Outstanding performance by the top primary schools in the state sector – how do the state secondary schools compare to independent schools?

In the secondary school Parent Power, published by the Sunday Times this week, the tremendous success achieved by state primary schools is sadly not replicated by state secondary schools. In the primary school version, the top ten in the country more or less match the top ten in the private sector. I was flabbergasted to see that most of the top schools in the state primary sector were in areas of very high economic deprivation and they are not academically selective, which is in contrast to the independent private schools at the top.


In terms of secondary education, not only are the top performing state secondary schools dominated by grammar schools, who are academically selective, like the private schools, their academic performance is also quite below that of the top private schools. One thing that I’d like to speak about briefly, which is not directly relevant to this specific argument, is that not only do the young people in these private schools shine in academic performance, they are also prolific in sport, music and other extracurricular activities. One may be surprised when you look at the proportion of top athletes that attended private schools.


It is a rather complex if one tries to explain forensically the reason why private secondary school children are so successful all round, but there in one thing that stands out: resources. The quality of teaching and facilities that are at the disposal of private schools are just breathtaking. I have taught in all sectors of secondary education – Comprehensive (most of which are now called academies!), Grammar and Independent. I actually think grammar school children over perform in a way, especially when one looks at the meagre resources those schools have. So many of them have a high turnover of teachers, as they tend to get procured by private schools – pinched in other words!


The fact of the matter is that a large number of high performers at state schools, including grammar schools, achieve the results they do because parents fork out on private tuition. Statistics from research by bodies such as the Sutton Trust revealed that up to 40% of young people in affluent areas, such as the South East of England, receive private tuition at some point during their schooling. I’m of the view that the figures are significantly higher than 40%, as not all are willing to admit to it. Again, we are back to resources – either by parents paying fees for private schools, or sending their children to state schools and paying for private tuition. In many cases, parents do both, they pay for private schools and also private tuition in addition.


The catch-up funds introduced to provide extra private tuition for children on pupil premium is a very good idea, and I very much hope that it will result in reducing the imbalance we have at present in education attainment by young people of different social and economic backgrounds.


I must say that I believe that the private tuition aspect is the number three factor in helping young people achieve high education attainment. The first two are mindset and behaviour, and, in fact, those two can do miracles, even when private tuition is not involved. In teenage years, there are so many distractions preventing young people from focusing on their studies. We live in a very wealthy country, so it is not only the children of the rich who have access to devices and toys that distract them, so do children of the not so affluent.


A term such as mindset is a quite cool catchphrase. Sadly the same cannot be said for words such as behaviour, habits and discipline!

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