Higher education report got its sums wrong over state school pupils’ degrees

Prof Alan Smithers.
Prof Alan Smithers.
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A REPORT that said state school graduates get better degrees than independent school graduates was wrong, its authors have said.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) said in September 82 per cent of graduates getting first class or upper-second class degrees in 2013-14 came from state schools compared with 73 per cent from independent schools.

But HEFCE has admitted to a “transposition error” - the numbers were the wrong way round.

In fact, a greater proportion of independent school graduates were awarded a top degree than state school graduates.

The error was pointed out by the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER).

Professor Alan Smithers, director of CEER, said: “It is extraordinary that an influential body like HEFCE should have got its figures wrong.” Prof Smithers also said the report was “quietly altered” after the mistake was flagged up but said a public correction was not issued until now.

A spokeswoman for HEFCE said: “We made a transposition error in our latest report on degree outcomes which we’ve corrected on our website and in social media. In 2013-14, 73 per cent of state school graduates gained a first or upper second class degree compared with 82 per cent of independent school graduates.

“The transposition error did not affect the main finding on school type. This was that ‘For all but those with the very highest A-level grades, state school graduates tend to have higher degree outcomes than independent school graduates with the same prior educational attainment.”

The statement added: “The nine percentage point difference in favour of independent schools is explained by the different distribution of A-level achievement between state and independent school graduates - independent school students on average achieve better A-levels than state school students. When this and other known factors (such as degree subject) are taken into account, state school graduates out-perform independent school graduates by four percentage points. We hope that this sets the record straight, and we’re sorry for any confusion.”