Universities urged to lower grades for comprehensive pupils


Pupils from comprehensive and poorly performing schools should receive lower entry grades to universities than those from grammar and private schools to recognise their greater academic potential and success rates, research published by the Department for Education has recommended.

According to the new study, which was commissioned by the Department for Education and conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Warwick University, pupils from non-selective state schools outperformed their independent-school peers, who had the same A-level grades, at university. It confirms similar research conducted by England’s Higher Education Funding Council in the past.

In fact, when compared on a like-for-like basis by their GCSE and A-level results, students from comprehensives and similar non-selective state schools were more likely to gain top results and complete their degrees, as well as being less likely to drop out.

The DfE report says: "When we compare pupils with the same background characteristics … pupils from independent and selective state schools, those from state schools with a low proportion of free school meal-eligible pupils and those from high-value-added state schools are now significantly more likely to drop out, significantly less likely to complete their degree and significantly less likely to graduate with a first or a 2:1 than their counterparts in non-selective state schools, state schools with a high proportion of FSM-eligible pupils and low-value-added state schools respectively.

"While we cannot point to specific changes that should be made to the entry offers of particular universities, these results provide suggestive evidence that universities may wish to consider lowering their entry requirements for pupils from non-selective or low-value-added state schools (relative to pupils from selective or high-value-added state schools, or independent schools) in order to equalise the potential of students being admitted from these different types of school."

Claire Crawford of Warwick University and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the author of the report commissioned by the DfE, said: "If you have in front you a student from a state school and one from a private school with the same A-level grades, on average – and I should emphasise it is on average – it does appear that the student from the state school background or less effective school will go on to do better given the grades that they are entering with."

The report's authors said it should be of particular concern to policymakers interested in widening participation in higher education" if pupils from certain backgrounds were less likely to go to top universities, especially if those same students outperform those from elsewhere once they are at university, even after accounting for their qualifications, subjects and grades on entry.

This "might provide an indication of the types of characteristics that universities may want to consider taking into account when making offers to prospective students", it concluded.

One of the report's findings is that an independent school-educated student was 10% less likely to get a first or a 2:1 degree than a student educated at a comprehensive when they had the same A-level results and were studying the same subject at similar universities.

School Leadership Today