Independent Schools provide best teaching & learning experience, say students

Most final-year higher education students who attended independent schools feel that their university prepared well for their adult career but that the best subject teaching was that which they received at school, according to a new survey.

The survey, commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), found that students who had been pupils in independent schools were more likely than their contemporaries from state schools to consider they had been well taught and prepared for higher education.

A large majority of students believed that their school had prepared them well for university, but an even greater number felt that the quality of teaching, the support on offer and, particularly, the feedback given for assessments were all more impressive at school than at university. 

The survey, commissioned from Populus, interviewed 1,000 third-year undergraduates at Russell Group and 1994 Group universities. Half the students had been educated at independent schools and half at state schools.

The results are published on the eve of the annual meeting of HMC, which takes place in St Andrews from 4th to 6th October.

Kenneth Durham, Headmaster of University College School, Hampstead, and HMC Chairman, said: “These are important findings both for schools and universities. They are a cause for justifiable pride amongst independent schools which have long believed that they do an excellent job of preparing students for a life of independent learning at university.

“They are a timely reminder of the high quality of work being done in School Sixth Forms across the country and especially of the depth of experience, expertise and excellence that exists within the independent sector.

"At a time when school qualifications are under review and when university tuition is coming under greater scrutiny, these findings prove that the independent sector has much to contribute when considering the crucial transition from school to university.

"There should be much closer contact between teachers in the schools and universities sectors, and the independent sector should be at the heart of it. This survey proves what we have to offer.”

Amongst the survey’s principal findings are:

  • Almost three-quarters (72%) of the students who had gone to independent schools described the teaching they had received at school as very good, compared to less than half (45%) of those from state schools;

  • Nearly nine out of ten (87%) of the ex-independent school students said they had been quite or very well academically prepared for university by their school, compared with seven out of 10 (69%) of state school pupils;

  • Half of all respondents (52%) felt that the teaching they had experienced at school was superior to that which they had received at university. This was more marked amongst the independent school students: with almost two thirds (62%) declaring that the teaching they had at school had been better;

  • Questioned about three aspects of support – learning support, pastoral care and feedback on assessment – both groups of students gave significantly higher ratings to their schools than to their universities, and the ex-independent school students gave consistently higher ratings of their schools than the state school students;

  • Three-quarters (73%) felt that their university had prepared them well for their post-university careers;

Copies of the Populus report are available; please contact Dick Davison, HMC Press Officer (07725 754824; [email protected])


Kenneth Durham, HMC Chairman, (School: 0207 433 2102; Mobile: 07764 429917)

Dr Tim Hands, Chairman, Universities sub-committee (Mobile: 07968 818843)

Dr William Richardson, HMC General Secretary (Mobile: 07989 712510)