‘Private schools are competing against the highest performing state schools – and often winning. This is nothing new’

Writing in the TES,  Independent Schools Council chair Barnaby Lenon has hit back at the suggestion that private schools are losing ground to those in the state sector.

We should not be surprised when Lord Lucas, owner of The Good Schools Guide, seeks publicity for his book. There is a superfluity of such guides and many are given away free with magazines. No, what is surprising is that when this Old Etonian states that there are now some good state schools, the media falls over itself to report him.

So what’s going on here? What’s going on is that Lord Lucas was for years ignorant of the fact that there are high-achieving state schools in England. Many are highly selective grammar schools in prosperous areas and their A-level results have always been good. So well done, Good Schools Guide, for spotting this – at last. 

Independent schools have always faced competition from grammar schools. Some know that a good proportion of the pupils they take have been rejected by grammar schools at 11-plus. These independent schools take pride in the fact that their A-level results are often better than the grammar schools nearby. In the Department for Education’s 2015 league table of A-level points per exam, independent schools occupied 84 of the top 100 places. Last year a third of independent school GCSE entries were awarded an A* compared with 7 per cent nationally.

This would be less impressive if fee-charging schools were very selective academically – but most are not, unlike the grammar schools that select at 11 and at 16…

More at: ‘Private schools are competing against the highest performing state schools – and often winning. This is nothing new’


Barnaby Lenon goes on to predict a healthy future for the independent sector – saying it has been prematurely written off before – and also pointing out that state and independent schools can and do learn much from each other.

He is right, isn’t he, to point out that the comments made by Lord Lucas didn’t really apply to the majority of state schools but rather a very small number of selective grammar schools?

In the full article he points out that nearby property prices can in reality make these particular state schools as expensive as private ones.

Is he right too about the independent sector being well set for the future?

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Categories: Private Schools.


  1. ‘Some 29 per cent of pupils at independent schools are from a minority ethnic background – more than in the state sector,’ says Lenon.

    Would that be because many private school pupils come from abroad?

  2. Lenon doesn’t seem to know, or he ignores, the fact that UK state schools outperform UK private schools when socio-economic background is taken into account (OECD 2010).  In other words, the private schools’ ‘advantage’ comes from their intake.

  3. How much parents pay for a house makes no difference if their children don’t pass the 11+.  Grammars choose their pupils on the results of two short tests taken on a Saturday morning.  So paying premium prices for a house near a grammar might not pay off – the alternative to the grammar would be a non-selective school with an ability range likely to be skewed to the bottom end.  This might be an excellent school doing the best for all its pupils but in selective areas this doesn’t matter – non-selective schools are regarded as second-tier regardless of the quality of education they provide.

  4. TW

    Janet2  So not actually a minority at all in terms of their background.  Surely he wasn’t intending to seek credit for assisting social mobility in the UK when in all likelihood he was actually referring to the children of rich and powerful foreigners.

  5. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Agree with this; Good Schools Guide is hardly an impartial source & some state school should compete with private schools

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