Glasgow schools in poorer areas are better at helping pupils go on to training or college than is usually acknowledged, according to research that could have dramatic implications for secondary education.
If the usual measures of a school's success - Higher exam passes and the number of pupils going to university - are taken out of the equation, schools often thought of as less successful are the opposite, says the study. It suggests the city may be closer to achieving the "holy grail" of education than thought - combating the effects of poverty.
Glasgow University and Glasgow City Council researchers used data from 29 secondaries, covering 2006-09. They found the traditional pattern - that higher levels of attainment strongly correlated with lower levels of deprivation. Similarly, higher numbers of pupils went on to university from schools in more affluent areas.
But when it came to their analysis of where most pupils ended up after leaving school, the picture was more surprising and complex.
By removing pupils who went on to university from the data, schools in poorer areas were found to be more successful than others at preparing their pupils for "positive destinations". This finding appears to turn on its head the idea that schools in more affluent areas give pupils better prospects.
The research finds "no significant association" between deprivation and overall leaver destinations, raising the prospect that what schools do with pupils is more crucial than social background.
A briefing paper suggests deprivation is "substantially less important" in relation to leaver destinations, if university is excluded, than it is to attainment. Schools appear to have less influence over attainment, which seems "much more firmly linked to deprivationsocial class".
The paper continues: "While schools with lower levels of deprivation tend to have greater numbers of pupils going on to HE, and in that sense appear successful, the data also suggests that these schools are less successful in seeing their `other' pupils (the majority) secure positive destinations outwith HE."
The research provides welcome news for the city council, which has in recent years placed emphasis on employment prospects as well as attainment, through initiatives such as the Glasgow Partner Initiative, which asked schools to concentrate on the least able pupils, and Schools of Ambition, although the study did not evaluate these projects.
In late 2006, The TESS reported that Smithycroft Secondary, in the city's east end, had helped slash unemployment among school-leavers from 31 per cent in 2003 to 6 per cent in 2005, after providing a wider range of vocational study.
Research leader Stephen McKinney, head of RE at Glasgow University, says the study shows the city "may even be leading the field in Scotland". It will be presented at the Scottish Educational Research Association's annual conference in Stirling next week.
The paper concludes that, if schools are able to exercise greater influence over overall destinations than attainment, "this may be an important finding for the city's secondary education strategy".
Glasgow City Council's education director, Maureen McKenna, said the study was "confirmation that Glasgow is combating the impact of deprivation". She believes the next stage of research will be even more useful, as it will examine more deeply schools where attainment and leavers' destinations are better than expected.
Jean McFadden, executive member for education, said the research confirmed that Glasgow "is unlike any other local authority and it is therefore not possible to make sweeping statements about attainment".
The researchers used various measures - free school meals, staged intervention and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation - to build a more sophisticated picture of deprivation than is often the case.
Dr McKinney worked with Glasgow University colleagues Stuart Hall and Keith Lowden, and Glasgow City Council researchers Michele McClung and Lauren Cameron.