Grammar school pupils in the 1980s were no more likely to gain degrees from “elite” universities than comprehensive pupils, research suggests.

But private school pupils had a greater chance of gaining degrees at the highly selective institutions, it suggests.

The researchers analysed data on 7,700 people in England and Wales, born in the same week in 1970.

But current grammar school heads said it “does not provide a great deal of illumination on current provision”.

The analysis of data from the 1970 British Cohort Study looked at:

When all these differences were factored in, the privately educated pupils were two and a half times more likely than state school pupils with the same A-level results, to have completed a degree at a highly selective Russell Group university – and one and a half times more likely to have a degree from a mainstream institution.

Attending a private school was “powerfully predictive of gaining a university degree and especially a degree from an elite institution” – but grammar school pupils showed no advantage in either mainstream universities or at Russell Group institutions, the study says.

Higher aspirations

Grammar schools did make a difference to pupils’ exam results at 16 “but this did not follow through to university chances”.

There was a “leaky pipe” between grammar school and university, says the report.

Lead researcher Prof Alice Sullivan, head of the quantitative social science department at London University’s Institute of Education, said: “Higher levels of aspiration in the private sector, both the parents and the schools, may provide part of the explanation.”

The links between some private schools and universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, might be another factor, she said.

Having a parent with a degree also boosted a pupil’s chance of graduating from an elite university.

A child with one graduate parent was more than twice as likely to obtain a degree from a Russell Group university as a pupil with the same A-level results whose parents had no qualifications.

Privately educated pupils were more likely to have parents with degrees: 52%, compared with 31% of grammar school pupils, 14% from comprehensives and 8% from secondary moderns.

Prof Sullivan suggests the destinations of pupils in the 1980s are relevant today as “recent research has shown that pupils from lower social class backgrounds are still less likely to apply to Russell Group institutions than comparably qualified pupils from higher class backgrounds”.

But Grammar School Heads Association chief executive Barry Sindall said fewer professions had required degrees in the 1980s.

“The so called ‘leaky pipe’ was no more than many choosing to bypass university to enter professions that now require a degree,” said Mr Sindall.

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