//How prevalent is Year 12 drop-out from selective schools?

How prevalent is Year 12 drop-out from selective schools?

By |2017-10-23T12:55:24+00:001st September 2017|Admissions, Post-16 provision|

Following the coverage of St. Olave’s school in The Guardian, I revisited the analysis I did on Year 12 retention to examine the prevalence of drop-out from selective schools.

I look at a subset of pupils: those who made it to the end of Year 12 and were entered for at least three AS-Levels in summer 2015 (the final year prior to the phased introduction of reformed AS-Levels).

This means pupils are not included if they took fewer than three AS-levels (including those who were studying for BTECs), or if they drop out during Year 12.

In total, 160,000 pupils are included, of whom 24,000 were at a selective schools.

Overall, 87% went on to complete Year 13: 92% in selective schools and 86% in other schools.

However, this masks some variation, as the chart below shows. Pupils who achieved below CCC were more likely to leave selective schools, particularly those who did not achieve at least three A-E passes. (The numbers of pupils on which this chart is based can be found in the table at the foot of this post.)

So the threshold for continuing to Year 13 tends to be a bit higher in grammar schools than in other schools.

How many of the 13% that left did so voluntarily? How many were persuaded to leave? How many were told to leave? Unfortunately, we do not know from this data. But there do appear to be a number of schools with rather low retention rates among lower attaining pupils, who may well be concerned at the response to the St Olave’s coverage.

I had initially thought that the proposed publication of a “returned and retained” measure [PDF] in performance tables might improve matters.

But in fact it appears that most large schools, both selective and others, would be able to lose a small number of pupils – in whatever fashion – and still achieve a relatively high retention rate.

Number of pupils included in this analysis by AS-level grades achieved

Selective Others
BBB or higher 11,790 28,825
BBC to CCC 5,492 29,548
CCD to CCE 2,991 24,496
CDD to EEE 2,531 27,320
Below EEE 1,206 24,769
All pupils 24,010 134,958

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About the Author:

Dave Thomson is chief statistician at FFT with over fifteen years’ experience working with educational attainment data to raise attainment in local government, higher education and the commercial sector. His current research interests include linking education and workplace datasets to improve estimates of adult attainment and study the impact of education on employment and benefits outcomes.


  1. Tim Francis 2 September, 2017 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    I would attribute the coverage of retention in Year 12 to 13 at St Olave’s School as nothing more than politically correct hype. The Guardian and other liberal-elitist organs have no hesitation in criticsing selective schools whenever they can. As your statistics show, retention into Year 13 is higher in selective schools. The Guardian coverage is highly irresponsible and did not question the validity of actually persuading some Year 12 pupils to abandon A level courses, for which they are destined to achieve modest grades, in order to start afresh on more suitable courses while they still can. I teach in a selective school and there are many who start A level courses who are poorly suited to them. The more relevant criticism concerns allowing such pupils to start A level courses in the first place. Persuading weak A level candidates to leave after Year 12 is usually hugely in their interest in the longer term.

  2. G Olaf 5 September, 2017 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    This comment has been edited by the moderators.

    ” Persuading weak A level candidates to leave after Year 12 is usually hugely in their interest in the longer term”

    … Surely “expulsion” isn’t in [students who get two As and a C’s] “interest”?
    Mostly, these Y12 to Y13 students have to spend the last two weeks of August rushing around, trying to find a place.
    Mostly they have to re-do Y12. Rarely do they find a school with a syllabus close enough to go into Y13.

    A small number of St O’s “rejects” go to the nearby girls’ Grammar – Newstead Wood.
    There, mostly – they get perfectly respectable grades – often at least one A or A*, sometimes more.

  3. Jim 16 November, 2017 at 9:22 am - Reply

    We went fully linear with new Linear A Levels from 2015. Two impacts may be of broader interest. Firstly the % of students completing 2 years and passing compared with numbers starting an AS and then A2 rose sharply. The average increase was around 20% with over 25% in 2 key STEM subjects. Of course many were weaker students who might have previously left after AS but these students now have A Levels instead of AS levels (including in STEM) , have not experienced the ‘failure’ of drop out and I’d argue, public money has been better used.
    The second impact was that , contrary to expectations based on outmoded gender stereotypes, girls still did better than boys.


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