Press Notice: “Disturbing” blunder by universities regulator – leading independent schools comment

High profile national report claims state school pupils do better overall at university than independent school peers – the opposite is true.


  • University regulator and research funding body The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) made a significant error in its high profile annual report on university student outcomes
  • Professor Alan Smithers, Centre for Education and Employment Research, University of Buckingham, today (Tues) reveals the mistake and assesses its implications (see his press release)
  • The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and the Girls’ Schools Association are commenting
  • Chris Ramsey, Chair of the GSA/HMC Universities Committee, has written an opinion piece which is available from the contact below

Basic findings

The research, ‘Differences in Degree Outcomes: The Effect of Subject and Student Characteristics’ first stated that when all students are taken into account, 82 per cent of graduates from state schools gained firsts or upper-second degrees compared with 73 per cent from independent schools. The figures were transposed and in fact are the other way round.


The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and Girls’ Schools Association today call on HEFCE to explain their mistake and make it clear to the public that their key findings do not support their earlier claim.

Chris Ramsey, joint Chair of the GSA/HMC Universities Committee and Headmaster of King’s School, Chester said:

“This is a significant and disturbing mistake and we hope HEFCE will do more to put the record straight. It is important that the true picture is understood.

“We all want every pupil to reach their full potential, but this will only happen if society takes the right actions based on true facts. Pretending that most state school pupils do better at university won’t help them actually do better.

“HMC is taking practical action to help all young people be more settled and successful at university, including working with university leaders to improve teaching and pastoral care as they move from school to higher education.

“We also know that previous qualifications, including high A Levels, IB or other demanding courses provide by far the best indicator of success at university. For this reason many HMC schools across the UK work in partnership with state schools by offering teaching, facilities and assistance with university applications.”

Hilary French, joint Chair of GSA/HMC Universities Committee and Headmistress of Newcastle High School for Girls GDST, said:

“It is time to stop this unhelpful focus on ‘school type’ as a proxy measure in research such as this.  The HEFCE report contained a regrettable error in the headline statistics, but the issue is broader than that.

The state sector educates many clever children from well off backgrounds, and the independent sector educates many able children on bursaries.  We call on HEFCE and others to finally retire the ‘school type’ measure and focus on what has been shown to really matter – disadvantage, gender and race.

“Independent schools prepare young people for higher education through excellent education, pastoral care and co-curricular activities. And we educate pupils from the very able to those whose talents lie beyond the academic, from the wealthy to those who would qualify for Free School Meals.  And pupil numbers in independent schools are higher than ever.”

For further information, interviews and Chris Ramsey’s opinion piece please contact Sue Bishop, External Relations Director, HMC on 07787 294808 or Rachel Kerr, GSA Communications Manager on 07921 685012