University leg-up for state pupils after study shows they get better degrees

The Sunday Times is reporting that  universities have been given a powerful boost to discriminate in favour of state school applicants after a landmark study showed they got better degrees than private school pupils with the same A-level grades…

The research by the government’s university funding body into 132,000 students over three years found state school pupils were up to 8% more likely to get a 2:1 or first-class degree than their private school counterparts with the same A-level results.

The study will be used by universities to justify schemes where students from poorer-performing state schools are given places ahead of similarly qualified private school applicants.

They argue that the practice compensates for state school pupils whose exam results understate their true ability.

Sir Steve Smith, a former head of the elite Russell group of universities, and vice-chancellor of Exeter, where a third of students are from private schools, said there was now clear evidence for making lower A-level offers to students from state schools.

Exeter is one of several universities, along with Bristol and Leeds, who openly offer state applicants places with lower grades. “Students who come in with lower offers from the bottom 40% of schools perform as well if not better at degree level than students who come in from better-performing schools with higher A-level grades,” said Smith. “That gives our governing body confidence that we are using an evidence base.”

Vince Cable, the business secretary, and David Willetts, the higher education minister, are expected to use the research as part of a soon-to-be unveiled national strategy to get more state school applicants into top universities…

More at: University leg-up for state pupils (subscription required)

Your thoughts on this study and how do you think universities and ministers should react? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Higher Education.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove A government body delivers data that justifies/supports government policy. Now there’s a shock…

  2. andylutwyche

    NuttySalt SchoolsImprove Sorry about that! No doubt I will cheer up when I see the state the supply teacher left my classroom on Friday

  3. NuttySalt

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Ooh that’s not a great start to a Monday. And you don’t know what your classes actually did. Grrr.

  4. Janet2

    This appears to confirm earlier research (eg Sutton Trust) which found state school pupils outperform their equally-qualified peers from private schools at university.  In fact, the Sutton Trust went further: pupils from comps outperformed equally-qualified peers from private schools AND state grammars.

  5. Jane

    Janet2: this is exactly the point I was going to make.  At least 20 years ago research showed that, given the same “A” level results, state schooled students got better degrees than privately educated ones.  Possibly because state schools encouraged pupils to be better independent learners, rather than being crammed for exams.

    Research at around the same time also showed that performance in GCSE (ie across a range of subjects) was a better predictor than “A” level.

    What really annoys me is that we have a wealth of research on what goes into a successful education but it is ignored.  Then all of a sudden someone produces the same results and it is mentioned briefly in the press, then ignored again in the interests of political expediency.

  6. FionaTipper

    SchoolsImprove “better degree” refers only to it being 2:1 or first without taking into account the quality/ranking of the institution 1/2

  7. FionaTipper

    SchoolsImprove 2/2 and we are constantly told the representation of indy educ students is higher at best unis… 3/2

  8. FionaTipper

    SchoolsImprove 3/2 so is this article saying a first from a low ranking uni is “better” than a 2:1 from Oxbridge?

  9. andylutwyche

    NuttySalt SchoolsImprove Not quite but 1 calculator down and my colours demolished. Random allocation of work it seems too

  10. geoffhancock56

    SchoolsImprove That’s one in the eye for #Gove and his precious #public_schools that he holds up as an example to us all!

  11. NuttySalt

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove That’s always the thing that gets to me. Cover work? No I’ll do my own thing. Grrrrr.

  12. andylutwyche

    NuttySalt SchoolsImprove Quite. They moan when you don’t set it and ignore it if you do! Not all mind

  13. andylutwyche

    “NuttySalt: andylutwyche SchoolsImprove No there are excellent staff who’s reputation is tarnished by the few.” Agreed

  14. stbons

    Well done to all the Comprehensive students!
    Aspirational and hard working.
    Nothing on a Silver Spoon.

  15. PeterHutchinso5

    SchoolsImprove Probably right. State school students have often had to overcome more obstacles to get there and appreciate it more.

  16. PeterHutchinso5

    SchoolsImprove State students may also realise that a good degree is a sine qua non for a good job. No nepotism/ Old Boy network for them.

  17. RGAmbler

    How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

    Among students achieving A* and A grades at A’ Level, there was no statistical difference in degree attainment according to school type.

    These are the grades required by elite Russell Group University applicants and Oxbridge candidates.  This data seems to back up the genetic theories that if a student is academically gifted the type of school he or she attends makes little difference to their academic achievement.  Your genes win out.  It also seems to indicate that Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities should not be discriminating according to school type.

  18. Sherbs1

    Rustylink1 deputycgreen Thanks for link R. Forced grown fruit never as tasty as naturally grown eh? Cramming is only for short term gain

  19. Rustylink1

    Sherbs1 deputycgreen Cramming may well enable those benefiting 2advance further than they might otherwise be expected, even in longer term

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