Private Schooling in the UK in the 21st Century: Participation and Outcomes

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Education, Practice & Society

Abstract

Private school pupils form a relatively small proportion of the pupil population, but their influence extends far more widely. British private schooling is quite unusual in international comparison, combining both very high fees and only a low level of public subsidy through tax reliefs. From earlier studies we know that private school alumni educated in the 20th century on average achieved well in public exams and had substantially greater success in the labour market, when compared with similar pupils who attended state schools.
In the last 30 years the private schools have changed enormously, as has the economy. School fees have risen by around three times in real terms. The pupil-teacher ratio has been halved, physical plant and equipment greatly improved, and a broader range of extra-curricular sport and cultural activities is supported, aiming to instil broader outcomes of cultural capital, more than just a high academic achievement. Systems of management have been modernised.
There have been no comprehensive studies, however, of changes in private school participation and of the value-added delivered by modernised private schooling in the 21st century. The aim of this project is to investigate two key related aspects of the role of private schools in Britain in the 21st century: the choice of a private school, and the association of private schooling with educational outcomes and with subsequent labour market and broader outcomes in early adulthood.
We will look at three sets of questions:
1. Participation:
Has participation in private schooling become more (or less) socially fluid? Specifically, we shall ask: has the relationship between family income and participation been changing over recent years? Has the inter-generational persistence been shifting? Does grammar school proximity make a difference? What reasons do parents give for choosing private schooling?
2. Educational outcomes:
What are the educational outcomes associated with private secondary schooling, compared with those from state schooling?
3. Early adulthood outcomes:
What are the labour market outcomes (employment, occupational status, pay), personal outcomes (physical activity, well-being) and external benefits (social trust, charitable activities) associated with private school participation at secondary level? To what extent are these outcomes accounted for by the educational outcomes, and how important are social networks?
To answer these questions, we will use two ESRC investments, the Millennium Cohort Survey (MCS) and the Next Steps survey. We will supplement these with data from the annual Living Costs and Food Survey (LCFS), and the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS). We will estimate the determinants of choosing private schooling at secondary level. Key explanatory factors will be parental income, family and pupil characteristics, and ease of access to a grammar school. Attention will be given to those who switch school-types at the transition between primary and secondary levels.
Building on this analysis of private school choice, we will then use statistical methods to estimate the association of private school attendance with educational outcomes from secondary school. We will compare outcomes for private and state educated persons from similar socio-economic backgrounds and with similar prior achievements. Finally, we shall produce estimates of the association of private education with labour market and broader outcomes at age 25.
Together, our findings will provide a scientific picture of the contemporary role of private schooling in Britain. We expect this picture to be useful, both to those involved with the private school sector (parents, advisers, and the schools themselves), and to scholars and policy-makers interested in the wider implications. There is ongoing debate about the schools' charitable status and the "public benefit" obligations that this brings, and about barriers to social mobility.

Planned Impact

Debates around private schooling and social mobility continue to surface on both sides of the political centre, and they need to be supported by better, independent, evidence. Past studies have mainly referred to those educated a long time ago. We think that there remains much uncertainty about modern private schooling. While some are confident that a private, very highly resourced schooling helps pupils get better results, others question whether bright children, or those from affluent and supportive families, would succeed in any type of school. We would expect people outside academia to benefit from a clear exposition of our findings, helping them to arrive at their own conclusions about a topic that has for a long time been a highly charged political issue.

Our findings will provide new, independent, evidence about private school participation and effects for the generation going through schooling in the 21st century, and will thus have considerable policy and practical relevance.

In particular, we expect the findings to be of interest to three groups of non-academic stake-holders, as well as to academics from a range of disciplines:
a) Potential "customers" (parents) and their advisers.
These beneficiaries tend to be interested in evidence about the value of attending a private school, and our findings on both educational and later outcomes will be informative for them. Parents are interested because, for those not entitled to receive bursaries, the benefits of private schooling need to be substantial to make it worth the considerable outlay for the fees, which have increased by around a factor of three since the 1980s. We expect that parents and education advisers are interested in both the education and labour market outcomes and the broader outcomes from private schooling. They can benefit through more informed decision-taking about whether to choose private schooling for their children and at what stage in their school career.
b) Practitioners
We expect that the governors and leaders of private schools, and those who represent the sector, are likely to be interested in independent evidence about the outcomes for similar reasons because they must ensure that they deliver what parents want in order to survive and thrive in a competitive education environment. These governors and leaders should also benefit from knowledge of the trends in income sensitivity of their product, and evidence about the relevance of local competition from grammar schools. Among other benefits could be a more informed pricing strategy.
c) Policy-makers.
We are mainly thinking here of policy-makers (such Lords members debating the recent Charities Bill in 2015) and opinion-formers (eg Times columnist Matthew Parris, Guardian columnist Fiona Millar) -- on both sides of the political centre -- who are concerned to improve social mobility in Britain, and who might wish to have good evidence about the potential role of exclusive private schooling in limiting social mobility. However, we should also include members of the wider public, because of the topic's general interest among those concerned about social mobility. Policy-makers' need for independent evidence is especially apparent when considering potential policies for private schools, such as for example those surrounding partnerships, academy sponsorship, access schemes, public benefit and charitable status, which have figured prominently in public discourse for the last decade. The potential benefit is better policy-making.
d) Academics.
We expect our findings to be of considerable interest among a broad group of sociologists and economists who work in the areas of education and social mobility/inequality studies (see Academic Beneficiaries). We will aim especially to attract interest among PhD students and early career social scientists.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description For those who grew up in Britain in the latter half of the 20th century, there is known to be a strong association between social class or family income and attending a private school. However, increasing school fees in the private sector and promotion of school choice in the state sector potentially have implications for changing predictors of participation in private schooling. Our research finds that:
• A £100 increase in permanent weekly income is associated with half a percentage point higher likelihood of private school enrolment.
• Participation in private schooling remains especially skewed at the very top of the income distribution with no change since the 1990s.
• We show also the importance of parental values and geographical proximity to high-quality state school alternatives, finding that higher levels of parental traditional values and increased travel time to 'Outstanding' state schools both increase demand for private schooling.
• Bursaries and scholarships have neither expanded relative to fees, nor become more directed to low income families. Taken together, the findings reject claims that the sector has become more socially fluid in recent decades.
With approximately three times the resources per pupil in private compared with state schools, Britain's private sector presents an interesting case of what could be expected from schools that are extremely well resourced. We find evidence that, compared with otherwise observably similar state school students in upper secondary education and controlling for prior attainment, those at private school study more 'facilitating' subjects, which are known to be favoured by high-status universities.
• They are placed 8 percentage points higher in the A level rankings and 11 percentage points higher in the rankings for 'facilitating' A levels. Taken together with studies of earlier stages of education, these modest gains at upper secondary level mean that a private schooling throughout childhood in England is associated with substantive cumulative educational advantage.
• Associated with having attended at 13 a private school in England in the 21st century, there is an average weekly wage premium of 17 percent by age 25, and a 12 percentage point lower chance of downward social mobility.
• By contrast, private schooling is not significantly associated with participation in local voluntary groups, unpaid voluntary work, charitable giving or interpersonal trust at age 25.
Exploitation Route We are developing the impact through the coming months, and will report fully next year.
Sectors Education

 
Description Some findings from this award have been used in the book Engines of Privilege. Britain's Private School Problem, co-authored by Francis Green and David Kynaston. The publication of this has stimulated considerable debate with reviews in the media, some antagonistic, others very positive and calling for reform. There is considerable interest from practitioners in the private school sector, and several meetings are planned with representatives of the sector to exchange views on potential reforms. One meeting with an MP is definitely also scheduled, and we are aiming to pursue further channels to influence policy-makers.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Title Distances and 45 minute drive-times to high-performing and private schools in England (add-on to Millennium Cohort Study) 
Description The purpose of this dataset is to provide accurate distances (in miles) and drive times (based on 45 minutes by car) from MCS4 and MCS5 cohort members with addresses in England to six sets of high-performing schools. These distances are based on the UK road network, as it was in 2008 and 2012, and distances are calculated between the postcode centroid of each cohort member's reported address at interview, and the postcode centroid of the address of each school. The travel times are calculated based on the Ordnance Survey's Integrated Transport Network (ITN) product. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset was funded as part of the "Private Schooling in the 21st Century: Participation and Outcomes" project and generated to allow for the testing of hypotheses following from the research questions set out in the case for support for this project. The dataset was generated for us by the data team at the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) based on our direction. The dataset has been used as part of academic outputs currently under preparation and presented as part of several engagement activities associated with this project. Furthermore, the CLS team will include this dataset as part of future releases of the Millennium Cohort Study (to which it is an add-on), which we anticipate having further research impact in the future. 
 
Description "Private schooling, subject choice and upper secondary academic attainment in England: Using the Next Steps Generation" was presented at the Private Schools Workshop on 17th December 2018, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The paper presented explores Private Schooling in England.

With approximately three times the resources per pupil in private, compared with state schools, Britain's private sector presents an interesting case of what could be expected from schools that are extremely well resourced. This paper studies the links between private schooling and educational performance in upper secondary school, as measured through their performance in 'A level', the main school-leaving assessment which determines access to universities. Using data from the Next Steps survey of pupils born in 1989/90, we find evidence that, compared with otherwise observably similar state school students in upper secondary education and controlling for prior attainment, those at private school study 27 percent more 'facilitating' subjects, which are known to be favoured by high-status universities; they are placed 8 percentage points higher in the A level rankings (this could be equivalent to the difference between a student with AAB to a student with AAA) and 11 percentage points higher in the rankings for 'facilitating' A levels (this could be equivalent to the difference between a student with ABB to a student with AAA). We find no evidence of a private school advantage for ever attending any university but some evidence of a private school advantage for attending an elite university. Taken together with earlier studies at primary and lower secondary education levels, our findings mean that private schooling in Britain is associated with modest but cumulative advantages at all stages of education from primary onwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description 'An Analysis of Trends in the Socioeconomic Concentration of Private School Attendance in Britain', presentation at the 2018 Annual Conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies, Milan, July 9-11 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation sparked interest in the findings and theme of research on private education, which led to networking with international researchers who work on related topics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/df1448_4824417496ff40e3845f4fcc236693ee.pdf
 
Description 'Private School Participation: All about the money?', presentation at the Private Schools Workshop on 17th December 2018, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact For those who grew up in Britain in the latter half of the 20th century, there is known to be a strong association between social class or family income and attending a private school. However, increasing school fees in the private sector and promotion of school choice in the state sector potentially have implications for changing predictors of participation in private schooling. In this paper, through analysis of rich, longitudinal dataset from a recent, representative birth cohort study, we provide new evidence on the determinants of demand for private schooling. Given the high and rising fees required to send a child to private school, one might think that the decision is entirely connected with financial resources. However, while these remain an important factor, we argue that other determinants are also important. In particular, we highlight the importance of parental values and geographical proximity to high-quality state school alternatives, finding that higher levels of parental traditional values and increased travel time to `Outstanding' state schools both increase demand for private schooling.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/events/2018/dec/workshop-britains-private-schools-21st-century
 
Description 'Socioeconomic Concentration of Private Schooling in Britain', presentation at the Private Schools Workshop on 17th December 2018, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This paper studies whether there has been a change in recent decades in the income and wealth concentration of the children who attend Britain's private schools. We use repeated cross-sectional data from the Family Resources Survey and the Household Below Average Income programme. Unlike earlier studies, we model the association of permanent income and wealth with participation; and we distinguish families according to whether they can/cannot afford private schooling from their current income. We find that a £100 increase in permanent weekly income is associated with half a percentage point higher likelihood of private school enrolment. Participation remains especially skewed at the very top of the income distribution with no change since the 1990s. Bursaries and scholarships have neither expanded relative to fees, nor become more directed to low income families. Taken together, the findings reject claims that the sector has become more socially fluid in recent decades.
Members of the audience voiced after the talk surprise at the extreme concentration of private schooling among the 1%.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/events/2018/dec/workshop-britains-private-schools-21st-century
 
Description Big Issue 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A two-page article in the Big Issue for the week beginning 11/2/2019, covering arguments about the role of private schooling in Britain.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Blog for Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This blog, for Conversation, covered some of the main findings from the private school project, and also the arguments put forward in Engines of Privilege, co-authored with David Kynaston. It attracted around 5,000 readers in the first few days after posting, and many shares and comments (to which I replied).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description LSE Launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Launch of Engines of Privilege, with illustrated presentation, discussion and Q&A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/engines-of-privilege-9781526601261/
 
Description Observer 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an adapted extract from our book: F.Green and D. Kynaston 'Engines of Privilege. Britain's Private School Problem.' It attracted a very large number of online comments, and published letters in the newspaper, to which we responded with a further letter, also published two weeks later.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation of "Participation in British Private Schools" to British Sociological Association Annual Conference 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Private school has played an important role in sociology's literature surrounding the role of education in structuring the reproduction of social class. Through their social exclusivity, Britain's private schools are held to have contributed negatively to social mobility among older generations educated in the 20th century. But with huge fee rises, much increased income inequality, increased wealth-income ratios, fluctuating public and private means-tested support for fees, and a greater policy emphasis on school choice, there may have been changes in the distribution of participation in private schooling. Moreover, while many children use the private sector exclusively, many parents use it selectively at different education stages. But little is known about the characteristics and motives of families who mix and match their choice of school-type. This paper studies whether there has been a notable evolution since the 1980s in the social and economic composition of private school children, using data from multiple surveys, reviews of qualitative sources, and aggregate census information. We report aggregate participation trends, parental motivations, estimates of social exclusivity (in terms of income and social class) and estimates of the determinants of switching between school-type part way through an education. Overall we find no evidence that private school access has become more open in the course of recent decades. We conclude that the effect of real-terms increased fees ahead of incomes has outweighed any offsetting impact from bursaries, scholarships and other attempts to open up to a wider public, or from increased attention to school choice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.britsoc.co.uk/media/24644/ac2018_programme.pdf
 
Description Response to Bristol Cable 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Response to Bristol journalist on the Bristol Cable, with quotation on the role of private schools.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Response to El Pais 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Responded to El Pais' request for expertise/quotation on the role of private schools in Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description TES Response 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This was our response to the antagonistic review of our book, written by the head teacher of Westminster School. The review was so bad and antagonistic and ill-informed, that we requested an immediate right of reply, which was accepted by the TES editor. Week beginning 11/2/2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Tv appearance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Fronted as expert on BBC's 'The Big Questions', on 27/1/2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on private schools 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This workshop discussed findings from the ESRC project Private Schooling in the 21st Century, in front of and among a diverse audience.
We used the LLAKES mailing list which brought in a number of people from outside academia, mainly those involved directly or indirectly with education, both private and state. The findings were linked with those from a related, earlier but still ongoing project, Schooling and Unequal Outcomes in Youth and Adulthood, also discussed at this event.
Altogether, seven papers were presented to this diverse audience, and the debate was led by two discussants from outside the project.
The event took place in late December 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.llakes.ac.uk/research-project/337/private-schooling-uk-21st-century-participation-and-ou...