League tables do not tell all

Recently the Government released its figures of results achieved by schools at GCSE and A-level in the annual league tables.

Friday, 5th February 2016, 8:00 am

As Longridge Towers is an independent school, we are fortunate to be able to have freedom over our curriculum and to select the courses our students take. This does have the effect of producing anomalies in the Government tables.

We were reported to have 57 per cent of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at Grade C and above, (Berwick Advertiser, January 28).

This did not take into consideration any science results as all pupils took IGCSE (International GCSE) exams in all three sciences and these results are not taken into consideration. If the results of these exams are included, the figure jumps to 83 per cent.

Dozens of private schools score zero in a key performance measure as a result of the Government decision to no longer recognise many of the IGCSE exams. Many, including Eton, chose IGCSEs as a “more rigorous” alternative to the conventional qualifications.

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Schools say they offer the IGCSE because it is the best preparation for A-level, and subsequently university – feedback that is echoed by admissions tutors.

My view, and one that is reflected by our curriculum, is that all schools should be allowed to choose between the two qualifications on a “horses for courses” principle. In fact, I can say now that in 2017 our Year 11 pupils will be taking IGCSE in maths and hence, under current measures, it will result in a zero value for achievement in five GCSEs including English and maths.

In reality, the Government’s overhaul of GCSEs in an attempt to toughen up the exams largely reflects what the IGCSE already offered. It seems perverse that the qualifications that helped develop the thinking for the reformed GCSEs should now be excluded from Government statistics.

Currently schools in the maintained sector are undergoing inspections by Ofsted, which are almost entirely data driven and do not always reflect the true nature of the school.

The nature of Ofsted inspections and Government tables forces schools into being prescriptive in their provision of courses to the detriment of some vocational courses. These courses are valuable for the more practically minded students, giving them an opportunity to excel in areas other than academia. The net effect of this will give the practically minded student greater self-esteem and ultimately employability.

A lot could be learned from the current ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) inspection model which is constructive and supports the school by stating what it does well, along with suggestions as to how the school can improve.

In conclusion, I would advise all parents to view any statistics with scepticism and to evaluate how good a school is by seeing how happy the pupils are, how dedicated the staff are, how engaged the pupils are with their learning, and how many opportunities the school provides for pupil development.

A Government notion of ‘one size fits all’ is not the way forward.

Tim Manning

Headmaster

Longridge Towers School