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Differences in degree outcomes

(38 Posts)
senua Fri 28-Mar-14 18:25:20

Recently released research from the HEFCE backs up what those-in-the-know have tended to say on MN.

"State school students tend to do better in their degree studies than students from independent schools with the same prior educational attainment."

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 28-Mar-14 18:34:50

I thought this was really interesting. I would just love to know why (wouldn't we all).

How much of it is bias in the degree system, how much is bias in the A Level system, how much is genuinely different skills/knowledge?

senua Fri 28-Mar-14 18:47:27

I heard an interview on the radio where the question came up. The initial response from the chap at HEFCE was (couched politely) that independent pupils 'overperform' at A Level because of spoonfeeding. When pushed for another answer he came up with the thought that those who get through from State probably have a mindset/skillset more suited to HE - which seemed to me to be another way of saying the same thing!

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 28-Mar-14 19:07:01

I guess it might also be that if you're in a class where there's a wide academic range (ie., not a selective school), you may have to do more independent study to get the same grades, which would stand you in good stead for university.

I read the short version of this in the Guardian and the race stats were what struck me - did they say anything about that on the radio?

JaneinReading Fri 28-Mar-14 19:36:22

Perhaps the private school ones have a better time at university (remember the bare pass degree has always been called the gentleman's degree). My daughter had 3 hours lectures at week and the time of her life at Bristol. She now earns just shy of £100k in her 20s in law. Her 2/1 is okay. I suspect the career outcomes are more important than the degree result even if there is a tiny difference (isn't it just 8% in this study so almost de minimis) between state and private.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 28-Mar-14 19:44:36

I think there's an element of that - if you are someone who went to private school because your parents are rich (I know not everyone is, and plenty of rich people's children go to state schools, and so on), you might not feel the need to work so hard because you know bank of mum and dad will bail you out. Or you might simply have more money over for partying.

I always thought the (antiquated) phrase was a 'gentleman's third'?

senua Fri 28-Mar-14 19:57:14

The radio interview only discussed state v private. They probably shied away from tricky subjects like race, gender etc.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 28-Mar-14 19:57:51

Ah, right. Bit of a shame.

UptheChimney Sat 29-Mar-14 06:35:06

The Sutton Trust has been talking about the higher value (they don't put it like that) of state school A level grades for at least a decade. I think the
Sutton Trust has talked about 1 or 2 grades' difference. It's to do with spoon feeding and independence.

Springcleanish Sat 29-Mar-14 06:41:52

If you're paying for your time at Uni yourself, not funded via bank of mum and dad, you have less disposable income and a greater need to make Uni work for you so that you can pay back the astronomical debt you incur. Education is then a privilege not a right, and therefore uni is something most state students don't step into lightly.

wordfactory Sat 29-Mar-14 08:25:37

I think one reason is that the vast majoirty of DC in independent school will go off to tertiary education whatever their natural ability range.

That doesn't happen in the state system.

So, I suspect that the range of ability is greater at university amongst the independently educated students.

Thast said, we're only talking about slight differences here in grade outcome. Of more interest to society is what happens after university! No guesses there!

ThinkAboutItTomorrow Sat 29-Mar-14 08:42:39

I did this. I basically went of the rails at uni. Had a great time and barely did any work. I do think my prior education was one of the reasons. At private school I was hothoused and not so much spoon fed as tightly controlled. The freedom of uni went to my head.

I buggered up my degree (2:2) but not because of a lack of ability, more a lack of trying. Honestly the work I did it's a crime I didn't fail.

In earning terms it's not held me back. I earn more than pretty much all the 2:1 and firsts folks I graduated with. But that's a whole other question about what the value and purpose of a degree is. If I'd worked hard and got a first I might be an academic now, earning half what I do. Who knows.

UptheChimney Sat 29-Mar-14 09:22:37

not so much spoon fed as tightly controlled

Those tend to go together. But then I guess it's partly teaching children that anything can be bought ... the shock of realising this is not the case at university is salutory to some.

JaneinReading Sat 29-Mar-14 10:08:55

Yes, Think, that was almost my point. I never saw private schools for my children as about buying grades. It was about helping make them good people with a good and interesting life whilst having the choice (if they were to take it) of a high paid career. I regard university as similar - some will do well, get their double starred first or whatever it is and join a leading barrister chambers. Others will mess around and come up with ideas which they might well use to found a business. Others will just have a good time and make friends for life.

The latest stats I thought just found an 8% difference between outcomes which is tiny and not worth worrying about. They also looked at children from bad state schools as against from good ones so probably not too relevant to most state school mumsnetters as the latter tend to get their children into good state schools which would not be advantaged against private schools of course.

I think it's very unfair to suggest most state school pupils at good universities anyway have been spoon fed. I pay fees so the teachers can veer right off the syllabus and do the opposite of spoon feeding whilst also of course covering the syllabus too. I pay to avoid the exam factory of some other schools. if you have a class of very bright private school (or state school ) pupils the last thing you need to do with them is spoon feeding.

meditrina Sat 29-Mar-14 10:11:27

How many years in private education did they count as privately educated?

There's a big influx into that sector for 6th form, and of course those who do not get the grades to continue through in their state school must be a confounder in this.

senua Sat 29-Mar-14 10:41:41

Scroll down for detail meditrina. Look at page 21. Although I must admit I am confused: they seem to be saying that not many transfer from state to independent.
Another 'although'. If you look at page 7 it says that - for reasons unexplained - the survey excludes those studying medicine & dentistry and long courses (so that's architecture, another course needing high grades). Perhaps most of the state->independent are medics/dentists?confused

meditrina Sat 29-Mar-14 12:10:13


I wonder if that also includes languages and engineering as "long"? Presumably vetinerary medicine is long too.

Also, as it's the first time with that analysis, it means that it's not possible to know if this is typical or not (especially with the number 'undefined')

wordfactory Sat 29-Mar-14 12:13:26

I'd be interested to know if it included any course that includes a year abroad or whatever.

Slipshodsibyl Sat 29-Mar-14 12:44:17

Surely students with lower grades are more likely to be studying a range of subjects at a wide range of institutions which makes this kind of comparison very difficult.

Where students have AAA grades, the subjects and universities will be mostly traditional with comparable standards. The same direct comparisons are far more difficult when you widen the range of institutions and courses. I know students with excellent degrees from new universities, often in specifically vocational subjects, and they do well in life, but they would not get a good degree from a traditional university in a traditional subject. I think there is likely to be a far bigger number of maintained school students in this large group.

Does the research distinguish between subjects/institutions, or have I missed that somewhere?

I believe Cambridge specifically stated a year or two ago there is no difference between state and independent in their degree results.

kalidasa Sat 29-Mar-14 13:17:18

It is a recognised phenomenon among academics, but in my experience it is only really marked at the relatively extreme ends: e.g. the products of a small number of the most high-profile private/public schools and conversely students who have managed to do well despite being at fairly low-achieving state schools. Students in the latter category are almost always "undervalued" in terms of A level grades (though obviously a lot of admissions tutors try to take this into account where they have the leeway to do so); students in the former group can definitely be "overvalued" - e.g. all As at A level who are bright but not really very bright, but have been extremely well taught at a very high level from the age of four or five. This particularly makes a differences in subjects (e.g. languages) where cumulative learning over a long time is important for performance. There is also a slightly separate phenomenon of burn-out - even very intelligent students who have been so pushed and pressured through a very intense education up until 18 that they go a bit crazy with the freedom and relatively 'hands-off' style of university teaching and do nothing much academically at university for a couple of years. That group often pull it together for finals though and do well. The opposite of that doesn't really have a name but you see it a lot too and in fact it's one of the greatest pleasures of university teaching: students who seem good and diligent but not particularly unusual at the beginning of the first year but who have actually never really been fully engaged before, and who suddenly "get it" and do extremely well.

JaneinReading Sat 29-Mar-14 13:39:20

There are some interesting parts of it. We should not selectively quote the study. So if you come from a poor postcode you do worse in your degree. If we are using the study to say let more state school pupils in and discriminate against privates the local conclusion of that based on this study is "except those from really poor areas as they do not do so well in their degrees". You cannot have it both ways.

"Students from disadvantaged areas tend to do less well in higher education than those with the same prior educational attainment from more advantaged areas

12.We classified the postcodes students live in immediately prior to entry using either the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI
),which measures in a local area the proportion of children under the age of 16 who live in low-income households or Participation of
Local Areas (POLAR), which measures in a local area the proportion of young people who go onto higher education. We found that
on either measure, those from the most disadvantaged
areas have consistently lower HE degree outcomes than those with the same prior educational attainment from other areas.

13. Applying IDACI, 77 per cent of those from the most advantaged areas with ABB at A-level go on to gain a first or upper -second degree. This figure drops to 67 per cent when ABB students from the most disadvantaged areas are considered."

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 29-Mar-14 14:03:19

I don't think that is having it both ways. It stands to reason someone from a poor background has a lot of difficulties going against them - not least having to work a lot around studying, I think. But if those students have the potential to do really well because they've overcome a lot to get to university, it surely makes good sense to try to help them?

Whereas if you have someone who's had all the benefits of good teaching, well-to-do background (and I know this is true of plenty of state school pupils and isn't true of some private school pupils, but I think probably it's a fair generalization along state/private lines), then there is simply less you are going to be able to do to help them work at a higher level. If they had the capacity, they would be there already. If you see what I mean?

JaneinReading Sat 29-Mar-14 17:25:58

My point was that if state school supporters on the thread are saying if children from state schools who get worse grades than private pupils who go to good comps or live in lovely postcodes at university get higher grades than the private pupils therefore univerisities should give preference to that cohort (I will call them the posh post code state schoolers) because they get a better degree.

Therefore if those from bad postcodes do worse at degree level then the conclusion must be that they should not waste places on them?

I think we should continue what has happened for 30 years - entrance tutors see an exceptional pupil with very good grades compared to their school typical grades and they are given a bit of extra advantage. That has always happened. However to institutional preference to those in posh comps whose parents chose to buy cars and shoes rather than education to the disadvantage of working parents busting a gut to pay school fees is where we go too far.

If instead we say

JaneinReading Sat 29-Mar-14 17:31:10

This is interesting too from the study

"There is significant variation in degree outcome for students from different ethnicities
10. Students classifying themselves as White consistently achieve higher degree outcomes than students recording other ethnicities. This confirms findings from previous HEFCE studies. In all, 72 per cent of
White students who entered higher education with BBB gained a first or upper second. This compares with 56 per cent for Asian students, and 53 per cent for Black students,entering with the same A-level grades.

Female students are more likely to achieve an upper second or higher than male students with the same prior educational attainment
11. For example, of students who enter with A -level grades AAB, 79 per cent of female student s go on to gain an upper second or higher, compared to 70 per cent of male students. This difference is because of the proportion achieving upper seconds. The same proportion (20
per cent) of women and men achieve first class honours"

I suppose what we have to decide to do - if we want to give preference to those who go in with worse grades but get a great degree (those from the posher comps that seems to be) then one advantages those. If those from poor postcodes or who are black or male and indeed from private schools end up even if they start with the same A levels with worse degrees then all those (the black, male, private ones too) will not do as well as their A levels suggest so in a sense they are all int he same category and we therefore ensure fewer of them get in as they don't fulfil the promise of their grades. I am being provocative but that is what the results show - that the private pupils, the boys and the non whites do not end up with the better degrees. So do we disadvantage these who end up with worse degrees but had better A levels - in which case we have to lump all men, none whites and private school pupils in the same category and treat them equally on admissions perhaps?

JaneinReading Sat 29-Mar-14 17:31:44

In fact eve4n better - why not just treat everyone the same whether their parents went to university or not and whatever colour or sex they are. Amazing idea - just admit them on merit! Wow what a thought.

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