Monday, 9 March 2009

When getting straight As at A-level is a problem ...

The publication of the official A-level statistics which indicate that independent school pupils are 'four times as likely' to get straight As at A-level than those in the maintained sector has caused a problem both for the DCSF and for universities of choice.
In 1998, 16.9 per cent of fee-paying pupils sitting A-levels gained three or more As, against 4.7 per cent in comprehensives - a gap of 12.2 percentage points.

But by last year the gap had widened significantly.Some 30.3 per cent of sixth-formers in the independent sector achieved the feat in 2008 compared to 7.6 per cent in comprehensives - a gulf of 22.7 points.

It comes despite the fact that those educated in the private sector make up only one-in-14 students nationally.
As the Principal of an independent school, it is tempting to view this in a very positive light. Independent schools are some of the finest in the world. They along with our top universities are the jewels in Britain's educational crown. People all over the world hold these institutions up as models and aspire to attend them. Surely it is not surprising that they get the lion's share of top grades at A-level.

Sadly, I suspect that the real reason is a more worrying underlying trend. Independent schools have battled and been successful in maintaining traditional academic standards, despite Government intervention in the form of curriculum revisions [AKA "dumbing down"] and year-on-year grade inflation. It is not surprising that there is a gulf opening up between the provision for the Nation's brightest in the independent and maintained sectors.

Independent schools getting straight As at A-level therefore is a problem for Government, for it demonstrates that, in building their education policy around education for the masses, they have in many cases failed their brightest and best - the statistics speak for themselves.

Independent Schools getting straight As at A-level increasingly is also a problem for the top universities, for they are clearly under pressure from Government to increase the proportion of pupils from maintained sector schools. Top universities need to attract the top pupils if they are to maintain the highest standards. Independent schools are doing a great job, not only are they getting more pupils with top grades, they are also more likely to be in the rigorous subjects like Languages and Science, preferred by the Russell Group; and let us remember that even more university science and language courses would be closing if it weren't for independent schools.

This country relies on a strong independent sector.
  • Rather than discriminating against our pupils, the Government should celebrate their excellence.
  • Rather than wondering how to manipulate more entries to top universities from maintained sector schools, this Government should focus on improving standards for the most able pupils who are being educated by the State.
  • Rather than see independent schools as a problem, we should be seen as part of the solution.
If the Government or the opposition really wants to close the social divide in education, then it might be time for a radical solution. Perhaps they should harness the excellence of the independent sector by bringing back an assisted places scheme for the poorest families and allow us to educate the brighest on behalf of the Nation. Alternatively they should allow academic selection once again in the maintained sector, which provided the opportunity for those with ability to progress to the top universities more readily in a previous generation than they can today.

And a final thought - if you think that 'four times as likely' to get straight As at A-level is impressive, just wait for the A* at A-level statistics in 2010 - don't be surprised if it's eight to one. The Government is likely find that even more of a problem.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr. Steed,

    Zero comments... – is that because nobody are interested, nobody cares, nobody reads your Blogs or is it, like in my case, that I agree 100% with this particular issue.

    How many people will watch the Elite footballers tonight?? Millions!
    How many people watched Wycombe vs Barnet yesterday??? 4066

    Keep blogging, please!

    Flemming Christensen