Headteacher column: Statistics do not measure success

Headteacher Mark Ronan.
Headteacher Mark Ronan.

Are you more likely to get a good degree if you attend Pocklington School? Anyone looking at the recent headlines on state vs independent school performance at university as a guide, will find no clear answer.

The long-running debate returned to the spotlight recently when a report claimed students educated in state schools went on to obtain better degrees. But then last week its authors admitted they had made an error and transposed the key figures.

Pocklington School.

Pocklington School.

The real statistic should be that 82 per cent of independent school entrants received a 1st or a 2:1 degree compared to 73 per cent from state schools and colleges – not the other way round, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) now confirms that its research found. No sooner were we digesting that information than another report was released, saying students from state schools who get top A level grades (A or A*) outperform university peers from independent schools who arrive with the same A level results.

But the Cambridge Assessment research, though helpful in confirming the link between school grades and degree results, analyses a smaller group.

According to the more thorough HEFCE study, just 1 per cent of state school entrants with A levels in the grade range ABB-CCC do better than their independent school peers with like-for-like entry grades. If you’re still with me, your brow’s probably as furrowed as mine at this point.

What do we make of all these statistics? And what does it mean for your child?

And this is the real point. Educationalists can argue until they’re blue in the face about whether research points to this or that setting as the best place to learn.

But what really matters is what’s best for the individual student. At Pocklington School, our approach is informed by an emphasis on giving every child the individual encouragement and advice to allow them to plot the course that’s right for them.

Each student is stretched and challenged in a supportive environment which will help them fulfil their full potential, and go on to be a valued, self-fulfilled member of society who is successful on their own terms.

Academic success is applauded of course, and it’s allowed 98 per cent of our pupils to go on to university this year; 55 per cent to The Russell Group of the 20 leading universities in the UK.

It particularly delights our staff that 92 per cent of pupils got into their first or second choice of university. This is the result of their hard work – but also the sustained help and advice from teachers and our careers advice service, headed by Careers and University Advisor Dr Rachel Farrar.

We start working with pupils almost as soon as they join our Upper School to help them make the right choices as they move through the school, whether or not they have their sights set on a particular career.

What drives us through this process is not that Pocklington School gets the highest exam results in the land – or that our graduates all go on to get top degrees - but that each pupil leaves us achieves their personal best to embark on their chosen path.

Because as anyone’s who’s been unfulfilled in the wrong job will tell you, it’s a pretty soul-destroying existence and you’re unlikely to make a success of it.

What society needs are happy, confident, well-rounded and resilient individuals who communicate well and can make a contribution, ideally with the self-knowledge and drive to make it in their preferred field.

John Cridland, Director General of the CBI, has long been critical of graduates who lack life skills and are unable to contribute effectively in the workplace.

Add to that the fact today’s graduates will switch jobs, and possibly careers, far more frequently than their parents, and you realise the sort of specialist, in-depth knowledge a good degree reflects is only one of many indicators that a person will do well.

Employers are making it clear that what they’re really looking for is flexible, work-ready employees with a can-do attitude.

So while we take very seriously our responsibility to instil an intellectual curiosity and healthy work ethic which will continue through university and/or a future career, that’s just part of our remit at Pocklington School.

A strong, inquiring mind, healthy confidence and a respect for others is more valued, in the long term, than a first class degree. That’s why our priority is to support and encourage each individual with a broad education that will serve them well, whichever path they follow.