Justine Greening is wrong to pick on Eton

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.

Read more Justine Greening is wrong to pick on Eton

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. “the impact of schools is negligible”

    So Toby, the great critic of all those so terribly bad schools that had been doing so much harm to children, apparently, and which no-one was making much money out of, now thinks schools are not all that important? Has he got a new hobby to reveal the ‘truth’ about?

  2. Justine Greening, green by name and green by nature. Why does she think she should be having any say at all in education now that she has been, er, removed from that post?

  3. Anonymous

    It makes you wonder why people send their children to Eton if it has such limited impact on their results! I’d say that was a complete waste of money. I suppose sending them to Eton means that they don’t get to mix with the great unwashed at least, it may be worth it for that? I just thank the lord that my son has finished school. It was never a great school, in fact it was never even a “good” school in terms of Ofsted. But since it became an academy the cutbacks needed to pay the fat salary of the CEO made it even more crap. My son had a contextual offer based on his school and not his postcode which I believe is what Justine Greening was talking about. Any kid coming out of that school with an A* should have been offered a place at Oxford. Actually the boy who got 4 A*s from that school did not get an offer from Oxford. He obviously hadn’t gone to Eton. Get real Toby!

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