Some GCSE and A-level exam candidates in the independent sector returned to school in September further ahead in their courses because of the “intensity of online learning”, the chair of the Girls’ Schools Association has said.

Jane Prescott, the head of Portsmouth High School, said that her year 11 and 13 students coming back for their exam year this autumn were more advanced than expected because lessons had gone online during lockdown.

In a video interview with Independent School Management Plus she said this had only been possible because greater resources were available to independent schools to facilitate live lessons in a reliable way.

Her comments come as debate rages around access to technology in the state sector, and the large discrepancies between schools in how much good quality online teaching they have been able to provide during the crisis.

A tutoring scheme to help pupils who missed out in the summer term has been criticised for providing “too little, too late.”

There is also fierce discussion over how to make the 2021 exams as fair as possible, given that some pupils have missed far more school than others.

Ms Prescott said that greater resources in the independent sector had allowed schools to “adapt and change” more readily and provide live lessons at home as well as regular phone calls home.

“Certainly my exam years that came back this September, the year 11s and 13s, were further ahead than they normally are just because of the intensity of online learning," she said.

She said that school leaders in the independent sector may also have found it easier to get staff “on side” during the crisis, because they all knew that the survival of the school depended on it.

“Our staff are willing and able because they understand that they are in a market and that they must respond if the school is to survive.

“Whereas in other establishments it’s not so easy to get everybody on board for that common aim.”

She said she was pleased too that independent schools were able to keep their extra curricular activities going, despite state schools putting them on hold.

These advantages of the independent sector, she stressed, came from the simple fact schools there are better resourced.

“I think what it has shown is that more resourcing needs to go into the maintained sector in order for them to be able to deliver what the independent sector can do.

“That should be a lesson to those who make the decisions about resources and financing in our maintained sector colleagues’ schools.”

She added that the lockdown had resulted in some savings for independent schools – most notably in hospitality spending  - that could potentially be passed on to parents in the form of lower fees or fee assistance.