State schools are best for progress

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State schools in Britain offer pupils a better chance of improving their test performance than those in the independent sector, according to an international study.

The results of tests for 14-year-olds in English, maths and science show the gap between the state and independent sectors is wider than anywhere else in the world. On a ranking system, private schools are 80 points ahead of the state sector.

But this gap is wiped out when the results are adjusted to take into account the social background of the pupils and compared with what could be expected from them when they first arrived at their school. The figures then show that state school pupils do slightly better than those in the private sector.

The findings, from a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development comparing test results in 30 member countries, were revealed at a conference at London University's Institute of Education.

Professor Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the institute, used them to indicate that parents should not be swayed by a school's raw exam results. "Choosing a school on raw results makes no more sense than choosing to have brain surgery at a small cottage hospital because no one has died there recently," he said.

Another poll revealed that a record number of parents wanted to send their children to private schools.