Why Schools are withdrawing
Advice for parents
How the exams are graded
Most league tables are currently based on GCSE (16+) and A level (18+):
- GCSEs are graded from A* to G. A to C grades are generally recognised as good passes, equivalent to former O levels;
- A level are graded from A to E.
(There is also an unclassified grade below the bottom grade in each exam.)
GCSE grades (and the AS levels which follow a year later) can be an important guide to university admissions tutors of a candidate’s prospects at A level and beyond.
A level grades usually form the basis of the conditional offer which a university makes to a candidate. Some universities make offers based on specific subject grades, others on an overall points score.
How the league tables are drawn up
GCSE and A level results come out in August each year. Independent schools can provide information through a central information-gathering agency to newspapers – which publish them in league table form. Different newspapers draw up tables in different statistical ways:
At A level
Some use the percentage of a school’s A level entries which achieve either A or B grades;
Some tables use the total points score per candidate, and many include general studies, which is worthless as a qualifier for university;
Some look at the average points per subject;
- Each A level scores between 120 points (A grade) and 40 points (E grade);
- Each AS level scores between 60 points (A grade) and 20 points (E grade).
The International Baccalaureate (IB), which is taken by about 0.25% of candidates in the UK, has a points equivalent that is adjusted from year to year.
A school’s position in the tables can vary significantly, depending on which method is used.
- Some papers look at points per entry;
- Some use the percentage of candidates in each school achieving a certain number of passes at grades A to C;
- Some use the percentage of subject entries awarded A* to A grades;
- Some use a total points score per pupil, taking all subjects together.
The Government also produces what it describes as Performance Tables, usually later in the autumn. These are expressed in a different way, and they include comparative information about such issues as absence levels and special educational needs. They are published on a county-by-county basis, but normally without giving a rank-order list of schools.
Why schools believe league tables give an inaccurate and incomplete picture of educational excellence and an increasing number of the top schools are withdrawing
Many schools in both the independent and maintained sectors have reservations about league tables because:
- Tables give only a limited view of the school’s performance. The breadth of activities and opportunities beyond the academic curriculum are excluded – as are such things as the quality of pastoral care and careers advice, extra curricular opportunities and schemes which enhance personal, social and spiritual development;
- Tables based (as current ones are) only on exam results take no account of the value added by good teaching; good results may in some cases result largely from a very able total intake of pupils. Tables do not compare like with like;
They tend to be distorted by the extent to which a school selects its pupils, and by the results of a small number of pupils at the less “academic” end of the spectrum. Most schools have a sizeable number of clever pupils, but some have a much broader academic spectrum of ability than others. In many schools there are pupils contributing significantly in ways other than purely academic ones – and often there are a few who are underachieving because of family, personal or other pressures in their lives at the time when they are taking public exams;
Tables produced rapidly after results are published will not take into account those which change later as the result of clerical checks, remarks and appeals;
Schools with very high academic standards which choose to take fewer GCSEs and to move straight through to AS and A2 level are penalised.
Many schools force pupils to take an unnecessary number of AS and A2 levels to boost a school’s total points score.
League tables encourage schools to “play safe” where the curriculum is concerned. They create a temptation to schools to:
- Adopt a narrow style of teaching (even cramming) to “teach to the test” – rigid instruction purely to achieve high exam results, rather than encouraging the development of intellectual curiosity or wider practical skills;
- Cut down the number of exams taken;
- Reduce the extra-curricular provision in such areas as games, music and drama;
- Pressurise staff and pupils into focusing exclusively on academic matters, with pastoral and wider provision being reduced as a result.
There is even a temptation (which the great majority of schools resist) to try to manipulate results. This can be done in a number of ways, for example:
- Persuading weaker candidates to drop weaker subjects before the exams, or even to leave a school before the end of a course;
- Entering weaker pupils as private candidates rather than as school ones (and thus avoiding their results being counted in the tables).
Schools which maintain their commitment to a broad, balanced education can find themselves penalised by league tables.