Chalk Talk: Private schools - shouldn't we be demanding an inquiry?


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The Independent Online

The headlines last Saturday were predictably all about the leading independent schools and the widening the gap in performance between them and state schools. Quite natural, really, as private schools in membership of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) had seen a 0.9 percentage point increase in A* grades at A-level compared with just 0.1 percentage point nationally.

However, what seems to have escaped scrutiny were some of the other findings that flow from a closer analysis of the figures. For instance, if the ISC schools have shown a 0.9 percentage point increase but independent schools overall show only a 0.2 percentage point increase, what does that say about the rest of the sector?

The ISC represents the bulk of the sector and the more elite end of the market – Eton, Westminster, Winchester, Cheltenham Ladies College and Roedean are in membership. It follows that, if their improvement is so marked, some of the others must be witnessing a tailing off of their performance.

Then again, a glance at the state school statistics notes that the gap between independent schools and state selective schools widened more than between the private sector and comprehensive schools.

The performance of the comprehensive schools did improve this year – going up from 5.8 per cent of scripts being awarded A*s to 5.9 per cent, whereas that of the selective grammar schools deteriorated from 12.5 per cent last year to 12.1 per cent in 2011.

It was difficult for education experts to fathom the reason for this, other than the fact that comprehensives started from a lower bases, from which it is easier to improve, while grammar schools were defending a higher score.

One difference this year is that academies' performance is listed separately for the first time (they notched up 8.7 per cent), although that hardly seems to be an answer as the bulk of academies have come from the comprehensive sector.

That itself raises an interesting question: if the comprehensive sector is improving despite many of its members now being classified as academies, it seems to indicate that any simplistic attempt to portray academies as outstanding schools and those remaining in local authority control as less so is wide of the mark.

Meanwhile, if the comprehensive schools had presided over a 0.4 percentage point drop in top grade awards, you can bet your bottom dollar somebody would be demanding an inquiry into what had happened. Need I say more?