Seventy seven per cent of those surveyed by YouGov say smaller classes and better facilities give private schools an advantage in attaining the higher A-level grades needed for university (© Andrew Dunn)
The ailment is clear but the cure is not. Most people in Britain think that private schools give their pupils a head start in life; in principle, we would like Britain’s top universities to cast their net wider in order to find more of the most talented state school pupils; but many people fear the consequences of positive discrimination.
YouGov’s latest survey for Prospect started by testing nine reasons that different people suggest for the advantage, in terms of A-level grades, offered by private schools. It is this advantage that drives the bias in university admissions, with a much higher proportion of students from independent schools being admitted than from state schools. We asked whether people regarded each factor as extremely important, fairly important, not important, or simply not true.
Only one of our statements was widely regarded as untrue. Fifty per cent think private school pupils are not “generally brighter than pupils at state schools.” Fewer, 21 per cent, think it is an important factor. Britons think that by far the biggest advantage conferred by private schools is that they “tend to have smaller classes and better facilities than state schools.” Fully 77 per cent regard this as a major factor. Three other factors are seen as important by more than half of all adults: disruptive pupils in state schools (61 per cent); bright state school pupils being held back by those who are less bright (57 per cent); and a greater insistence on hard work at private schools (56 per cent).
Other factors are seen as less important. Perhaps significantly, fewer than one person in three blames poor teaching in state schools (31 per cent) or the notion that “ A-level exams are inherently biased in favour of the education provided by private schools—a fairer test of pupils’ potential might reduce the gap in exam grades between private and state schools” (29 per cent).
These results suggest that private school resources matter, but that we blame failings in many state schools (or our perceptions of those failings) for at least a part of the difference in A-level grades.…