Solid state

Independent schools already lag behind grammars at A-level and their lead on other state schools is narrowing, writes John Howson

HAVE exam results in the independent sector peaked? Last summer, according to government figures, students at fee-paying schools did no better at A-level than the previous year. By contrast many of their state-school competitors improved.

Once again last summer, students at selective state schools outperformed their fee-paying counterparts.

In fact, the gap between those gaining three or more passes at selective and independent schools widened - from 1.1 to 2.7 percentage points. For boys the gap is now 3.2 points with 83.9 per cent of boys at independents gaining three or more passes compared with 87.1 per cent of boys at selective schools.

But it was not just grammar schools that improved. The proportion of students gaining three or more passes rose in every type of state school last year compared to theprevious summer. This rise came despite probable cuts in funding per pupil, teacher shortages and larger classes.

These results represent the high-water mark for a system focused on creating university entrants who know a lot about a small range of subjects.

As the post-16 curriculum broadens, inevitably this will mean each subject is studied in less depth. It will be interesting to see how the different types of school respond to the changed curriculum.

The response of university admissions tutors when faced with these different approaches will be also crucial. Any perceived bias to independent schools' patterns of study would revive charges of elitism.

Undoubtedly, not all universities will welcome the fact that many students will have less knowledge than their predecessors about the subject they apply to read.

John Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys. His e-mail address is .

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