Open Access

Report Overview

This report examines the premium (the financial and other benefits) associated with pupils attending independent schools compared with those who attend state schools. It then seeks to understand the various factors that may contribute to attendance at independent school being associated with different educational outcomes and different outcomes in the labour market. Part II of the report describes an independent evaluation of the Sutton Trust’s ‘Open Access scheme’ – a proposal to improve access into independent schools for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

The research draws on a range of newly available data sources in its analysis, including the latest waves of the 1970 British Cohort Study and of the Millennium Cohort Study.

Key Findings

  • During a person’s early career – between the ages of 26 and 42 – someone attending independent school will earn on average £193,700 more than someone attending a state school.
  • Once parental background and test scores (educational achievement) at age 10 are controlled for, between the ages of 26 and 42, a conservative estimate is that someone attending independent school will earn a total of £57,653 more than someone attending state school.
  • Those who go to independent schools are more likely to get good A-levels, more likely to get degrees and to get them from the most selective universities. On this evidence, limiting the opportunity to attend independent schools to those who are able to afford the high fees is inequitable.

Implications for Open Access

  • The report evaluates the Sutton Trust Open Access scheme – to open independent schools up to those from all backgrounds. The SMF evaluation focuses on three key aspects of the proposal.
  • To boost educational attainment for participating children, any independent school that performs below the average (on value-added scores) of state schools in their local authority area could be excluded.
  • By selecting on merit rather than ability to pay, the proportion of children coming from the top 10% of household incomes would roughly halve. There would also be a very significant increase in the proportion of children coming from the bottom 40% (the proportion would more than double).
  • The paper puts forward a range of possible methods for further boosting the participation of children from less advantaged children in independent schools – such as using more contextual selection criteria.
  • Costs: Under Open Access, the government would subsidise the cost of sending children from poorer backgrounds to independent schools.  The central estimate in the SMF analysis is that the scheme would cost £215m per annum based on the latest figures on independent school fees and a set of other central assumptions.

July 3, 2014