Comprehensive pupils 'are more likely to do well at university'

Comprehensive school pupils are more likely to gain a better university degree than those who were educated privately or at grammar schools, research suggests.

A study commissioned by the Sutton Trust also suggests comprehensive pupils are likely to do as well as independent or grammar students who have one or two A-level grades higher.

The research, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) tracked thousands of A-level students to examine whether the US-based SAT college exam could be used in UK university admissions.

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But it found the type of school a child attends has a big impact on the outcome of their degree.

The probability of comprehensive students obtaining a 2.1 degree or above is 78 per cent, the study concludes, whereas the probability for students from grammar schools with similar A-level results is 70 per cent.

For private school pupils the probability is 63 per cent.

In addition, the probability of comprehensive pupils gaining a first class degree is 10 per cent, dropping to seven percent for grammar students with similar results, and 5 per cent for those from private schools.

The study says: "To look at this in another way, independent or grammar school students who achieve the same level of degree as students from a comprehensive school, with the same GCSE attainment and other background characteristics, are likely to have an average A-level grade that is approximately 0.5 to 0.7 of a grade higher.

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"Therefore a comprehensive student with grades BBB is likely to perform as well at university as an independent or grammar school student with grades ABB or AAB."

These differences appear for all types of universities, including those that are more selective, the study says, and it took into account the fact some institutions demand higher grades than others.

The study concluded SAT results are a poorer predictor of degree results than A-levels and GCSEs and that the test does not identify the academic potential of poor students missed by A-levels.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "These findings provide further evidence that universities are right to take into account the educational context of students when deciding who to admit – alongside other information on their achievements and potential."

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The study comes as the exams regulator is on a collision course with ministers after indicating they should be wary of scrapping A-level re-sits.

Ofqual chief executive Isabel Nisbet appeared to warn against rushing to ditch re-sits, suggesting there was a need to examine the evidence of how they were being used.

Last week's Education White Paper said re-sits "undermined" GCSEs and A-levels and could be "educationally inappropriate".

It called for Ofqual to change the rules to prevent students from re-taking large numbers of papers. But speaking at a Westminster Education Forum on A-levels yesterday, Ms Nisbet suggested the situation had changed under new-style A-levels.

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The changes saw the introduction of the A* grade, pupils taking four units instead of six and exams including "stretch and challenge" questions for the brightest youngsters.

Ms Nisbet said research showed almost all the re-sits taken were taken at AS-level, more were taken in traditional subjects and there was a higher number taken by pupils in independent schools.

New research on the new style A-levels, showed a decrease in the number of re-sits.