Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 11

Memorandum from the Independent Schools Council (HE 84)

UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS

  The enquiry being conducted by the Education Select Committee into university admissions procedures has already heard oral evidence from two distinguished independent school heads. You will recall that when Dr Philip Evans, Head Master of Bedford School, and Mrs Sue Fishburn, Headmistress of Leeds Girls' High School, met your Committee in June, they disclosed the significant finding that independent school candidates achieve a much higher proportion of A grades in demanding subjects, such as mathematics, the sciences and languages, than their maintained school contemporaries.

  I write now to draw your Committee's attention to further new evidence is should take into account before completing its enquiries and publishing its report. During the latter half of the summer term, the Independent Schools Council—through its information arm, ISIS—carried out a survey of sixth formers due to leave independent schools this year after taking A-Levels.

  The purpose of the survey was to furnish up-to-date and strong evidence about the family background and higher education hopes of this cohort as they left school. During the debate which followed the Laura Spence affair, the almost unchallenged assumption seemed to be that all independent school entrants to university are "privileged", by comparison with their state school contemporaries. But the families who make use of the independent sector are not a homogeneous group, not least in respect of their own educational backgrounds.

  The survey produced a substantial response, despite being conducted at the least propitious time of the school year. Replies from nearly a quarter of all this year's leavers from ISC schools permit us to draw the following conclusions:

    —  One-third of our sixth formers come from families where neither parent is a university graduate;

    —  Almost half come from families where neither parent had themselves been educated in the independent sector;

    —  One in five had parents who were neither graduates not had been educated in independent schools.

  I enclose a copy of the draft report on the survey findings, which contains a number of other interesting findings, not least on the hoped-for destinations of those sixth formers. You will note, too, that 11 per cent of the respondents were present or past holders of Government assisted places.

  I would, earnestly request your Committee to take into account this important evidence. Many, if not most, of those who have contributed to the university admissions debate have made the glib assumption of privilege to which I referred above. This survey makes it clear that the real picture is much more complex than that, in an historical context, independent schools are engines of social change and mobility, rather than bastions of privilege. Very large numbers of the young people we educate are the children of parents who did not have the advantages of a university or an independent school education and who have used the independent sector to try to secure what all parents want for their children: to do better than they did themselves.

  In the light of this evidence, and of that submitted earlier about the A-Level achievements of independent school candidates, I hope your Committee will agree with me that any alteration to university admissions arrangements which introduced discrimination against students on the grounds of their parents' aspirations would be grossly unfair.

the results of the survey.

ISC/ISIS—SURVEY OF SIXTH FORM LEAVERS 2000

INTRODUCTION

  The purpose of the survey was to produce robust evidence about the family background and higher education plans of independent school upper sixth formers as they left school after public examinations in the summer of 2000. The immediate impetus was supplied by the political and media interest in the Laura Spence affair, during which it was widely accepted as axiomatic that all independent school entrants to university are "privileged", by comparison with their comprehensive-educated contemporaries. Certain advantages are incontrovertible: few independent school pupils are acquainted with the extremes of poverty or deprivation; most come from homes where education is valued and schools are supported. The fact that this can also be said of many comprehensive sixth formers is less often noted.

  But the families who make use of the independent sector are not a homogeneous group, not least in respect of their own educational background. Other surveys (MORI 1989, 1993, 1997) have shown that around half of all children entering independent schools come from families where neither parent was educated in an independent school. Little or nothing, however, was known about those parents' higher educational attainments. One principal objective of the present survey was therefore to confirm the admissions survey data and to supply new evidence about parents' higher education. Others were to get robust evidence about independent school sixth formers' first choice of university, about the admissions standards being demanded of them and about the subject areas they intended to study.

  The survey was conducted during the summer term 2000, during and immediately after A-Level examinations. The timing was far from ideal, and many schools felt unable to take part. The response, however, was sufficiently large and representative for conclusions to be drawn.

MAIN FINDINGS

    —  One-third of sixth formers leaving ISC schools in summer 2000 were from families where neither parent was a graduate.

    —  About half of the leavers were "first-time buyers": ie neither parent had been educated in an independent school.

    —  One in five had parents who were neither graduates nor had been educated in independent schools.

    —  Almost nine out of ten were going on to university in 2000.

    —  One in 10 had an offer from Oxbridge; just over 40 per cent from another "Russell Group" university.

    —  A quarter were intending to read science subjects; one in five were going on to undertake vocational courses; one in six an arts course.

    —  A quarter had first-choice offers requiring 28 points or more at A-Level; 60 per cent were required to get 24 points or more.

THE SURVEY

  Every ISC school in England and Wales which publishes post-16 examination results (including IB and GNVQ) through the ISIS results service was invited to take part: 520 in total. Schools were sent a survey form and asked to photocopy it for individual completion by members of the upper sixth. Survey forms could be returned either by the school in bulk or by students individually by post, fax or email. The majority were returned by the schools; several hundred, however, came directly from students.

  A total of 219 schools took part. Responses were received from 8,573 students. There were 38,570 pupils aged 17 or over in ISC schools in January 2000, so this response represents 22.2 per cent of the entire cohort. 2,926 responses, 34.1 per cent of the total, came from boarders. This proportion is very close to the overall proportion of boarders in the relevant cohort (35.1 per cent in January 2000) and is one of the indicators suggesting that this is a representative sample.

  Just over one in ten responses, 952 (11.1 per cent) came from present or past holders of Government Assisted Places.

  1,267 students (14.8 per cent) had attended another school at some stage during their secondary education. 520 (6.1 per cent) had transferred from a maintained secondary school.

PARENTAL BACKGROUND

(a) School

  More than half the respondents, 4,825 (56.3 per cent), had fathers who had not been educated at an independent school. An even higher proportion, 5,363 (62.6 per cent), had mothers who were educated outside the independent sector. A total of 4,034, (47.1 per cent), had parents neither of whom had been educated at an independent school. Only about a quarter (24.2 per cent) had parents who were both educated at independent schools. 2.9 per cent gave no answer or did not know.

  The proportion of "first-time buyers" was significantly higher amongst day pupils than in the boarding community. 53.8 per cent of day pupils came from families where neither parent was independently-educated; amongst boarders, the proportion fell to 34.6 per cent.

  This finding compares with the 52 per cent of families identified in the 1997 MORI report, "Why and How Parents Choose Independent Schools", as having parental educational backgrounds outside the independent sector. While not identical (this survey is influenced by the higher proportion of boarders amongst upper-sixth students) this finding broadly confirms the MORI result and justifies the general claim that about half of all children being educated in ISC schools at present come from "first-time buyer" families.


(b)  Higher education

  Four out of 10 respondents, 3,543 (41.3 per cent), had non-graduate fathers with, as above, a higher proportion amongst mothers 4,653, (54.3 per cent). Exactly one-third, 2,858 (33.3 per cent), come from families where neither parent has a university or polytechnic degree. There is very little difference between the proportion of non-degree households amongst day pupils (33.6 per cent) than amongst boarders (32.5 per cent).

  About one student in five, 1,693 (19.7 per cent) had parents neither of whom were independently-educated nor who had reached degree level in their own education.

  Amongst students with assisted placed, all these proportions were higher still. Half (51 per cent) had non-graduate parents; more than six out of ten (61.8 per cent) came from families where neither parent had been at an independent school; nearly four out of ten (39.4 per cent) had parents who were neither independently-educated nor graduates.

  These highly-significant findings confirm that independent schools do not serve the exclusive interests of a closed and self-perpetuating elite. On the contrary, for tens of thousands of parents they are the engines of social mobility—the means by which they try to ensure that their children achieve more than they did themselves.

UNIVERSITY OFFERS

(a)  First choice university.

  Respondents were asked to name their first choice offer. A total of 970 (11.3 per cent) either did not respond to this question or indicated that they were deferring university entry.

  904 students (10.5 per cent) had offers from Oxbridge: 479 from Cambridge and 425 from Oxford. Amongst those with Oxbridge offers, the proportion of Assisted Place holders, 9 per cent, was very slightly lower than in the whole sample. There were proportionately slightly fewer "first time buyers" (43.9 per cent) but significantly fewer with non-graduate parents (19.4 per cent) amongst the Oxbridge offers.

  More than four in 10 students, 3,604 (42 per cent), had offers from other Russell Group universities. Amongst these the most popular were [all over 2 per cent]: Birmingham (296, 3.5 per cent), Bristol (341, 4.0 per cent), Edinburgh (253, 3.0 per cent), Imperial (208, 2.4 per cent), Leeds (406, 4.7 per cent), Manchester (188, 2.2 per cent), Newcastle (232, 2.7 per cent), Nottingham (336, 3.9 per cent), Sheffield (179, 2.1 per cent), Southampton (180, 2.1 per cent), UCL (272, 3.2%) and Warwick (179, 2.1%). Amongst non-Russell Group universities, Durham (279, 3.3 per cent) and Exeter (163, 1.9 per cent) were among the most popular.

  A small number of students, 100 (1.2 per cent), had chosen overseas universities, destinations including the USA, Ireland, South Africa, Japan and Germany.

(b)  Intended subject of study

  Subject choices were grouped, using the UCAS course list, into eight broad areas: Science (including medicine); Maths/Computing; Engineering/Technology; Vocational (including law); Social Sciences; Arts; Modern Languages; Combined/modular courses. The following graph shows the distribution of respondents who identified their intended area of study. 676 (7.9 per cent) did not state their intentions.


(c)  Offers

  A relatively high proportion of respondents (23 per cent) failed to answer this question. This includes those who are deferring their entry to university, but a degree of tentativeness about many of the responses indicates that the question was not expressed clearly enough. Percentages in the figures below are of those giving a response to the question.

Fig 3: Points offers by subject area

  
30-plus
28
26
24
22
20
Under 20
GNVQ
Science (incl Medicine)
11.6
19.5
25.2
13.0
13.4
6.3
10.8
0.1
Maths/Computing
12.8
24.0
11.5
17.6
8.7
6.4
17.3
1.6
Engineering/Technology
9.9
15.8
14.6
26.5
7.4
6.4
19.1
0.2
Vocational (incl Law)
4.1
11.7
12.4
15.1
9.4
8.6
36.9
1.8
Social Sciences
6.2
18.0
20.6
22.6
16.3
7.8
8.5
0.0
Arts
8.4
21.4
16.4
17.7
14.5
8.4
13.0
0.2
Modern Languages
9.9
12.2
5.7
29.4
24.4
10.7
7.3
0.4
Combined/Modular
6.3
15.8
17.3
26.1
14.6
6.9
12.8
0.3
ALL OFFERS
8.3
17.4
17.7
18.5
13.0
7.5
17.1
0.5

Independent Schools Council
August 2000


 
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