3rd June 2015

Parents choose to send their children to private school for a variety of reasons, but one of the key factors is the possibility of better grades.

Whereas smaller class sizes, improved facilities and quality teaching are all important, the fact is that pupils at private schools perform better at A-level – something evidenced by results recorded in 2014.

According to the Independent Schools’ Council, the proportion of A-levels graded A* at ISC schools rose to a record 19.2 per cent last year, compared to 7.9 per cent for maintained schools.

Furthermore, the number of ISC students achieving three or more A*s rose by a quarter, with more than half of independent school A-level entries being graded A or A*.

Better prospects

This naturally translates to greater employability down the line, as many employers use the so-called Ucas tariff, which converts A-level grades and other exam results into a points total and ranks potential job candidates.

One major advocate of the scheme has been the international accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which uses the system as a requirement for its graduate programmes.


Due to the high proportion of private school students achieving high grades at A-level – and consequently improving their chances of gaining entry to their university of choice – this has resulted in 1 in 3 graduates on PwC’s programme being privately educated.

In contrast, just 7 per cent of all UK children are in private education, rising to 18 per cent of those aged over 16, suggesting that PwC’s intake figures are disproportionate.

It is something that the company itself is aware of, and is actively taking steps to alter its recruitment process to place less emphasis on A-level grades.

Missing out on talent?

PwC claims the change is recognition that exam results can be distorted by school type, and could lead to it “missing out on key talent from disadvantaged backgrounds” unless it stops using A-levels and similar exams as part of its graduate recruitment efforts.

Gaenor Bagley, a member of PwC’s executive board and head of the firm’s human resources department, says that removing the Ucas criteria will create a “fairer and more modern system” in which students are selected on their own merit, irrespective of their background.

“As a progressive employer, we recognise that talent and potential presents itself in different ways and at different stages in people’s lives,” she explained.

“By breaking down social barriers, we will open the door to thousands of students who may have previously thought a graduate role with PwC was out of reach for them.”

Class divide?

Under the current scheme, applicants for the company’s popular management consultancy division must have a minimum of 340 points on the Ucas tariff, which equates to at least two As and one B at A-level.

Although this score can be topped up by other qualifications, such as music exams, the change to a new system is likely to impact graduates educated at selective state grammar schools, as well as fee-paying schools.

PwC believes there is a “strong correlation” in the UK between social class and school academic performance, and, as such, there are drawbacks to placing too much emphasis on Ucas scores.

As such, the company says the new change will enable it to diversify its graduate intake through “broader access to talented young people”, who may not have strong historical academic performance at school, but have gone on to perform well at university and have “all-round proven capabilities”.

However, these assertions are at odds with the Independent Schools Council, which says that value should be placed on A-level results.

Open to all

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the ISC, says that children from all backgrounds can attend private schools, with many proving to be the top performers in last year’s A-levels.

Although some schools remain ‘elite’, he claims that the majority will open their doors to any and all students.

“The best-known independent schools are academically selective and one might expect the outstanding results they achieve. But most independent schools are not selective – so their results reflect an amazing degree of added value,” Mr Lenon explained.


“A third of our pupils have some form of fee reduction and many of these are on means-tested bursaries. These were amongst our highest achieving pupils this year.”

It remains to be seen whether other employers will follow PwC’s example and restructure their recruitment processes to place less emphasis on so-called ‘distorted’ results.

However, with exam season now nearing its end, history suggests that private school pupils will again be more likely to achieve better grades than their state school counterparts when the results are revealed in August, and go on to attend their university of choice.

Categories: All, Education