State school students out-perform private peers at university


Students from state schools do better at university than youngsters who achieved the same A level grades at independent schools.

That is one of the findings of a major new study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The report, Differences in Degree Outcomes, examines the extent to which a student’s background affects their chances of obtaining a first class or upper second degree at university. 

Researchers looked at the performance of more than 130,000 students in England with three or more A levels who started full-time degrees at the age of 18 or 19 in 2007/08. 

They then analysed the students’ results, looking at their A level grades from school and their eventual degree classification.

The study, the largest of its kind, found that students with better A levels do better in higher education. More than 80 per cent of those with AAB grades or above gained a first or 2:1, compared to half of those with grades of CCC or lower.

It also found that state school students perform better at university than independent school students with the same prior educational attainment. For instance, 

70 per cent of state school students with BBB at A level attained a first or 2:1, compared to 61 per cent of those from independent schools with three Bs at A level.

As well as school type, the report looked at the effect of ethnicity, gender and disadvantage on students’ attainment. It reported that 72 per cent of White students with three Bs at A level gained a first or upper second class degree, compared to 56 per cent of Asian students and 53 per cent of Black students.

Meanwhile, female students were more likely to achieve good degrees than male students with the same A level grades and students from disadvantaged areas did less well at university than those who had the same grades but came from more advantaged areas.

Commenting on the report, HEFCE chief executive Professor Madeleine Atkins said: “The study presents a robust and independent set of findings to inform discussion and debate and to stimulate action.

“Further work will be needed to understand why these effects are happening and what sorts of interventions will be most effective in bringing about positive change.”

Differences in Degree Outcomes can be downloaded at


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