05 November 2015
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.
The research, which has just been published in the Oxford Review of Education and is being presented at the AEA – Europe conference in Glasgow this week (5-7 November), will add to the debate around university admissions and whether applications from state school pupils should be favoured over those from independent school pupils.
Dr Vidal Rodeiro said: “In both Russell and non-Russell Group universities, students from independent schools were less likely to achieve either a first class degree or at least an upper second class degree than students from comprehensive schools with similar prior attainment”.
The researchers note how previous research has suggested two reasons for the finding: private school students may have lower incentives to perform well at university and therefore may invest more effort in social life rather than academic work; or they may have been ‘coached’ at school and subsequently struggle when they get to university.
The main focus of the research was into how effective the A* at A Level is as a predictor of university performance. The researchers found that the number of A* grades is a good predictor of achieving a first or at least an upper second degree in both Russell and non-Russell Group universities. They also found that the A* was a good predictor of success in specific degree subjects. An A* in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths at A Level was a good predictor of success not only in science-orientated degrees but also in other degrees such as social sciences or creative arts.
The researchers say their work highlights the importance of a grading system that allows greater differentiation among students, as it can be beneficial for effective and fair Higher Education (HE) admissions, particularly on the most oversubscribed courses.
On November 18 the Cambridge Assessment Network will host a seminar on the effectiveness of the HE admissions system in England by Richard Partington, Senior Tutor of Churchill College, Cambridge.
He said: “We now know that the achievement of A* grades at A Level indicates high potential for university success right across the UK Higher Education sector, not just Cambridge University. This information will be of great value to admissions tutors everywhere, emphasising once again that university entry is valid when it is conditional upon achieved exam results.”