Why do private schools get such good results?

Posted on: 26 Aug 2014
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

Pupils in independent schools are pushed to achieve their potential in 'hard' subjects, subjects that the best universities are looking for.

While A-level results nationally remained very stable this year, that was not the case in independent schools which saw a dramatic rise in grades.

The proportion of A-levels graded A* taken at Independent Schools' Council (ISC) schools rose to a record 19.2 per cent (compared to the maintained school figure of 7.9 per cent). The number of ISC students getting three or more As rose by a quarter. Over a half of independent school A-level entries were graded A or A.

A-level results alone understate the achievement because a number of our pupils took demanding alternative qualifications. 3.5 per cent took the Pre-U qualification in at least one subject and 5.5 per cent took the International Baccalaureate. These, too, saw an upward swing in results.

Independent school pupils are much more likely than other pupils to sit 'hard' A-levels. About half of the nation's A*/A grades in modern language A-levels were gained by our pupils this year as well as a high proportion of the top grades in maths, physics, chemistry, Latin and music. These are amongst the subjects that the best universities are looking for, so this advantages our pupils in terms of university entry. Indeed, many university departments are being propped-up by our students taking these subjects.

The best-known independent schools are academically selective and one might expect the outstanding results they achieve. But most independent schools are not selective – so their results reflect an amazing degree of added value.

A third of our pupils have some form of fee reduction and many of these are on means-tested bursaries. These were amongst our highest achieving pupils this year.

This month a new state school in the East End, the London Academy of Excellence, got its first set of A-level results. 40 per cent of the pupils secured AAB or better in facilitating subjects (the harder subjects preferred by the best universities).

Last year this figure would have put it top of all sixth form colleges in England. This school has been set up and supported by eight independent schools, who have successfully passed on their DNA to a new school in a deprived part of London.

How on earth do independent schools do it? By strongly encouraging pupils to take the subjects mostly valued by universities. By employing the best teachers, many of whom do not have a teaching qualification (not a problem – they are specialists in their subjects and can be trained by the school itself).

By demanding the highest standards of every pupil. By having smaller class sizes. By using a sensible mix of traditional teaching methods and modern technology.

Of these the most important is expectations: if pupils are expected to gain high grades, are tested regularly and pushed to achieve their potential, then even very ordinary students can achieve extraordinary results.

This blog first appeared on The Telegraph website.

About Barnaby Lenon

Barnaby Lenon is chairman of the ISC.