Saturday, 31 January 2015

Government league tables a nonsense as independent schools stick to quality

The Paddock at King's
The results of thousands of pupils sitting IGCSE examinations last summer have not been counted in this year’s Department for Education (DfE) performance tables rendering the tables published on Thursday 29th January meaningless. 

The majority of independent schools choose rigorous IGCSE courses as they provide more stretch for pupils and give an excellent basis for A level study.  At King’s, our Upper Fifth (Year 11) pupils study IGCSEs in Mathematics, English, the Sciences, Music and Modern Foreign Languages.  This means that at least 5 - and as many as 9 - of their qualifications are now not counted by the DfE in their latest tables.  King’s, together with many other independent schools, therefore appears in the league tables as having 0% of pupils passing at least 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths.  I notice that we are also shown to have pupils taking an average of just under 4 GCSEs each although the actual total of GCSEs and IGCSEs taken is 9 or 10.  In their data on A Level, the DfE does not even have the right data set for King's despite my Deputy Head, Academic informing them on several occasions of their error meaning that our performance at A Level has also been shown as lower than in reality.  

Having said that, under the incorrect data King's would have placed 20th out of the 37 Grammar schools in Kent and Medway.  Using the accurate data, King's would place 10th compared to the Grammar schools.  Considering that every Grammar school is more academically selective than King's this demonstrates a very impressive performance from our pupils and their teachers.

The Education Secretary's response has been to claim that IGCSEs are somehow of a lower quality than new GCSEs which the government wants all pupils to take.  This is ludicrous when balanced against the fact that independent schools regularly outperform the maintained sector in public exams and progression to universities.  Independent schools are also largely responsible for keeping vital and rigorous subjects such as the sciences, mathematics and languages going at A Level as they decline rapidly elsewhere.  The continued failure to engage with the independent sector on areas such as A Level and GCSE reform alongside such ridiculous mis-reporting in this year's performance tables can only serve to damage education in this country with potential knock-on effects to the economy.

It would seem that to record 0% in this year's tables is a badge of integrity and demonstrates that, as an independent school, we will continue to exercise our freedom to do what is right to ensure our pupils receive the best quality education available.

This has received widespread coverage in the media (click here for reports in The Daily Telegraph and on the BBC website).  HMC (the Association to which King’s and 270 of the UK’s top independent schools belong) has issued a statement on behalf of its members saying that “the decision to drop IGCSEs from the league tables over the next 2 years means that those tables have become a nonsense” and that “Several of the UK’s most highly performing independent schools………offering this excellent qualification will now appear to be bottom of the class in the Government’s rankings”. The statement continues, “This obviously absurd situation creates further confusion for parents as they cannot compare schools’ performance accurately and transparently”.  ASCL (The Association of School and College Leaders), has issued a similar statement stating that their members have now deemed “GCSE performance tables ‘irrelevant’”.