privateedessay

Educational Achievement and Social Class : The Importance of Independent / Private Education

Date last edited :10/03/2020

Essay: To what extent can social class differences in educational achievement be explained by the existence of independent schools?

Basic Conclusion!

There is evidence that Independent schools themselves do confer additional educational benefits on their mainly affluent students  but it is also the case that differences in educational achievement as between Independent sector  and State sector  students are explained partly by the material  and cultural advantages  which accrue to the mainly affluent Independent sector students.

Social class differences in cultural and material circumstances are operative also among students in the State sector as are national education system factors and   organisational factors which may operate to the disadvantage of working class students. I conclude that it is the existence of generalised social class inequality rather than the existence of the Independent sector per se which is the main driver of social class differences in educational achievement  and the following essay is designed to support that conclusion.

There  are significant social class differences in educational achievement  as measured, for example  by GCSE grades, GCE Advanced Level grades and access to Higher Education especially access to Oxford, Cambridge and the other 22 high status Russell Universities. In the Youth Cohort Studies  social class differences in educational achievement were measured with reference to the NS SEC social class classification but since the YCS has been discontinued we must rely on differences in educational achievement as between students eligible and ineligible for free school meals  which provide a far from satisfactory measure of social class difference. Nevertheless there certainly are significant differences in educational achievement as between students eligible and ineligible for free school meals.

Sociologists have explained social class differences in educational achievement in terms of some combination of IQ theory [ which most sociologists criticise strongly] , theories which focus on material and cultural factors external to the schools themselves and internal organisational  factors operative within the national education system and the schools themselves  such as setting, streaming and mixed ability teaching. It is also argued that the existence of the Independent School sector makes some contribution to social class inequalities in educational achievement.

I have discussed the differing sociological approaches to the explanation of social class differences elsewhere on my site and students may click here and here and here for further details. However in summary the theories of Hyman, Sugarman, Douglas , Bernstein, Willis ,Bourdieu  and Feinstein  suggest that in various ways working class subculture may help to explain the relative educational under-achievement of working class students. However we should not automatically accept that working class students are the victims of cultural deprivation as is implied by Hyman, Sugarman and Douglas because relative working class educational underachievement may be explained also by cultural difference as in the work of Willis and Bourdieu.  Professor Feinstein,  provides evidence that many working class children are beginning to fall behind in the educational race even before they start school and that performance in tests in the early years are very good predictors of educational achievement at ages 16-18. However it is clear also that working class educational underachievement can also be partly explained by financial constraints, by the increasing quasi-marketisation involved in state education policy and by processes of streaming, setting, labelling and self-fulfilling prophecy operative in the schools as in the work of Hargreaves, Keddie and Ball.. Working class parents and their children may hope for educational success  but fail to achieve it through no fault of their own. I

  One important conclusion of these studies is that although the schools do contribute in some measures to social class inequalities in educational achievement and although internal and external factors are to some extent inter-connected it is widely believed  that the combined effects of external cultural and material circumstances on educational attainment are widely believed to be more significant than the effects of factors internal to the schools themselves and that  approximately 80% of social class differences in educational achievement can be explained by factors external to the schools themselves, a conclusion  reiterated , for example in the recent work of Stephen Ball [The Education Debate] and Lee Eliot Majors  and Stephen Machin [Social Mobility and its Enemies]. This general conclusion will have an important impact on the analysis of the Independent Schools to which we now turn.

In 2017/18 there were 32,117 schools in the UK of which 2,404 were Non-maintained [{i.e. Independent] [  mainstream schools. Approximately 7% of all students and !5% of students 16-18 were  educated in the Independent school  sector . Official DfE data indicated that on average Independent School students have a higher  average points score at GCE Advanced Level and that whereas 26.7% of Independent School candidates gained 3 A*-A grades or higher only 11.1% of State School candidates did so. With regard to these data we should also remember that there is considerable variability within the Independent sector  and  insofar as the existence of the Independent Sector contributes to social class inequalities in educational achievement this is accounted for mainly because of  the results from  the 1364 [2019] Independent Schools Council schools which educate approximately 80% of all Independent School students and in particular from  the results of the 296 [2019] more prestigious Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference Schools.

Click here for 2019  data comparing  Advanced Level results in different types of schools and colleges and then  here for National Tables and then on Table 1A  Students might usefully  read the SFR Report and look at Table 1A.I have edited Table 1A below  but students should actually consult the original sources if they wish to study the data in detail.Also Table 1c indicates that State Selective School students achieved better GCE Advanced level results than students in the rest of the State Sector

 

Average student fess at Independent Schools are £ 17,000 p.a for day school students and £33 000 p.a for boarders with even higher fees for the most prestigious Independent Schools [for example £47,000 p.a  with Add ons at Eton.] . Thus although some scholarships and bursaries are available it is clear that Independent School students are drawn disproportionately from affluent families   and as was briefly noted above more affluent students possess a wide variety of cultural and material advantages which  are conducive to their educational success. See Social Mobility Commission  Report State of the Nation Report2018/19 Pages 66-70   and Click here for LSE video lecture : Engines of Privilege: Britain's Private School Problem

Therefore although Independent School students on average gain higher GCE Advanced Level grades it was noted earlier that approximately 80% of social class differences in educational achievement are explicable  in terms of the external cultural and material advantages of more affluent students  which might suggest that Independent School  students are successful primarily because of their social class background rather than because of their attendance at Independent Schools.

However there are very significant studies which suggest that both at GCSE and GCE Advanced Level  when State and Independent School students of similar prior achievement and social class background  are compared Independent School students do achieve higher grades. At GCE Advanced Level  a difference of approximately one grade is estimated so that a State School candidate who scored Grades AAB  is estimated to achieve Grades AAA if educated at an Independent School which is a grade difference that could make the difference between acceptance and non-acceptance at a Russell University. [ One can imagine also that at the most successful Independent Schools the grade improvement might be higher than this.] This leads one of the authors of one of these studies to emphasise that this strengthens the case for the reform of the Independent sector. Click here for a detailed technical article and  click  here for a very good summary.

Reasons for the higher grades of Independent School students even when prior achievement and social background are held constant are easily found. These schools can deploy more educational resources per student; the students are taught in smaller classes; they can offer a much wider range of extra-curricular activities and it is argued that school intakes of a very large proportion of well motivated students generates strongly positive academic peer group effects. For example it is estimated that expenditure per student is three times higher in the Independent sector than in the State sector and that average class size is 8.6:1  in the Independent sector and 17:1 y in the State sector.      [Social Mobility Commission State of the Nation Report 2018-2019 quoting Engines of Privilege : Green F. and Kynaston D. 2019]

We may conclude that students at Independent Schools are proportionately more likely than State School students to gain Good GCE Advanced level results partly because of social class differences in the intakes of Independent and State Schools respectively and partly because Independent Schools [ especially the most successful ones] can offer their students significant educational advantages. Consequently Independent School students are proportionately more likely to enter Higher Education and in particular more likely to enter "High Tariff HE providers" as is indicated in the following tables. [Notice also that there is little difference in HE entry as between Independent sector students and Selective State sector students.]

 

 

However although Independent School students are proportionately more likely than State School students to gain 3 GCE Advanced level Grades A*-A or better  because  of the much larger number of State School GCE Advanced Level candidates it was also the case in 2019 that  72.% of the candidates gaining 3 GCE Advanced Level grades A*-A or better were from State Schools  compared with 28% of Independent School students.

 Thus despite the academic advantages of an Independent School education a considerably larger percentage of entrants to Oxford, Cambridge and the other 22 Russell Universities are from State Schools  . The following table illustrates that the Oxford and Cambridge recruitment of State School students has increased significantly in recent years and that among other high status Universities although 9 universities 1n 2016/17 and 8 universities in 2018/19 recruited less than 70% of their students from State Schools some other universities recruited considerably more than 70% of their students form State Schools.

However  Click here for Oxbridge over-recruits from 8 schools

Percentages of University Entrants form State Schools [The Russell Universities are asterisked]

 So far then we may draw the following conclusions

  1. Independent School students are proportionately more likely than State Schools students to gain high grade GCE Advanced level passes.
  2. Social class differences in educational achievement are determined primarily by social class differences in cultural and material circumstances external to the schools themselves.
  3. The higher GCSE and GCE examination grades attained by Independent Schools students is reflective of their relatively affluent social class backgrounds.
  4. However there is evidence that among students of similar prior attainment and social class background Independent  School students are likely to achieve higher examination grades than state school students.
  5. Independent School students are proportionately more likely that State School students to enter Higher Education and especially proportionately more likely than State School student to enter High Tariff Higher Education providers.
  6. However there are far more State School GCE Advanced Level candidates than Independent School candidates and consequently of all students gaining 3 GCE Advanced Level grades A*-A or better in 2019  72.% were from State Schools.
  7. In recent years Oxford and Cambridge have recruited increasing proportions of students for State Schools. In Some other Russell Colleges less than 70% of recruits are from State Schools but in others the percentage is considerably higher than this.

Let us now consider  University Entrance and Social Class.

Click here for DFE publication December 2019: Widening Participation in Higher Education

Eligibility and ineligibility are obviously inadequate measures of social class inequality but the following data do nevertheless indicate that social class inequality , although imperfectly measured, does have a significant impact on access to Higher Education.

Some Further Information

For further information on students eligible for Free School Meals in Year 11 Click here  and then on National Tables 6-15 and then on Table 15C  39% of students ineligible for Free School meals in Year 11 gained 2+ A Level passes by the age of 19 compared with 16% of students eligible for Free School meals

For further information on high level  performance at GCE Advanced  Level in 2015/16 of students eligible and ineligible for Free School Meals click here and see page 5. In 2015/16  4.9% of students eligible for Free School Meals achieved 3 Grade As at A Level compared with 11.0% of students not eligible for Free School Meals

Click  here and here and here for information on the extent to which Oxbridge entrance has been dominated by candidates from social class 1 and 2 backgrounds [ From 2017]

Click here for Oxbridge over-recruits for 8 schools

Click here for HESA and extent to which UK Universities recruit students from low participation areas

Click here  for Guardian Article on  record numbers  of State School students at Oxford 2020/21 and here for further information [January 2010]and here for record numbers of State School students at Cambridge 2019 [September 2019 ]

 

 

 

Conclusions

  1. 7% of UK  students are educated in Independent school/colleges  yet approximately 30% of Oxbridge entrants and similar proportions of entrants to some but not all other Russell universities are from Independent Schools. However, interesting as this may be, other comparisons are available.
  2. Approximately 15% of UK students aged 16-18 are educated in Independent schools/colleges.
  3. In 2019 11.1% of State sector GCE Advanced Level entrants  gained 3 or more GCE Advanced Level grades A*-A or better compared with 27.7% of Independent sector entrants students. Within the State Sector 22% of Selective State School Advanced level entrants gained 3 or more GCE Advanced Level grades A*-A or better
  4. On this basis one might expect that Independent sector  students would be approximately 2 .5 times more likely than State sector  students to gain Russell University places.
  5. In 2017/18 56.9% of Independent Sector student and 23% of State Sector students gained these places which obviously reflect fairly closely differences in GCE Advanced level results.
  6. However because the State Sector is much larger than the Independent Sector it is also the case that 72 % of students gaining 3 or more GCE Advanced Level grades A*-A or better were from the State sector and that in all Russell Universities 60% or more of entrants were from the State sector.
  7. It is generally agreed that about 80% of social class differences in educational attainment as measured by examination results can be explained by differences in material and cultural factors external to schools/colleges themselves. These material and cultural factors were briefly discussed earlier in the essay where links to additional information were also provided.
  8. In principle , therefore, it could be that the differences in examination results as between Independent sector and State sector students may be explained primarily  in terms of social class differences in school intakes.
  9. However there is good evidence that for students of equal prior attainment and similar social class background Independent Schools/colleges on average produce better examination results than State schools/colleges .
  10. Nevertheless  differences in examination results as between Independent schools /colleges  and State schools/colleges  are explained to a considerable extent by social class differences in intake.
  11. Social Class differences in material and cultural circumstances are operative also within the State sector and they have a bearing on the educational achievements of a much larger number of students.
  12. Thus there is a substantial discrepancy in access to HE among students eligible for free school meals and students ineligible for free school meals most of whom are educated in the State Sector and this applies especially with regard to the access to Russell Universities. This is partly because students ineligible for free school meals are more likely to have cultural and material advantages which enable them to gain better GCE Advanced Level results but also because students eligible for free school meals who have gained very good grades receive insufficient advice about university entrance or decide to study at their local university because they wish to live at home for financial reasons.
  13. Although Free school meal eligibility/ineligibility is a most imperfect measure of social class membership these data do indicate that there are major social class inequalities within the State sector.  

And so I repeat my original conclusion stated at the beginning of the essay.

There is evidence that Independent schools themselves do confer additional educational benefits on their mainly affluent students  but it is also the case that differences in educational achievement as between Independent sector  and State sector  students are explained partly by the material  and cultural advantages  which accrue to the mainly affluent Independent sector students.

Social class differences in cultural and material circumstances are operative also among students in the State sector as are national education system factors  and internal organisational factors which also may operate to the disadvantage of working class students. I conclude that it is the existence of generalised social class inequality rather than the existence of the Independent sector per se which is the main driver of social class differences in educational achievement .