Educational divide: Private school students in U.K. enjoy numerous academic advantages

LONDON — If you’ve been weighing the pros and cons of sending your child to a private school, consider a new set of research out of the United Kingdom. Private high school students in England are performing considerably better in advanced courses than their public school counterparts, and consequently enjoy greater acceptance to the most prominent and respected universities, the study concludes.

When researchers from the University College of London investigated why this discrepancy in academic achievement is so prevalent, they discovered that private schools have access to roughly three times the amount of resources as state-sponsored schools.

This was the first-ever study to look into England’s performance gap among public and secondary schools, and researchers tracked 5,800 students as they progressed through their secondary education. Other factors, such as earlier academic achievement and family history, as well as which university each student went on to attend, were also considered.

After analyzing all of their findings, the study’s authors agreed that the large disparity in resources among public and private schools is the main driving force behind this academic gap.

It was also noted that private school students study 27% more “facilitating” advanced courses, such as math and biology, in comparison to public school students. Advanced courses on these practical topics are generally considered to be looked at favorably by most major universities. Furthermore, aside from just enrollment statistics, private school students also perform much better in these types of courses than public school students who are able to enroll.

Additionally, private schools are able to provide students with a much more intimate learning experience; public schools typically have class sizes about double the size of private school classes.

Overall, the study concludes that attending literally any of England’s private schools is associated with moderate and steadily increasing advantages at every single education level. So, the longer a student is enrolled in private school, the greater advantages he or she will enjoy when it comes time to choose a university and even when entering the labor force.

“This is the first known study into the current performance gap in upper secondary education in England and our study provides further evidence on the links between private schooling, subject choice and university progression. Overall, we have a picture of cumulative advantage from Britain’s private education,” says lead author Dr. Morag Henderson in a release. “This is consistent with the vastly superior resource gap at each stage. Those who are privately educated are then set to profit beyond school with better university access and improved labour market rewards.”

“These findings ought to put to bed the question of private schools’ educational advantage, in the context of debates about the need for reform, and the possible routes to reform,” adds principal investigator Professor Francis Green. “Both reformers and defenders of the status quo should start from the position that private schools do, on average, confer academic advantage, and policy makers should address the social exclusiveness of access to private schools in that light.”

Roughly one in six 12th grade students in England attend a private institution.

The study is published in the Oxford Review of Education.

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