Fee-paying schools are no better than others in maximising academic abilities, study shows

Ryan Carrick

Secondary school students with parents who have a university degree perform higher than those with parents who do not, according to new research.

The proportion of parents with a university degree for students in the top quartile of schools is 48 per cent while it is 21 per cent in the lower quartile.

The study, titled “Good Schools or Good Students? The Importance of Selectivity in School Rankings”, was conducted by a team of researchers in Maynooth University. 

The approach used by the researchers involved using a set of student background characteristics, including early cognitive and non-cognitive abilities, compared to raw results of the Junior Certificate in order to find the value added. 

According to the Centre of Evaluation & Monitoring, value added is the amount of improvement added by the school to the pupil in terms of achievement levels over a fixed period of time.

The study found that there is no evidence fee-paying schools do better than others in maximising the performance of students.

It notes that while fee-paying schools dominate newspaper school rankings which take student progression to third level into account, these outcomes are partly influenced by other factors such as prior ability, family income and the education of the parents.

According to the findings, vocational schools outperform all other school types in terms of value added.

The study found that parents base their school decisions based on raw scores rather than value added. This implies that parents “may not be sending their children to the best schools.”

Speaking at an ESRI seminar, Dr Aedin Doris, one of the research paper’s authors, said that if parents chose schools for their children based on value added as opposed to raw scores, their children’s academic performance would improve “substantially”.

According to the study, there is a lack of information about school performance available to parents trying to decide what school to send their child to.

It noted: “The Irish government provides no information on school rankings, either in terms of raw examination results or value added. In the absence of other information, newspapers produce ad hoc league tables based on progression to university.”

Final year Actuarial Mathematics student Owen Rogers, who attended a fee-paying school, said he found there were advantages associated with attending a fee-paying school.

“It is a good environment for learning,” he said. “In school, the way you’re taught is probably slightly different. The teachers and headmasters recognise that your parents are paying a lot of money to send you to these schools. Discipline and grades are important. That being said, I don’t think there was much of an improvement to my own achievement levels.”

Ryan Carrick

Image Credit: Sonja Tutty