State or private? Part 3: All subjects are not equal

Figure 1: Difference in A-Level value-added score between private and state sixth-forms*
* Positive scores indicate higher average value-added in private sixth-forms.
** French, German and Spanish combined.
Sample sizes: State sixth-forms: 718-2,167. Private sixth-forms: 193-512.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 2: Difference in AS value-added score between private and state sixth-forms*
* Positive scores indicate higher average performance in private sixth-forms.
** French, German and Spanish combined.
Sample sizes: State sixth-forms: 305-2,087. Private sixth-forms: 24-475.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 3: Distributions of A-Level and AS value-added by subject (2015)
* 'Foreign Languages' subject refers to French, German and Spanish combined.
Sample sizes: State sixth-forms: 718-2,167 for A-Level subjects; 305-2,087 for AS subjects.
Private sixth-forms: 193-512 for A-Level subjects; 24-475 for AS subjects.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 4: Popularity of A-Level subjects in state and private sixth-forms (2011-2015)
Sample sizes: State sixth-forms: 624,628 subject entries. Private sixth-forms: 104,923 subject entries.
* French, German and Spanish combined.
Source: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis
Figure 5: Difference in popularity of A-Level subjects at private and state sixth-forms* (2011-2015)
* Positive scores higher popularity in private sixth-forms compared to state sixth-forms.
** French, German and Spanish combined.
Sample sizes: State sixth-forms: 556-1,840. Private sixth-forms: 265-508.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
  1. There are no publicly available data for years before 2014.
  2. Sociology, English Language, Media Studies and General Studies are also popular at state sixth-forms (see Figure 4), but students taking these subjects at private sixth-forms are too few to enable a reliable comparison so they have been omitted from this analysis. Note also that French, German and Spanish on their own would not qualify as particularly popular A-Level subjects, but they do in aggregate, which is how we are treating them here.

State or private? Part 2: GCSEs

Map 1: Locations of state (red) and private (blue) secondary schools in England
Figure 1: Average numbers of pupils per school (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 3,068-3,187. Private schools: 840.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Map 2: Proportions of secondary schools in each English parliamentary constituency that are state funded
Figure 2: Deprivation index of school postcodes (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 3,418. Private schools: 1,261.
Sources: Department for Education; Department for Communities and Local Government; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 3: Pupils with special educational needs (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 3,229. Private schools: 1,233.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 4: Proportions of pupils getting five good GCSEs (2012-2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 2,784-3,064. Private schools: 237-717.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 5: Proportions of pupils getting five good GCSEs (2012-2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 2,784-3,064. Private schools: 237-717.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 6: Average GCSE point scores per subject (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 3,066. Private schools: 774-775.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 7: Average GCSE point scores per subject (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 3,066. Private schools: 774-775.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 8: Distributions of GCSE grades by subject (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 32,254 to 543,415 entries per subject.
Private schools: 1,191 to 21,110 entries per subject.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 9: Average total GCSE point scores (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 2,836-3,066. Private schools: 455-775.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 10: Average total GCSE point scores (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 2,836-3,066. Private schools: 455-775.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 11: Average numbers of subject entries per pupil (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 3,066. Private schools: 773.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 12: Average total GCSE point scores (2015)
Sample sizes: State schools: 3,066. Private schools: 773.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
  • In general, private schools do a lot better than state schools at in terms of raw GCSE attainment. Pick your metric of choice, but as a rule of thumb the difference seems to be roughly one grade per subject – which is very consistent with what we saw in the A-Level data.
  • However, private schools tend to have a more selective, affluent intake so ought to do better simply because of this. Unfortunately, since the publicly available GCSE attainment data for private schools is incomplete and no value-added measures are included, it's impossible to be sure what, if anything, they are achieving above and beyond their privileged starting points.
  • This is not just frustrating for data nerds like me (though it's certainly that). It also compromises the DfE's wonderful open-data work. Moreover, it prevents private schools from making a proper case that they offer not just prestige but also value for money. Lastly and most importantly, it prevents parents from making fully informed choices for their children. For everyone's sake, let's hope this situation improves.

  1. Given that IGCSEs have sometimes been denigrated for being less rigorous, or for being designed mainly with foreign students in mind, it may be tempting to assume that the most strongly academic private schools do not use them. But at least anecdotally that doesn't seem to be the case at all. Establishments missing from at least some of the data due to their use of IGCSEs famously include places you may have heard of such as Eton, Harrow, Marlborough and Westminster.
  2. Note that despite their high proportions of SEN pupils, these schools have not been officially designated as special schools. All special schools, whether state or private, have been omitted from this analysis.
  3. This figure is the average of 804 mainstream private schools in England for which we have information about day fees. Where the school quotes a range we have used the higher number as this usually indicates fees at the senior (ie, secondary) school, but it is possible that in some cases this overstates the normal secondary school fee.
  4. The average of 416 mainstream private boarding schools in England for which we have information about boarding fees. As for day fees (see footnote 3), where a range is given we have taken the higher value to indicate senior school fees.

State or private? Part 1: A-Levels

Map 1: Locations of state (red) and private (blue) sixth-form colleges in England
Figure 1: Average numbers of students per college (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,132-2,443. Private colleges: 565-698.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 2: Numbers of students per college (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,132-2,443. Private colleges: 565-698.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Map 2: Proportions of sixth-form colleges in each English region that are state funded
Figure 3: Deprivation index of school postcodes (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,582. Private colleges: 707.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 4: Students with special educational needs (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,128-2,198. Private colleges: 634-696.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 5: Proportions of students reaching selected A-Level standards (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,170. Private colleges: 521.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 6: Average A-Level point scores per entry (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,180. Private colleges: 532.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 7: Distributions of AS and A-Level grades by subject
Sample sizes: State colleges: 5,212-59,304 entries per A-Level subject; 7,815-80,032 entries per AS subject.
Private colleges: 898-14,632 entries per A-Level subject; 7,815-80,032 entries per AS subject.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 8: Average total A-Level point scores per student (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,180. Private colleges: 532.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 9: Average value-added per A-Level subject (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 2,189. Private colleges: 539.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 10: Average AS and A-Level value-added by subject (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 256-1,842 for A-Level subjects; 89-1,775 for AS subjects.
Private colleges: 152-508 for A-Level subjects; 51-472 for AS subjects.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 11: Distributions of AS and A-Level value-added by subject (2015)
Sample sizes: State colleges: 256-1,842 for A-Level subjects; 89-1,775 for AS subjects.
Private colleges: 152-508 for A-Level subjects; 51-472 for AS subjects.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
  • On the whole, private sixth-form colleges get much better results than state sixth-form colleges, but most of this difference seems to be accounted for by the higher prior attainment of their students (which, credit where credit's due, may be partly a result of the same school's secondary education).
  • Consistent with recent comments by the editor of The Good Schools Guide, quite a few state sixth-forms compete with, or even outperform, private ones, especially in terms of academic value-added. So picking a good college (of any kind) is far more important than simply choosing an expensive one and hoping for the best.
  • If you're thinking of forking out £30,000 or more for two years at a private college then consider carefully what you're getting for your money. Is there a state sixth-form that might deliver the same results? And what are the costs and benefits beyond the strictly academic? Private schools can offer a lot, it's true, but thirty grand also buys a lot of private tuition, theatre trips and journeys to go out and see the world.

  1. It is possible to get pupil-level socioeconomic data by requesting extracts from the National Pupil Database. But this is an onerous process with no guarantee of success. In this analysis we are limiting ourselves to information sources that anyone can access and analyse for themselves.
  2. Examples include Ashlea House School, Fairways School, Northleigh House School, Break Through, Red Balloon, Norwich and The Green Room.
  3. Where the school quotes a range for day fees we have used the higher number as this usually indicates fees at the senior school (ie, secondary school and sixth-form), but it is possible that in some cases this overstates the average sixth-form fee.
  4. Subjects selected for this analysis constitute the top eight in terms of school sample sizes. Other subjects were judged to have sample sizes too small to be of interest.

 | Copyright © 2017 |