What role do schools play in encouraging more young people to continue into higher education and achieve at university? New research published by the Department for Education suggests that pupils’ Key Stage 4 (KS4) attainment is central.
Using data from schools and universities, the authors found evidence of sizable differences between pupils from different types of schools. For example, pupils who attended selective state schools were more than 40 percentage points more likely to go to university and more than 30 points more likely to go to a high-status institution than pupils attending non-selective state schools. In contrast, students who attended one of the 20% of secondary schools with the highest proportions of free school meal (FSM)-eligible pupils were, on average, 5.4 percentage points more likely to drop out, 11.0 points less likely to complete their degree, and 21.8 percentage points less likely to graduate with a first or a 2:1 than those who attended one of the 20% of secondary schools with the lowest proportions of FSM-eligible pupils.
However, when comparing pupils with similar background characteristics and KS2 scores, most of the remaining gaps in higher education participation could be explained by accounting for the qualifications, subjects, and grades that pupils achieved at KS4.
The authors conclude that amongst pupils with a given set of characteristics and prior attainment, those from non-selective or low-value-added state schools could be regarded as having higher “potential” than those from selective or high-value-added state schools or independent schools. Therefore, they suggest that university entry requirements could be lowered for such pupils. They also recommend that widening participation efforts should focus on ensuring that pupils make the right choices of subjects and qualifications they take at KS4 to maximise their chances of getting good grades at this level.
Source: The Link Between Secondary School Characteristics and University Participation and Outcomes: CAYT Research Report (2014), Department for Education.