The former education secretary, Justine Greening, has urged firms to discriminate against applicants from Eton on the grounds that it is easier to get good A level grades if you’ve been to Eton rather than a comprehensive. There are several odd things about her statement. Toby Young writes in The Spectator.
First, why single out Eton? In terms of A level passes at grade A* or A, Eton is 12th in the independent school league table, behind Westminster, Wycombe Abbey, St Paul’s and City of London School for Girls, among others. Cardiff Sixth Form College is top, with 91.9 per cent of its students gaining A* or A in their A levels last year. I guess urging employers to discriminate against applicants from a sixth form in Cardiff wouldn’t have generated the same headlines.
Second, how many Etonians are going to be applying for jobs at 18 or 19, where the critical factor will be their A level results? According to Eton’s own stats, only four boys in 2015 started their career upon leaving the school, while 261 of the class of 267 went on to university.
Third, Greening referenced ‘contextual recruitment’ in her speech and said that ‘software’ is available that enables employers to put this into practice. What this software does is ‘contextualise’ A level results by taking the postcode of the applicant into account – and just the postcode – so if two people apply for the same job with the same grades, the one from the more deprived postcode will be judged more impressive.
Finally, Greening commits the common mistake of over-estimating the effect schools have on attainment. Secondary school exam results are between 50 and 60 per cent heritable and insofar as differences in the environment influence those results, the impact of schools is negligible once you control for different pupil characteristics. The general consensus is that schools alone account for less than 10 per cent of the variation in educational attainment – and I recently contributed to a research study that found their contribution is less than one per cent.
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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