Private schools - Difference in academic performance

St Paul's School 82.14% of the exam results are either  A or A* at a level but at other private schools the results are much lower with some getting only 20% of results at A or A*. What explains the difference? 

Private schools have the similar(ish) facilities; ambitious and generally well educated parents who are committed to their child's education; motivated students; similar number of teacher to student ratio.... so why are there such differing results.  

I'd be fvcking livid having dropped that wedge for my kids to come out with Bs.

Don't be silly 

there are plenty of people who privately educate their children with no expectation whatsoever that it's a vending machine for A*s

Some schools are incredibly selective, some aren't, etc etc etc etc 

there are plenty of people who privately educate their children with no expectation whatsoever that it's a vending machine for A*s

Really!? Genuinely surprised by this.

Hmmmmm....  Let's see.  I wonder why some schools which select only the children who have been given every possible chance in life AND pass rigorous entrance criteria beat others which don't.

It's a proper fucking chin-scratcher isn't it.

It's almost entirely due to selectivity, it's certainly not the teaching. Kids that smart practically teach themselves.

A lot of the less academic schools are just taking money from foreigners or just piching at providing a well rounded non-stabby education.

Some schools are just a place for parking your not very bright offspring until they are old enough to go so Sandhurst or the like.

The difference is that St Paul's is a bit "aspirational". A lot of kids at public school don't need A*s or whatever they're called now. They don't count for much in the Guards, or when you're managing your grandfather's estate.

Or: what Sailo said.

If you think they'll become a boffin, send them to Winchester or to a grammar school.

back when I was a lad, there was a saying - nobody fails common entrance. it's just a question as to where they end up...


some schools are simply more academic than others.  


so you could be sending them to Bloxham or Winchester or everywhere in between, and that choice will to an extent depends on your child's interests and how academically bright they are.  and that will then result in differing outputs.


that's where a good headmaster of a prep school earns their pay - gently guiding the parents of pupils as to what schools might best suit their children.  in the same way as senior school teachers might guide towards what college might suit.


And by “college” Clubbers does not mean Watford Technical College

All this talk of grades is very vulgar.

Can you put a grade on an Olympic swimming pool and a bevvy of the fittest antipodean gappies a red blooded man has ever seen?

I think not.

occams razor, as you would stock pickers

if the average performance is X and good guys are Y and then one or two manage amazing Z then it's because they are playing by different rules

but yeah, you send your kid private to make sure they get the right ticks to go to the right uni to meet the right people to get the right job no matter how thick they actually are (see team Boris et all) so you'd be pissed if they didn't cheat

But this is sort of saying that intelligence is pre-determined which is at odds with the prevailing view that grades are determined by environment.

What everyone else stating the absolutely bleedin obvious said.  The top London day schools are frankly fvcking scary.  We have mates in the scrabble for prep school places at the moment and the level of selection (and associated tutoring/exam prep for 6 and 7 year olds) is absolutely mental. It really cannot be healthy for kids to be under that much pressure that young.  


I agree entirely on tutoring your way in.

If a kid basically can’t get in under their own steam then they are going to have a rotten time once they are there.

Problem is if everyone is tutoring (and has their kids in hyper 'academic' pre-preps) then it gets to the stage where kids are going to struggle to get in if they don't have tutors etc. however bright they are. 

I am just glad we are out of it.

See Millfield , proper public school with unreal facilities , but deffo for those who are academically challenged or CBA to do ANY work. I cant tell you the amount I knew from UWE who were big time ,  class A drug taking party animals, who were landed gentry  and the like. I was jealous of the fun they had, they did not give a toss!. 

A few times they would ask" What you doing tomorrow?" Er going to lectures/tutorials . Back camr the reply" What again!"

Simon Cowell has moved to an area in south west London, to "ensure" his 6 year old son gets into a certain school, which YOY comes in the top 3 for GCSEs and A Levels no matter how you slice the data, yet it is a very normal unprentious school, certainly not an exam factory alone.

Just hope for him his kid gets in.

Millfield rugby sides were a joke.

Here a Vunipola, there a Vunipola.


As I recall, their women's 3rds squash team beat our men's 1s.

What sort of tutoring can you do with a 6 year old aside from reading with them and doing some maths worksheets?

dash no idea TBF , but I am sure it can be /is done. These prep schools are super academic selective.

Just hope for him his kid gets in.

Really, I'm not that bothered either way to be honest

At 6 a child should have Kumon math tutoring a minimum of twice a week. 

This is all just reminding me of my hideous interview experience at Eton.

That is pretty sad. The UK is becoming like South Korea and Japan. 

On a TV show about grammar v non selective schools a woman was working an extra cleaning job to fund tuition for her daughter to pass her 11+ exam. The girl was under immense pressure to exceed but failed the exam. Both mother and daughter were in tears. 

At 6 a child should have Kumon math tutoring a minimum of twice a week. 

 - I hope you're joking, from what I have read it just makes them great at rote learning.

Still, a glorious future fruit picking awaits the child. 

It strikes me that the stupider you are the more private school  benefits you - with the right connections and social manners even the thickest offspring will end up in a cushy job as a high end estate agent or somesuch.

Dash, I’d say 3 times a week but it’s really tricky juggling the tutoring in Mandarin, music, English, science and so on. 

The connections thing is really, really overblown and is really dictated more by the parent groups. If you are not from the right milieu already, you will only get into the gang if you are a ledge (boy) or pretty without being a slag (girl).

true, it is not just the school, obviously your parents social background helps independently of that - but it helps.

Sails the interview at Eton is no worse than any other similar school. Besides sending your kid their is just willy waving. A close friend of my father for ages, who was a very, very senior MD at Lehmans, and Nomura used to boast at every chance how his kids were on the list for Eton from 4. I have no idea if that was correct. But he assumed as he earnt millions , his kids would walk in.

His kids ended up going to a non selective 6th form college in Surrey and are now at Nottingham . He has never mentioned his'ambition" for his kids since.

No, the school is just an extension of the parents' world.

Honestly the only connection i would like to make now with any of my school "m8s" would be my fist in their face.

I was such a geek. I'd persuade my Mum to let me do more tests from the practice books for the 11+ because I found them fun. We had to buy more books...

Guy makes a good point. I was at Uni from a guy at Winchester, who got 4 As, he managed to get NO offers from any uni at all. How does that happen? He begged Bristol to accept him, a week before the start of term and they accepted him. 

I'm pretty sure the list thing is bollocks btw. You just sign up for common entrance or the scholarship exam.

Some 6 and 7+ horror stories:

- there were at least 2 kids who did 4 hours extra work/tutoring per day

- one had a live in tutor who specialised in getting kids through the exams

- we heard of one kid whose parent, whenever he failed something, would give away an item of Star Wars lego or smash it

- then there is the mysterious tutor called "Aunty" (so named so the boys can say they have only done some work with Aunty) who contacts you if she thinks your child is going to get into one of the top 3 or 5

Is the question "why aren't all private schools as good as each other?"

I'd be more surprised if they were...

Herr Ziffer - i suspect these are just stories. How can you get a child to do another 4 - 5 hours of extra tuition is beyond me.

strutter20 Feb 20 14:05

I agree entirely on tutoring your way in.

If a kid basically can’t get in under their own steam then they are going to have a rotten time once they are there.


a school that one child looked at interviewed parents and children separately.  we were separately asked whether there was tutoring involved, on the basis that the kids wouldn't be cynical enough to lie.  Clearly a process question to deal with the sort of issue you raise.


Eton has become the posher version of Milfield . They have long since been focusing their efforts on attracting students who have mega wealthy parents from overseas, Russia , India,  China, and the US in the main. They pay their fees on time, don't want any bursary, and are happy to drop a couple of million on the new sports facilty, no questions asked.

Better than the £600k plus middling EP, at Freshies they think. If I was a bursar I would agree. Doesn't Roman Abrovich kid about to go to Eton soon?

Ebit this was 1987 and it was a horrible cold wet day sitting in freezing corridors waiting for cursory discussions with men behind desks who didn't even introduce themselves before questioning you.  It gave me such a grim impression of the place I was glad I didn't get in.

Ebit similar happened to people in my year but that's because we had a massive falling out with our housemaster who then gave us all crap references and predictions.  I ended up reapplying after A-levels having been rejected by most places I'd applied to the first time round.

That is pretty hard on the child. What were the parents hoping to achieve by pushing them so hard? What happened to the children? 

We don't know yet... (the 7+ kids are in the first year and the 8+ have yet to start). 


It is incredibly hard on the children

Herr Ziff's 4-5 hours of tutoring per day is nonsense. There is simply not enough time in the day for a 6/7 year old, even if they could focus for that amount of time after school, which they cannot.

Tutoring is a slippery slope. All the schools tell you not to do it, all the parents ignore it. Tutored kid scrapes into an academic school, needs tutoring just to keep up, then yet more to get the exam grades. Gets to university and is incapable of independent learning, drops out.

Having just seen (second hand) the 7+ in action, it seems to me that the "elite" public schools (by which I don't mean the likes of Eton, I mean the properly academic ones, St Pauls, Westminster etc) are in a vicious spiral. Recruit the brightest kids who will get the best grades so keeping the school at the top of the league tables thereby increasing demand for places and allowing the school to increase fees which they need to attract the best teachers and have the best facilities.

I do not know when it was that these schools ceased even to pay lip service to any charitable purpose they may once have had. Probably about the time they realised that they needed to look beyond the UK's dwindling pool of bright kids whose parents could afford the astronomical fees, and started taking substantial percentages of their pupils from Asia and elsewhere. In fairness, not all follow this approach. Kings Wimbledon only accepts applications from EU kids - interesting to see how this changes when the school is no longer subject to EU freedom of movement rules.

Yeah. Direct witness evidence is nonsense. Whatevs.

A 6-year old barely gets that much contact time in the whole of the school day. According to you, these children are then receiving the same amount of tutoring in between arriving home and going to bed. Do these kids bathe? Eat?




At weekends, maybe.

Faff they've run as they do now for best part of 50 years and it was the same in my day.  In reality are they still charitable as I think 60% of pupils at Winchester now are on some form of financial assistance and they are reliant on alumni to pay for upgrades to facilities.  I donated a few years ago to providing even more bursaries.

King makes largely a good point.KCS wimbledon has in the past had nearly 50 % success in getting students into Oxbridge, but that said just about "everyone" is "forced" to apply. So why  are people surprised  that super academic selective schools have super academic outcomes?


And what King says Eton, charterhouse, and a few others are not elite(academic) public schools. Harry got a C grade in Art and was helped by his teacher. His admissions tutor who sued successfully for wrongful dismissal was aghast that Harry got in, he cites" we were desperate to give him marks, yet we couldn't see how we could, it  was that bad"

Probably only Winchester and Westminster are uber selective academically with a few a whisker behind them.

I've heard some properly unpleasant things about the Russian cohort at Eton. As much as I like the handful of guys I know who went there, there is no way I would consider that school for my child.

"What everyone else stating the absolutely bleedin obvious said.  The top London day schools are frankly fvcking scary.  We have mates in the scrabble for prep school places at the moment and the level of selection (and associated tutoring/exam prep for 6 and 7 year olds) is absolutely mental. It really cannot be healthy for kids to be under that much pressure that young. "

I went to St Paul's. I agree with the assessment that the results largely flow from the calibre of the intake. Much of the teaching was uninspiring. I shan't be sending Hotblackling No. 1 there. 

State of all this

should be enough to drive anyone to send their kids to state school tbh

I have mates from St Paul's and all of them, to a man, are fvcking weird. Love em. But weeeeird.

After learning Hotblack went there, the foundations of that opinion remain unshaken.

I'd disagree about Eton. It is pretty academic. Prince Harry was not typical.

Eton is very academic.

Why do people care about private schools? Just make the state schools excellent and that would soon diminish the number of private ones but, if parents are determined to send their kids private, as long as those parents don’t hope to pay less tax as a consequence, who cares?

Once the state schools reach the same academic standards, the taxpayer should be happy to see private school students not burdening the state.

"Once the state schools reach the same academic standards, the taxpayer should be happy to see private school students not burdening the state."

ok my children go to private school but this is a nonsense argument, the average private school will outperform the average state school simply because they do not have to take anyone and everyone in a given catchment area, regardless of ability / social background. Even not particularly academic private schools have by their very nature children with supportive interested parents. 

So part of it is the supportive and interested nature of the parents?

part of it is also that the schools ask anyone to leave prior to public exams if they look like screwing up the results.

(poor the girl from wycombe abbey who was the ONLY ONE to get a B at a level last year. She must've been madly ostracised for that appalling transgression)

Agree but in some cases it’s exactly the opposite, especially for boarding school parents


Duamond no doubt there are parents who are happy to shell out for their kids education but take little day to day interest in them. That must be crushing for a child. 

but it doesn't compare with the depths of social deprivation some children face, and the children facing the very worst will inevitably be in state school. Children who have to act as carers to disabled parents. Children whose homes are chaotic due to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, poverty etc etc etc. 

I genuinely don't think the teachers at my kids school are any better than the teachers at my stare school. What they do have is faculties, support, time, small classes and good raw material to work with. 

Ziffer’s experience is consistent with my own - 3 nephews just gone through the W london 6/7+ malarkey and it is brutal. The tutoring is insane and that’s on top of what to my provincial mind looks like an incredibly hectic school day  

we have to make a decision in the next 12 months as to whether to send chiclet no 1 to a private pre prep, thus putting him on the admissions treadmill (6/7+ then CE) or just to stick him into the local state primary school and try to forget about it all for a few years. Let’s see. 

Just send your children to a nice boarding prep in the country.  Much more relaxed and they get a good education too.  

Beyond a certain minimum level, relative exam performance at ages 6, 8, 10 is a very poor predictor of exam success at ages 16 and 18.  Both are in turn a very poor predictor of relative success in life and career above a certain minimum level.  

State ‘til eight.

Thereafter it depends how risk averse you are.


i went to the local grammar

the same school as my father and grandfather.

All masters wore a gown and mortar board. Single sex still. Had the usual school chapel, with the usual memorial to the school's VCs etc.  Thirty boys a year to Oxbridge. Best state school in the country at the time according to the Times' results. Excellent rugby/hockey results (England captains in both). Excellent results and many internationals at fencing and eton fives. They replaced the shooting range at school in my 2nd year. CCF at least once a week

This was 30 years ago. You don't need to spend 40k a year. You just need to live in the right area.

Having just looked at 6th forms for my daughter...she turned down various private schools in favour of the comp she's at. Admittedly, it's a good comp in the country. But the results at most of the private schools was no better than her school. For 20k a year. Where's the ROI? And unis are now wise to the 'i went to private school, so gimme a place' kids

What’s the relevance of 8 jorrocks? I would have thought if you were planning to go private at 8 you might as well do so at the start. If we go state it’ll be til 11/13

I think state ---> private at 13 would be a massive jump

State til 8 was me

Mine going from prep but more for risk mitigation and just a nicer environment than guaranteed results


The issue with staying state until 11 or 13 is the Common Entrance exam at 13 (yr 8)

It isn’t a walkover by any means and one needs to give a decent prep school the chance to get the child going comfortably.

All just my opinion though. My oldest in now in his 6th form, the middle one is lining up for GCSEs next year and the youngest is still at prep.


@hairyenfield, the grammars were the closest  thing to threaten the public schools. 

Even the most risk averse parents will send their kids to a grammar. They get equivalent or better results at no cost. 

Interesting that it was Labour which undermined the grammar schools.

If you don't have children you save yourself all of this stress.

Eton has some academic kids but it's a huge school so also has a good spread of Tim Nicebutdims knocking about.

I feel for the girl at Wycombe Abbey as I was one of the few in my school with the embarrassment of a B in maths GCSE.

torontochick how many hours of extra tuition were your nephews doing? My son (nearly 6) goes to a state school. His homework (reading) takes about 15 mins a day and about 30 - 40 mins on a sat. I thought this was enough but this thread is making me very nervous.

Donny Darko's Soundtrack is correct about the scramble for places. My sister and brother-in-law are in the same situation and it also almost breaking them financially.

My own parents could not have afforded to send me to a private school in this day and age. Many seem to be hothouses these days. Grades are more important than creating rounded individuals. OTOH I understand the food is much better than in my time. The other downside is chapel. As an atheist, it was unbearable.

My own school was and still is ranked well below #200, and wasn't academically ambitious, because most pupils were either going to Sandhurst (or Dartmouth or Cranwell), the family business or to agricultural college and then the farm (after they'd passed O level English at the third or fourth re-sit). Many of us became Poly Bastards rather than Oxbridge. That explains having to work in lowly law jobs earning crap pay.

BTW. many state schools in France and Germany are good enough. It is usually wealthy Catholics who go to private schools. In England, alas, going to private school. especially one of the Clarendon Public Schools, makes a difference in how a lawyer or military officer is perceived. In England, meritocracy is still marking time.

Tarquin. There is probably some bitterness there. Lord Prescott was a ship steward who once served Sir Anthony Eden (before he became Lord Avon). So that's even more to be bitter about, except when accepting a Peerage.

Hairyenfield is right about selecting the right grammar. NVTL local property prices are reflected in that, plus costs of private tutors to pass the 11-plus. Parents either have to move close to a good grammar and sacrifice any potential school fees funds, or downsize in order to afford fees. 

I scraped Common Entrance and would have failed the 11-plus had I taken it (had I not already been at prep school).

I’m sure it used to be the case that kids without tutoring could get into the top schools at 6/7 but these days have you seen the entrance papers. We’re not talking IQ, we’re talking quite specific Maths problems, comprehensions etc which need genuine teaching/practice. No kid could get in from a state school without tutoring. 

Wot wilfredrostron said.


The schools want a particular writing style (eg embedded clauses, lots of modifiers, 4 different types of openers), the maths questions do take a particular format (they are very into the verbal problem with a mathematical solution) and then you have the reasoning papers. 7+ we took a little too causally. 8+ we home tutored.

Dash1 if that’s all your kid’s doing then it won’t be enough to get into the top tier of schools. And I say that as a hardened sceptic who had exactly your attitude.

Our kid started about 3 months before the exam (about an hour a day with practice papers) and possibly a little bit more at weekends. That was on the very, very low side of his mates who were also sitting from state. The Hong Kong, Singapore and Chinese influx on exam day was a sight to behold. 

What strutter said at 14.05 and others have said elsewhere. If your child at any age is having an extra 20 hours plus a week of private tutoring to get in to a top academically selective school, they are going to struggle at GCSE and perhaps A Level, assuming they’re don’t get thrown out at GCSE . 
And when they get to a leading Russell group,their struggle will be compounded . I remember ,my former supervisor, an ex oxford professor ,telling me that half the people at the unis she worked shouldn’t be there . So Johnny who has been spoon fed and tutored to death , arrives at  Oxbridge ,LSE,Bristol or wherever struggles likes he’ll. I knew of about 8 school friends /acquaintances who were booted out of oxford in their first year, two of whom were kicked out in their first term.


all that aside tutoring your child an extra 4 hours a night is child cruelty surely .if Tarquin can’t relatively speaking breeze his CEE , GCSEs or A Levels, why put him through the agony and torture 

You might get booted out of your Oxford college in the first term for being norty but not for not being good enough.

Yeah but apocryphal stories aside, no 6 yr old is actually doing 4 hours of tutoring on a school day. Although I wouldn't be completely surprised if there are some demented parents attempting it.

Lucas did really well today. He managed almost an hour and a half before he burst into tears and started stabbing himself in the arm with a pencil and finally passing out on top of his times tables. So that'll be 4 hours at £85 per hour plus VAT, please. Plus 59p for the pencil.


Girls schools like Guildford High and LEH certainly take plenty from st8 at 11, but you'd need to be top of the class at a decent st8 to make it.

Common Entrance to all but the top boys schools isn't hard but you'd still need a few years in a prep beforehand.

Ziffer and Wilfred are probably talking about a micro bubble of central london preps for the one percenters that have plenty of foreign nutters driving the standards up to silly levels.

Yes I am, the thread began by talking about St Paul’s so presumably that’s the point. 

Though a few others in the London outer sphere are pretty much the same eg Kings. 

I narrowly missed a scholarship to one of those schools off 3 years of prep school having been at a very low level private school beforehand. No tutoring that I can recall but the prep school was utterly brutal tbf and people got shelled out frequently. My children will not be going through that.

It's dreadful and must mentally **** up kids to put them through tuition and cramming just to get good  grades even at age 6 to 8 so that they can get into a top Public School 7 years hence, then Russell Group or Oxbridge.

The professional are very competitive, especially at entry level, but it is a sad state of affairs. Good grades don't guarantee good future lawyers.

3 A levels should be enough, regardless of grades to take an LLB. The first year exams would cull half of the initial intake. The final pass rate would be 40 percent at Y3. The best filtering system is at University, not when kids should instead be learning the piano or the rising trot.

Absolutely down with learning an instrument, preferably piano plus another, team sport, horsiness, chess etc

Rote academic exam learning = jack a dull boy (to butcher a phrase)

@ wilfred KCS wimbledon is a very small school, and only admits academically the creme de la creme. As far as I am aware no music, or sports scholarships absent not being quite good enough to get academically.


However for pushy parents, either those from the UK, or overseas it just lacks the cache , for boasting purposes. Few if any overseas students. For these ultra pushy parents its all about boasting about their kid going to a school internationally recognised, KCS wimbledon is a minor public school, for locals in the main, but with a standout reputation for "normal" kids from a variety of backgrounds.

Compare and contrast with Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Radley , Westminister, Dulwich,etc, etc. I still don't know why parents put their kids through this, poor buggers.

I know a compliance officer who went to KCS. 'Nuff sed.

ebit - see my earlier post about Kings Wimbledon. They don't (currently) take kids from outside the UK/EU, so this explains the fewer foreign students.

In the 2019 league tables, Kings Wimbledon was the top ranked boys' school in the country, but I agree there is a snobbishness. I asked one (ethnically Singaporean) mother of kid at my son's school, who had basically just implied that there were only 3 schools worth considering (St Pauls, Westminster or Eton if you didn't get into one of the first 2), why she wasn't considering KCSW and she said "oh but St Pauls turns out much more rounded boys". Heh ok crazy lady.

It's gr8 this. Who needs mumsnet?

Education masks true intelligence. Eventually the employment market will demand each of us to occupy the role we’re suited to. Solicitors are hyper educated and tireless grafters but very few are truly bright. Fewer still are thick as mince but even those few get through. Clients can tell the difference. Grafters in transactional environments are preferred to intellects and innovators. They just get on with it without grandstanding. On the contrary, grafters are next to useless in advisory roles. They rack up costs but cannot deliver. 

Law firms recruit on the strength of academics; clients instruct on the strength of perceived competence. The net effect is the bewildering combination of knackered lawyers and frustrated clients. 

Any employer or educational establishment that relies solely on academic attainment is failing the employee/pupil and the end user (employer/client). 

I went to a boarding school in the mid 90s. Education was part of the school’s role, but not the reason for it. I hire solicitors now with stellar academics who are absolutely clueless. They are no less intelligent than me. They have been utterly let down by a system which values grades above all else. 

Private education is no longer worth the cost. The child does not receive the wider education and the jobs market does not, rightly, consider they are hiring an employee with embedded qualities. Grades are an utter irrelevance. Personally I’d anonymise CVs, remove the educational summary and ask all applicants to take an IQ and critical reasoning test - and then take them to the pub. After 3 pints the decision will make itself. 

"I hire solicitors now with stellar academics who are absolutely clueless"

this seems somewhat remiss of you 

It would be remiss if there was an alternative. Junior solicitors are, in the main, over taught, under confident, obstinate, fearful yet cripplingly proud. They’ve got the grades alright but they’re terrified to think for themselves.