Academically able children from independent schools are likely to gain higher qualifications and earn considerably more than students of similar ability and background at state schools, according to a study which has traced nearly 300 students from their schools into the workplace over 23 years.

The research from the Institute of Education, University of London, sponsored by the Sutton Trust, found that only 7.6% of those who went to state schools were earning over £70,000 a year in their thirties, compared to 18.2% of those who attended independent schools under the Assisted Places Scheme, and 28.6% who attended independent schools as full fee-payers.

And looking back to their school days, Assisted Place holders attained more highly than their state educated counterparts at both GCSE and A level – and better than might have been predicted on the basis of their socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Worryingly, though, working class students in both sectors did worse than was expected.

The report (Educational and Career Trajectories of Assisted Place Holders) by Sally Power, Geoff Whitty and Emma Wisby, followed 62 academically able pupils who went to independent schools on Assisted Places in 1982, and compared their paths with 152 students of similar intelligence and backgrounds who went to state schools, as well as 82 full-fee payers at private schools.

The study also finds that over one third of AP holders went on to an ’elite’ university compared to less than one in ten from state schools. More also went to Oxbridge, gaining places with lower A level grades than their state-schooled colleagues. Even those AP holders who did not go on to university were found to be doing better than their peers, with the majority in professional and managerial occupations.

However while the degree results of AP holders compared favourably with those from maintained schools, they were the least likely of the three categories to complete their university studies, with nearly one in ten dropping out or failing.

The researchers conclude that for many the Assisted Places Scheme provided a pathway to high level qualifications, elite university places and occupational success. But the story is not wholly positive. Many of those who benefited from the scheme were not culturally and economically disadvantaged. And those from working class backgrounds holding Assisted Places were more likely leave school at 16, to achieve lower-than-expected A Level results, and to express concerns over fitting in to the more socially-exclusive environment of their private school.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said that it should be possible to overcome the problems of the Assisted Places Scheme, whilst retaining its benefits, by making private schools less socially exclusive.

He commented, ”This research shows clearly that there is a very strong case for opening up top independent day schools to talented pupils from non-privileged backgrounds, so that they too can benefit from the academic and social advantages a private education brings. What is more, thanks to the Open Access initiative jointly funded by the Sutton Trust and the Girls’ Day School Trust, where all places are awarded on merit alone, we know how this can be done effectively.”

Professor Geoff Whitty, Director of the Institute of Education and co-author of the report, said, ”The assisted places scheme clearly benefited many of the individuals who took part in it, but by no means all of them. It also took some of the brightest pupils away from the maintained sector. State and private schools need to learn from each other and to work more closely together.”

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