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Independent school pupils gain extra two years by 16, research reveals

New ISC research looks at the differences in attainment between independent and state school pupils.

Posted on: 25 Feb 2016

Attending an independent school in England is associated with the equivalent of two additional years of schooling by the age of 16, new research reveals.

The 'academic value added' report by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University, is the first of its type. It looks at the differences in attainment between pupils who are educated in independent and state schools from junior or prep school through to GCSE, controlling for differences such as prior ability, socioeconomic status and gender.

In the research, commissioned by the Independent Schools Council (ISC), it is also revealed:

  • Independent education is favourable academically at ages four, eight, ten and 16.
  • Independent schooling accounts for a 0.64 of a GCSE grade increase.
  • At GCSE independent schools have higher average scores in all subjects; Greatest differences are found in French, history and geography; Smallest increases are found in chemistry, physics and biology.
  • If independent schools were measured on international PISA outcomes, they would outperform the best European nations and be level with Japan and South Korea.

Evidence has long suggested independent school pupils enjoy greater 'academic value added' and relatively higher returns for their education. But despite much interest in the subject and various other studies over many years around the world, few had given clear, robust and statistical evidence to determine the extent to which differences in academic achievement could be credited to attendance at independent schools alone, without factors such as prior ability and family background being considered.

The researchers employed a statistical procedure to control this bias, details of which are reported in the paper. With these factors taken into account, the researchers note "the evidence from this study suggests similar students achieve more in independent schools than in state school."

Julie Robinson, General Secretary of ISC said: "Independent schools have always believed that their broad curriculum offer, commitment to excellence and study support provides an academic cost-benefit. Fee-paying parents have the right to expect value for money and it's always been important that we can demonstrate this.

"We're acutely aware of the difficulty in comparing different systems of schooling and drawing accurate conclusions, as there is much excellence to be seen in schools of all types. However, this ground-breaking report from such a world-renowned and respected research unit at Durham University really does give us solid ground to say that based on academic results, independent schools are worth paying for."

Professor Robert Coe, one of the researchers at CEM at Durham University who contributed to the study, said: “The availability of multiple assessments of children’s learning from large numbers of both independent and state schools over many years gives CEM a unique opportunity to compare the outcomes for children in the two sectors.

"It is always difficult to unpick the causes of any differences, and we think it is unlikely to be purely an effect of better teaching in independent schools, but we find a clear and significant difference in the GCSEs achieved that is not explained by any of the factors we can account for.”