Exam results gap between UK state and private schools is narrowing

Exam results gap between UK state and private schools is narrowing

There has been a steady decline in the number of children educated in the independent sector winning top grades at A-levels since 2010, when the A* mark was introduced, the Telegraph reported.

The proportion of private school students achieving A*s and As has decreased by 4.1 percentage points over the past seven  years, from 52 percent to 47.9 percent, according to data released by the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

Meanwhile, the proportion of all students winning top grades has only gone down by 0.7 percentage points from 27 percent to 26.3 percent over the same period of time.

Lord Ralph Lucas, editor in chief of the Good Schools Guide, said there is ‘no doubt’ that the gap between the state and independent sectors is narrowing, when it comes to those scoring the highest grades at A level.

Private schools will seek to prove that they can teach children life skills such as confidence and resilience, said Lord Lucas

“This is consistent with a trend we have seen emerging over recent years and one which the country should celebrate,” he said.

“Some state schools have tightened their approach to discipline and many are now timetabling longer school days, both of which would no doubt have positive effects on exam results.”

Lord Lucas, a hereditary peer, said that over the coming years the independent sector is likely to shift its marketing efforts away from what exam results children will achieve, and towards what qualities they can build if they come to a private school.

“I think the over time the emphasis will move on from mere A level grades to setting up children for the world,” he said. "Are they equipped for the world? Are they equipped to succeed?”

He said that schools will seek to prove that they can teach children life skills such as confidence and resilience.

 “If you are a private school and your results difference [to local state schools] wasn’t that marvelous, universities are admitting children from state schools with lower results, where would you push your marketing effort?”

Barnaby Lenon, chair of the ISC, said that the decline in A grades at private schools was driven by new schools joining the organization which are not academically selective. 

“The proportion of independent schools getting A*s is still more than twice the national average,” said Lenon, who is a former headmaster of Harrow School. 

 “The reason the proportion has fallen very slightly is every year we take a number of new schools into membership which get slightly less good exam results, and this has a slightly depressing effect. The ones that get outstanding results have been members of the ISC for many years.” 

Lord Lucas said that the figures do not signal and major problems for private schools, which are still recording ‘superb’ A level results. 

He said: “We are certainly not seeing the demise of independent education, far from it. “Independent schools are still viewed by many parents as the best route to a top university and career. But, nevertheless, the gap has narrowed and for that we should all be grateful.”

James Westhead, executive director of Teach First said the results are a victory for state schools. “These results are encouraging,” he said.

“They are important evidence that outcomes in state schools are continuing to improve including at the top end of academic success. We should celebrate this hard work and encourage parents to continue to support their local school.”