PUPILS who take A-levels at independent schools are twice as likely to achieve A grades as those from state schools and colleges, according to a new analysis of this summer's results.
More than one A-level entry in three (34.8 per cent) from private schools was awarded grade A, up from 33.5 per cent last year, according to a provisional list of results from 515 schools published by the Independent Schools Information Service (ISIS).
Nationally just 17.5 per cent of entries were judged to be of A-grade standard, up from 16.8 per cent in 1998.
But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, leapt to the defence of state schools. He said: "Most state school sixth forms are non-selective whereas nearly all independent schools are selective. Therefore it is both wrong and unfair to make direct comparisons. "Instead we should celebrate the achievements of both sectors in consistently raising the standard of performance over 20 years."
Analysis of 33,137 private-school candidates showed that on average each student scored 22.18 university admission points - equivalent to two B grades and a C - compared to 21.83 points last year. However, candidates sat more exams this year with pupils taking an average of 3.1 A-levels.
Winchester College came top of this year's independent school league table, with each candidate scoring an average 34.1 UCAS points - equivalent to three As and a D for every sixth-former.
St Paul's and Westminster schools, London, were ranked second and third with averages of 32.8 and 32.7 points. The top seven averaged more than three A grades for every candidate.
However, Eton College fell to 18th place with a score of 28.4, down from fourth last year.
Graham Able, joint-chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and Girls Schools Association education committee, credited better careers advice and students' astute subject choices for much of this year's improvement.
He said: "Students are now choosing from a much wider range of subjects and are tailoring their choices to their strengths. More pupils are taking A-levels in economics, business studies and the creative arts because these are the areas where many would like to pursue careers."
The analysis by ISIS, which represents 1,300 schools and 80 per cent of pupils in the independent sector, does not include general studies entries because the exam is not offered by every school.
The "vocational A-level" was more popular this year in independent schools although the numbers achieving top grades fell. This summer the advanced general national vocational qualification was taken by 258 candidates in 38 independent schools with 31.9 per cent of entries achieving distinctions.
Last year, 201 pupils from 34 schools took the two-year course which is equivalent to two A-
levels, although 36.7 per cent gained distinctions.
The International Baccalaureate also boosted its entry by nearly 50 per cent this summer. The IB was devised more than 25 years ago in response to the demand for an internationally recognised qualification. Candidates study six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level.