Memorandum from the Independent Schools
Council (HE 84)
The enquiry being conducted by the Education
Select Committee into university admissions procedures has already
heard oral evidence from two distinguished independent school
heads. You will recall that when Dr Philip Evans, Head Master
of Bedford School, and Mrs Sue Fishburn, Headmistress of Leeds
Girls' High School, met your Committee in June, they disclosed
the significant finding that independent school candidates achieve
a much higher proportion of A grades in demanding subjects, such
as mathematics, the sciences and languages, than their maintained
I write now to draw your Committee's attention
to further new evidence is should take into account before completing
its enquiries and publishing its report. During the latter half
of the summer term, the Independent Schools Councilthrough
its information arm, ISIScarried out a survey of sixth
formers due to leave independent schools this year after taking
The purpose of the survey was to furnish up-to-date
and strong evidence about the family background and higher education
hopes of this cohort as they left school. During the debate which
followed the Laura Spence affair, the almost unchallenged assumption
seemed to be that all independent school entrants to university
are "privileged", by comparison with their state school
contemporaries. But the families who make use of the independent
sector are not a homogeneous group, not least in respect of their
own educational backgrounds.
The survey produced a substantial response,
despite being conducted at the least propitious time of the school
year. Replies from nearly a quarter of all this year's leavers
from ISC schools permit us to draw the following conclusions:
One-third of our sixth formers come
from families where neither parent is a university graduate;
Almost half come from families where
neither parent had themselves been educated in the independent
One in five had parents who were
neither graduates not had been educated in independent schools.
I enclose a copy of the draft report on the
survey findings, which contains a number of other interesting
findings, not least on the hoped-for destinations of those sixth
formers. You will note, too, that 11 per cent of the respondents
were present or past holders of Government assisted places.
I would, earnestly request your Committee to
take into account this important evidence. Many, if not most,
of those who have contributed to the university admissions debate
have made the glib assumption of privilege to which I referred
above. This survey makes it clear that the real picture is much
more complex than that, in an historical context, independent
schools are engines of social change and mobility, rather than
bastions of privilege. Very large numbers of the young people
we educate are the children of parents who did not have the advantages
of a university or an independent school education and who have
used the independent sector to try to secure what all parents
want for their children: to do better than they did themselves.
In the light of this evidence, and of that submitted
earlier about the A-Level achievements of independent school candidates,
I hope your Committee will agree with me that any alteration to
university admissions arrangements which introduced discrimination
against students on the grounds of their parents' aspirations
would be grossly unfair.
the results of the survey.
ISC/ISISSURVEY OF SIXTH FORM LEAVERS
The purpose of the survey was to produce robust
evidence about the family background and higher education plans
of independent school upper sixth formers as they left school
after public examinations in the summer of 2000. The immediate
impetus was supplied by the political and media interest in the
Laura Spence affair, during which it was widely accepted as axiomatic
that all independent school entrants to university are "privileged",
by comparison with their comprehensive-educated contemporaries.
Certain advantages are incontrovertible: few independent school
pupils are acquainted with the extremes of poverty or deprivation;
most come from homes where education is valued and schools are
supported. The fact that this can also be said of many comprehensive
sixth formers is less often noted.
But the families who make use of the independent
sector are not a homogeneous group, not least in respect of their
own educational background. Other surveys (MORI 1989, 1993, 1997)
have shown that around half of all children entering independent
schools come from families where neither parent was educated in
an independent school. Little or nothing, however, was known about
those parents' higher educational attainments. One principal objective
of the present survey was therefore to confirm the admissions
survey data and to supply new evidence about parents' higher education.
Others were to get robust evidence about independent school sixth
formers' first choice of university, about the admissions standards
being demanded of them and about the subject areas they intended
The survey was conducted during the summer term
2000, during and immediately after A-Level examinations. The timing
was far from ideal, and many schools felt unable to take part.
The response, however, was sufficiently large and representative
for conclusions to be drawn.
One-third of sixth formers leaving
ISC schools in summer 2000 were from families where neither parent
was a graduate.
About half of the leavers were "first-time
buyers": ie neither parent had been educated in an independent
One in five had parents who were
neither graduates nor had been educated in independent schools.
Almost nine out of ten were going
on to university in 2000.
One in 10 had an offer from Oxbridge;
just over 40 per cent from another "Russell Group" university.
A quarter were intending to read
science subjects; one in five were going on to undertake vocational
courses; one in six an arts course.
A quarter had first-choice offers
requiring 28 points or more at A-Level; 60 per cent were required
to get 24 points or more.
Every ISC school in England and Wales which
publishes post-16 examination results (including IB and GNVQ)
through the ISIS results service was invited to take part: 520
in total. Schools were sent a survey form and asked to photocopy
it for individual completion by members of the upper sixth. Survey
forms could be returned either by the school in bulk or by students
individually by post, fax or email. The majority were returned
by the schools; several hundred, however, came directly from students.
A total of 219 schools took part. Responses
were received from 8,573 students. There were 38,570 pupils aged
17 or over in ISC schools in January 2000, so this response represents
22.2 per cent of the entire cohort. 2,926 responses, 34.1 per
cent of the total, came from boarders. This proportion is very
close to the overall proportion of boarders in the relevant cohort
(35.1 per cent in January 2000) and is one of the indicators suggesting
that this is a representative sample.
Just over one in ten responses, 952 (11.1 per
cent) came from present or past holders of Government Assisted
1,267 students (14.8 per cent) had attended
another school at some stage during their secondary education.
520 (6.1 per cent) had transferred from a maintained secondary
More than half the respondents, 4,825 (56.3
per cent), had fathers who had not been educated at an independent
school. An even higher proportion, 5,363 (62.6 per cent), had
mothers who were educated outside the independent sector. A total
of 4,034, (47.1 per cent), had parents neither of whom had been
educated at an independent school. Only about a quarter (24.2
per cent) had parents who were both educated at independent schools.
2.9 per cent gave no answer or did not know.
The proportion of "first-time buyers"
was significantly higher amongst day pupils than in the boarding
community. 53.8 per cent of day pupils came from families where
neither parent was independently-educated; amongst boarders, the
proportion fell to 34.6 per cent.
This finding compares with the 52 per cent of
families identified in the 1997 MORI report, "Why and How
Parents Choose Independent Schools", as having parental educational
backgrounds outside the independent sector. While not identical
(this survey is influenced by the higher proportion of boarders
amongst upper-sixth students) this finding broadly confirms the
MORI result and justifies the general claim that about half of
all children being educated in ISC schools at present come from
"first-time buyer" families.
(b) Higher education
Four out of 10 respondents, 3,543 (41.3 per
cent), had non-graduate fathers with, as above, a higher proportion
amongst mothers 4,653, (54.3 per cent). Exactly one-third, 2,858
(33.3 per cent), come from families where neither parent has a
university or polytechnic degree. There is very little difference
between the proportion of non-degree households amongst day pupils
(33.6 per cent) than amongst boarders (32.5 per cent).
About one student in five, 1,693 (19.7 per cent)
had parents neither of whom were independently-educated nor who
had reached degree level in their own education.
Amongst students with assisted placed, all these
proportions were higher still. Half (51 per cent) had non-graduate
parents; more than six out of ten (61.8 per cent) came from families
where neither parent had been at an independent school; nearly
four out of ten (39.4 per cent) had parents who were neither independently-educated
These highly-significant findings confirm that
independent schools do not serve the exclusive interests of a
closed and self-perpetuating elite. On the contrary, for tens
of thousands of parents they are the engines of social mobilitythe
means by which they try to ensure that their children achieve
more than they did themselves.
(a) First choice university.
Respondents were asked to name their first choice
offer. A total of 970 (11.3 per cent) either did not respond to
this question or indicated that they were deferring university
904 students (10.5 per cent) had offers from
Oxbridge: 479 from Cambridge and 425 from Oxford. Amongst those
with Oxbridge offers, the proportion of Assisted Place holders,
9 per cent, was very slightly lower than in the whole sample.
There were proportionately slightly fewer "first time buyers"
(43.9 per cent) but significantly fewer with non-graduate parents
(19.4 per cent) amongst the Oxbridge offers.
More than four in 10 students, 3,604 (42 per
cent), had offers from other Russell Group universities. Amongst
these the most popular were [all over 2 per cent]: Birmingham
(296, 3.5 per cent), Bristol (341, 4.0 per cent), Edinburgh (253,
3.0 per cent), Imperial (208, 2.4 per cent), Leeds (406, 4.7 per
cent), Manchester (188, 2.2 per cent), Newcastle (232, 2.7 per
cent), Nottingham (336, 3.9 per cent), Sheffield (179, 2.1 per
cent), Southampton (180, 2.1 per cent), UCL (272, 3.2%) and Warwick
(179, 2.1%). Amongst non-Russell Group universities, Durham (279,
3.3 per cent) and Exeter (163, 1.9 per cent) were among the most
A small number of students, 100 (1.2 per cent),
had chosen overseas universities, destinations including the USA,
Ireland, South Africa, Japan and Germany.
(b) Intended subject of study
Subject choices were grouped, using the UCAS
course list, into eight broad areas: Science (including medicine);
Maths/Computing; Engineering/Technology; Vocational (including
law); Social Sciences; Arts; Modern Languages; Combined/modular
courses. The following graph shows the distribution of respondents
who identified their intended area of study. 676 (7.9 per cent)
did not state their intentions.
A relatively high proportion of respondents
(23 per cent) failed to answer this question. This includes those
who are deferring their entry to university, but a degree of tentativeness
about many of the responses indicates that the question was not
expressed clearly enough. Percentages in the figures below are
of those giving a response to the question.
Fig 3: Points offers by subject area
|Science (incl Medicine)||11.6
|Vocational (incl Law)||4.1
Independent Schools Council