Exam Success – Is it a level playing field?

The whole nation is once again looking forward to that time of the year in which we see Images of smiling teenagers in the newspaper, with TV pictures) showing delighted young people screaming and expressing how unbelievably well they’ve done in the summer examinations. As we are now in the spring, what lies in between now and that time at the end of August does not always make good TV pictures. Parental worries and active involvement, teachers’ hard work, perseverance and the share devotion on the part of the teenagers themselves are all the behind-the- behind the scene work bring about those pictures we see on our screens and in our newspapers.

Pretty pictures of success!

The sad fact is that we usually see just the pretty pictures for every student who secures admission to his or her first choice of university and the course he or she desires the most, there are between three and five students who has (Have) to make do with their second or perhaps third choice. There (This) is the reality of life as not everyone will be admitted to the university of their choice to study their preferred course.
At Oxford University for example (I think it sounds better without the example), 17,000 teenagers apply for the 3,200 places they have available – meaning the chances of securing admission is less than one on five. This is not to speak of or mention the of the number of people who wanted to attend Oxford but did not even get to the application stage due to screening, a lack of confidence in their chances of being offered a place and advice against applying by schools and colleges.

The big question –  is it a level playing field between state school pupils?
The big question is: is it a level playing field between state school pupils and those who attend independent schools when it comes to their chances of achieving higher exam grades?
There are several reasons why so many bright students do not achieve the top grades of which they are capable. One of those reasons is the level of the support system that is available to young people when they are studying and preparing for their GCSEs and A-levels.

The support system

The support given to students whilst they are studying is one thing. One other crucial factor is how well trained they are in tackling examination questions. In my conversation last week with one of my colleagues, Jonathan Cartmell, who is a senior examiner last week, I was amazed how much difference it can make to the examination result when young people are provided the right level of support, which is specifically focussed at maximising the marks they score in the examination. In the many years that I have worked in secondary education I’ve always emphasised certain vital points on exam preparation but it was reassuring for those points to be confirmed once again by a senior examiner. What actually shocked me is the extent to which certain schools, mainly in the independent sector go in providing their students this vital support. Jonathan highlighted certain key facts, of which I was not aware how much difference they make in deciding between a low and a high grade.

Students from independent (fee paying) schools usually achieve very high grades in comparison to those who attend state school. The reason is not because students who attend independent schools are necessarily brighter than those who attend state schools. A recent survey confirms that university students who attend state schools have almost 10% higher chances of achieving a first class degree at university in comparison to those who attend an independent school, with the same A-level grade.
This is a fascinating topic which I will be exploring more in my next blog.
Jonathan Cartmell – a senior examiner will be making a presentation at one of our events at UCL – University College*, London on 22nd March 2014. For more information on this event, please visit: http://www.gradeguarantee.com/
Below is a link to an article in The Times on the issue of state school vs independent school pupils:

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and it would be appreciated if you could make a comment on what you have read. I look forward to speaking to you soon.


*This course is not provided or endorsed by UCL