Exclusive: Top comprehensives 'outperform' leading independents on A-level pupil progress

But the leading independent schools claim the report is "misleading" because their pupils perform so well at GCSE

Eleanor Busby

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The top comprehensive schools outperform the leading fee-paying schools when it comes to the progress made by A-level students, according to a study by a former Department for Education policy adviser.

New analysis, shared exclusively with Tes, shows that average pupil progress across the 50 comprehensive schools with the highest average A-level point scores in England was higher than at the top 50 independent schools and top 50 grammar schools.

The same was true across the top 10 and top 20 comprehensive, independent and grammar schools.

But the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents the country’s leading independent schools, argues that pupils attending its schools have less opportunity to progress because their GCSE results are already so high.

Tom Richmond, a former senior policy adviser at the DfE who now teaches at St Dominic’s Sixth-Form College in north-west London, based his research on government data covering the 2016 results.

He calculated the value added by schools, using key stage 4 results as a benchmark, to find out whether pupils made more, less or the same amount of progress as the national average from GCSE to A level.

In his study, a progress score of zero means pupils were making progress from their GCSEs to their A levels in line with the national average for all pupils.

The research finds little difference between the top-performing comprehensive schools and the top-performing fee-paying schools.

On average, pupils at private schools had a higher progress score (+0.07) than pupils at state schools (-0.07) across the country.

But a comparison of the top 10 private schools and comprehensive schools reveals that the comprehensive schools made a quarter of an A-level grade more progress than the national average.

The new analysis has been published less than a week before teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results.


Mr Richmond, who is also a senior policy fellow at the thinktank Policy Exchange, said: “This analysis shows that, while some private schools do a good job of educating children and young people, many do not."

The Conservative manifesto, published in May, set out an expectation for at least 100 of the top independent schools to sponsor academies or set up free schools. It suggested that the state sector would benefit from the involvement of independent schools.

But Mr Richmond said: “It is somewhat alarming that the top state comprehensives seem to be delivering a better standard of education than the top private schools for a fraction of the cost."

Mr Richmond said that for some of these schools to continue charging parents up to £30,000 a year is “verging on scandalous”.

    But the research has been heavily criticised by independent schools. Mike Buchanan, HMC chair, said: “This report is misleading because it forgets that most independent school pupils do so well at GCSE that they have less [distance] to leap to get top grades at A level.

    "It is a perverse theoretical universe in which pupils with top grades at both GCSE and A level are seen as making little progress.”

    This is an edited version of an article in the 11 August edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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    Eleanor Busby

    Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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