State school pupils do better at university, Cambridge Assessment research confirms

Research by Cambridge Assessment – a department of the University of Cambridge – today confirms that state school pupils are likely to do better at university than independent school pupils with similar A Level results.

Researchers Carmen Vidal Rodeiro and Nadir Zanini were investigating how effective the A* grade at A Level is as a predictor of university performance and a finding confirmed previous studies about the divide between the performance of state and independent school students at university.

Claire Crawford, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Warwick and IFS Research Fellow, gives her expert reaction to this report:

“Research comparing state and private school students who enter university with the same A-level grades has often found that, on average, state school students go on to outperform their equivalently qualified private school counterparts. But it is worth noting that a similar picture emerges if we compare students from different quality state schools.

My research additionally compares students from high and low performing state schools who enter university with the same A-level grades, finding that, on average, students from low performing state schools go on to outperform students with the same grades from high performing state schools.

The most likely explanation for these results is that good schools – whether in the state or private sector – are more likely to be able to maximise the potential of their students, meaning that the underlying “ability” of students from low quality schools is likely to be higher, on average, than amongst students from higher quality schools with the same A-level grades.

This underlying “ability” could reflect a number of factors – including the ability to work independently – and may mean that students from lower quality schools are better equipped for study at university than their counterparts with similar grades from higher quality schools. “

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