Private schools gave out more generous GCSE grades during the pandemic than state grammar schools, according to new analysis that will likely exacerbate fears over poorer pupils’ university prospects.
Private and state selective school students were affected differently by grading during this time, according to new analysis by FFT Education Datalab.
These pupils tended to do better than expected in GCSEs based on prior attainment at primary schools before the Covid pandemic, with little difference between the two.
But the analysis found private school students received higher GCSE grades than expected compared with state grammar peers during 2020 and 2021.
It comes amid concerns over increased competition for university places this year and how this could impact poorer students.
Students have already faced warnings they could miss out on places at top universities despite having the grades amid a surge in applications and institutions admitting too many during the pandemic.
A leading expert on social mobility told The Telegraph the “days of universities fighting over students are over”.
Professor Lee Elliot Major is reported as saying: “My biggest fear is that poorer students, already disproportionately scarred by the pandemic, may lose out in this new highly competitive era not just this year but over the next decade.”
During last year’s GCSE results, the most disadvantaged pupils – those on free school meals – dropped further behind privileged peers.
Private school students saw the greatest jump in top grades during these results, far outstripping state schools with around 60 per cent of exams getting top marks compared to 26 per cent.
The new analysis from FFT looked specifically at private and state grammar school results in the Covid pandemic, whose students usually have comparable progress from primary school.
Natasha Plaister, an analyst, said: “Pupils in independent schools exceeded their estimated grades by more than they did before the pandemic, while those in selective state schools exceeded them by less than pre-pandemic in English, and roughly the same in maths.”
She added: “This analysis does seem to suggest that during the pandemic, under both centre-assessed grades (CAGs) and teacher-assessed grades (TAGs), independent schools gave out more generous grades than might be expected.”
In 2021, private school pupils were nearly 0.7 grades higher than expected, according to the analysis, while those attending selective grammar schools achieved around 0.3 grades higher than expected.
While this could be because private school pupils were less disrupted by the pandemic, Ms Plaister said teacher-assessed grading was meant to adjust for this to some extent.
The study did have some limitations – some private school pupils do not take Key Stage 2 Sats tests, so the data would be weighted towards privately educated secondary students who attended a state primary school, and some private schools sit IGCSEs rather than GCSEs.
Ms Plaister said FFT would be looking to see if the gap between private and grammar schools started to close in the 2022 results when pupils have sat full public exams again for the first time since the pandemic.
Between 2019 and 2021, private schools boosted their share of top GCSE grades by 14.6 percentage points, with more than six in 10 pupils awarded a grade 7 or above in 2021.
Meanwhile grammar schools boosted their performance by 7.5 percentage points over the same period.
The Department for Education has been approached for comment.