'Admit more state pupils using contextual data', urges report

State school pupils do better at university than those from private schools with the same grades, according to a new report which recommends the increased use of contextual data in admissions.

October 18, 2013

Four of the five major studies into degree performance by school type indicate those from state schools outperform their private school peers at undergraduate level if they had the same secondary school results, says the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions study, titled Contextualised Admissions: Examining the Evidence, published on 18 October.

Studies by the universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and the Higher Education Funding Council for England in the past decade backed this thesis, while a 2011 report by the University of Cambridge said school type had no impact on final degree attainment, says the report.

Universities were increasingly seeking to examine applicants’ backgrounds before making offers because they wanted to find “diamond in the rough”, said Anna Mountford-Zimdars, lecturer in higher education at King’s College London, who co-authored the report.

“They recognise the high-attaining student in a low-attaining school have extra potential,” said Dr Mountford-Zimdars.

“Excellence is pushing this agenda,” she added, with universities keen to find top students with slightly lower grades because attracting top talent was “vital to their survival in a competitive marketplace”.

According to the report, over a third of universities (37 per cent) currently use contextual data in admissions. That means admissions tutors examining factors such as the overall of performance of a pupil’s school, the average university attendance rate in their neighbourhood and the relative affluence of their area, before making an offer.

Fifty-seven per cent of universities said they intend to use contextual data in admissions in the future, according to the poll of 67 universities by SPA last year.

Institutional approaches to using contextual data may vary, the report says.

Some providers lowered their entry requirements from pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, but some made a “standard offer” – sometimes above the pupils’ predicted grades (an “aspirational” offer) – and lowered their requirements if students failed to meet the offer, the report says.

The report recommends universities publicise the reasons they make lower offers to students from poorer backgrounds because it may encourage more students from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to them.

It also recommends a pilot project to see if new “indicators” could be introduced in higher education admissions, including a “school selectivity indicator” to alert admissions tutors to the type of school (grammar, independent, comprehensive, etc) attended by pupils or a “household income indicator” to provide more information about an applicant’s social background.


Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Reader's comments (1)

To be a state-school pupil going to University, especially if you're from a disadvantaged background where you might not even know family or friends who have gone, requires extra-effort and a real desire to study higher, so I don't think it's any surprise that State-school pupils out perform private school peers with the same results. To get those results at a State school- without the support of some the expert teachers and the over-whelming help and expectations for progressing to University that you might find in a Private school- to me shows a student who can can do good individual study and improve themselves, key skills any Undergraduate needs.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Boats docked in Port Hercule, Monaco

Richard Murphy praises a bold effort to halt tax-dodging by the 1 per cent

It’s a question with no easy answer, finds James Derounian

  • Man walking, University of Oxford campus, photo negative

Donald Brown shares the experiences that prompted him to talk about ‘institutional racism’ at Oxford

  • Egg timer and clock showing deadlines

Meghan Duffy thinks you can get on in academia without being chained to your desk

  • James Fryer illustration (19 November 2015)

With no time for proper peer review and with grade inflation inevitable, one academic felt compelled to resign