Private fee-charging schools promote themselves as market leaders in post-16 education and are increasingly involved in launching new publicly funded sixth form projects such as the London Academy of Excellence and Westminster Harris sixth form. But do they offer value for money? This is surely an important question for whoever is footing the bill, whether fee-paying parents or the state.
The method used in this analysis is very simple. It is based on a crude assumption that A level grades per student are the key output. The income per student is divided by A level points per student to obtain a measure of value for money or “pounds per points”. To keep things simple, only A level points are used.
Newham sixth form college (NewVIc) is used as an example of a publicly-funded sixth form provider simply because I have the data to hand. It is compared to 9 leading London-based fee-charging private sixth forms which offer day (non-boarding) places. Because NewVIc has a comprehensive intake and therefore lower average grades overall, receives substantial additional funding for serving an area of high disadvantage and also attracts inner London weighting, the cost per A level point in other publicly funded sixth form colleges is likely to be even lower than this.
It turns out that every A level point achieved by students at NewVIc costs around £9 whereas the comparable cost in a private sixth form is at least £14 and in some cases above £20.
|2013||Final year A level students||Income per student / year (£)||Points per A level candidate||Cost per A level point (£)|
|Publicly funded sixth form:|
|Newham sixth form college (NewVIc)||414||5,783||636.8||9.08|
|Private fee-charging sixth forms:|
|St.Paul’s boys school||172||20,853||1106.0||18.85|
|City of London boys school||119||13,803||982.9||14.04|
|St.Paul’s girls school||104||21,168||1048.8||20.18|
|City of London girls school||90||14,409||1011.6||14.24|
There may be many reasons people go private but if the idea is “you get what you pay for” they are not getting a particularly good deal. These providers are also highly selective which makes the job of achieving high average grades much easier. Plenty of NewVIc students achieve the high point scores typical of these private providers and many progress to selective universities although our average point score is lower overall. 60 of our students progressed to Russell group universities last year and our top 32 students achieved an average of 1,000 A level points each typical of the selective private sixth forms.
What this initial analysis suggests is that existing public sector sixth forms are highly cost-effective in terms of results achieved and that where these have a good track record, it would be wise to invest in them, particularly where there is a real need for new places.
More work is needed on value for money in post-16 education and to understand the extent to which different types of provider add real value. But the contribution of private sixth forms is unlikely to be very cost-effective.