ISC responds to The Higher Education Funding Council for England report, ‘Differences in Degree Outcomes'

Posted on: 28 Mar 2014

‘Welcome confirmation’ of the strength of performance of independent schools pupils as they progress to Higher Education.

Today’s report, the second in less than 12 months from HEFCE to look at schooling effects, provides welcome confirmation of the strength of performance of former independent schools pupils as they progress to Higher Education.

HEFCE’s report shows that 67.0% of former independent school pupils achieved an upper second or above, compared to 62.3% of pupils at all other schools and further education colleges.

The report shows that “independent school students enter higher education with better A-level grades than those from state schools” and confirms that “students with better A-levels do better in higher education”.

More than one half of all ISC pupils’ A-levels were awarded the highest grades (51.3% at A* or A in summer 2013) and HEFCE’s report today confirms that these high performing pupils will progress to be the highest performing students at university, achieving a first or upper second class degree.

HEFCE’s broader report in July 2013 also concluded that students who had attended an independent school prior to university outperformed students from state schools against three additional benchmarks. As well as looking at achieving a first or upper second class degree, HEFCE’s 2013 report considered the rates of: achieving a degree; achieving a degree and continuing to employment or further study; and achieving a degree and continuing to graduate employment (as opposed to any employment) or further study.

HEFCE concluded in July 2013 that “A greater percentage of students who attended an independent school prior to university achieved each of the four outcomes compared with students from state schools”.

Regardless of these positive conclusions for independent pupils, ISC and the GSA/HMC Universities Committee continue to believe that analysis of the performance of students by school type is fundamentally misguided. Treating the type of school attended as a proxy for advantage or disadvantage is flatly contradictory to the principle of fair access, which The Office of Fair Access describes as ”equality of opportunity for all those who have the potential to benefit from higher education, irrespective of their background, schooling or income” (our emphasis).

It is particularly flawed when no distinction is drawn between types of state school (selective grammar schools and schools with fully comprehensive intake are lumped together) and no account taken of children from deprived backgrounds who are educated free of charge at independent schools.

Chris Ramsey, Headmaster of The King’s School Chester and co-Chair of the GSA/HMC Universities Committee commented as follows:

“We welcome research into attainment at Higher Education, but we agree with Alan Milburn: ‘school type’ is a misleading category in such research, because there are huge disparities of socio-economic circumstances among pupils in all kinds of school.

“In this latest study, HEFCE conclude that the majority of ISC school pupils, who have already gained the highest grades at A-level, will perform to the highest levels at degree level. This is hardly a startling conclusion.

“HEFCE’s previous study confirms that, on all key measures, independent school pupils at university perform way beyond expectation, most especially when it comes to securing graduate-level employment.”

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of ISC commented as follows:

“It is widely recognised by serious researchers into school education that dividing the school population into 'state' and 'private' is too crude to yield anything of value. Our schools have been signed up to an agenda of fair access for decades, as is demonstrated by the fact that one third of Oxford University’s bursary students are alumni of independent schools. The majority of our pupils' A-levels were graded A or A* last summer and we note that HEFCE, despite their best efforts, are unable to show that our pupils did less well at university than other groups.”


Notes to Editors:

1. ‘Higher education and beyond: Outcomes from full-time first degree study’ (HEFCE, July 2013) found the following: We see in Table 1 that there were 24,360 students in the 2006-07 cohort who attended an independent school prior to starting their first degree studies, and that a greater percentage of students from independent schools achieved each of the four outcomes than of students from state schools.

2. About ISC schools

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) brings together eight associations of independent schools, their heads, bursars and governors. Through our member associations we represent over 1,200 independent schools in the UK and overseas. These schools are ranked among the best in the world and educate more than half a million children each year.

Our eight member Associations are: Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, Girls’ Schools Association, the Independent Association of Prep Schools, the Independent Schools Association, the Society of Heads, the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association and the Council of British International Schools.


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