Offer rates.  The offer rate for university applicants from top independent schools has increased steadily since 2011 and outpaced the equivalent figures state schools.
  • Degree classifications.  82% of independent school pupils gain a First or 2:1 degree compared to 73% of state school students.

Strategically important subjects

  • Maths and science.  Independent school candidates comprise one fifth of all A-level entries but achieve nearly one third of all A* grades.
  • Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). In 2015, 24% of such entries came from independent school candidates who, between them, secured 42% of the A* grades.
  • MFL.  In 2015, independent school pupils were five times more likely to apply to university for MFL than all UCAS applicants combined.

Sport music and drama

  • Overall achievement in sport.  Sir Michael Wilshaw commented recently that ‘overall, independent schools are producing far more elite athletes across a range of sports than we would expect… This indicates that these schools are more effective at recognising, supporting and nurturing sporting talent than maintained schools and academies’.
  • Olympians. 41% of London 2012 medallists were from independent schools.
  • Rugby.  Ofsted reports 61% of premiership players and 20 members of England’s 31-man 2015 Rugby World Cup squad came from independent schools.
  • Sports fields.  The Conservatives sold off 10,000 state school playing fields during 1979-97. Labour added a further 200 to this total between 1997 and 2010.

Soft skills

  • Assisted Places holders.  Sutton Trust research into assisted places holders (1980-97) has found that these pupils displayed much more self-discipline, self-reliance, ambition, curiosity, communication skills, cultural sophistication and self-confidence than their state school peers with similar levels of attainment. Nottingham High School was fully involved in this scheme.

Social Mobility

  • Parental profile.   40% of independent school pupils’ parents did not themselves go to an independent school.
  • Ethnic minorities.  29% of pupils at independent schools are from ethnic minorities – more than the average across the state sector.

Salaries added value

  • First 36 months of employment.  When social and income background, prior attainment, ethnicity and region are accounted for, independent school pupils achieve a 6.8% (£1,500) salary premium over their state school peers.
  • Career-long earnings.  When family background and prior educational attainment are allowed for, independent school pupils will have earned £58,000 more than their state school peers by the age of 42.

Read more on Kevin's blog.