A-Level Results: Sixth form colleges rise to new peak

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HIGH-PERFORMING sixth form colleges and comprehensive schools are gaining exam qualifications that are nudging alongside some of Britain's top state grammar schools, according to a snapshot survey of A-level results.

Many of the nation's top schools and colleges were celebrating record success as they handed out A-level results to students yesterday.

Britain's best performer was Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex.

The 86 candidates at the all-boys grammar school notched up an average score of 34.3 points - the equivalent of more than three A grades each.

Grammar schools, which benefit from selecting the most academically able pupils, traditionally dominate the top of the A-level league.

But The Independent's annual snapshot survey found that comprehensives and colleges, which rely less on "creaming off" the brightest youngsters, are snapping at their heels.

Hills Road sixth form college in Cambridge, which regularly outperforms some of Britain's most famous public schools, scored an average of 28.7 points for its huge 650-candidate entry, an average score equivalent to AAB at A-level.

The most successful comprehensive school was the Anglo-European School in Essex, where students gained an average 26 points (AAC) taking the continental-style International Baccalaureate (IB).

The top comprehensive for traditional A-levels was Tadcaster Grammar School in North Yorkshire, with an average point score only slightly lower at 25.1.

The Independent's survey is based on a selection of schools and colleges that regularly feature among the top performers, but it serves as a pointer to some of the trends which will be revealed when official school performance tables are published in the autumn.

The question of school and college A-level performance was raised to the top of the political agenda earlier this year, when the Government ordered an intensive crackdown on sixth form standards alongside a wide-ranging consultation on the future of sixth form funding.

Stewart Francis, head of Colchester Royal Grammar, said: "We encourage academic success but we also encourage our pupils to do a lot of other things. We have refined our ways of help them: better monitoring of them and more individual help."

But he said he thought the pressures on students were becoming too intense as competition for university increased.

Mervyn Brooker, head of King Edward V1 Grammar School for Boys in Birmingham, the grammar school that came next to the top, said the school was so successful at A-level because it concentrated its efforts on the sixth form rather than on GCSE or national tests.

"A lot of government initiatives come out these days but we stick to what we are good at. We put a lot of effort to individual tutoring in the sixth form," he said.

He dismissed the idea that the reason for record pass rates was that A-levels were being made easier. "I did chemistry and when I look at today's chemistry papers I can see that they are working at a high level. There is no doubt that the boys at this school are working harder than they did even five years ago."

He queried the move for pupils to take more and more A-levels. "In a state school it is difficult to justify if only because of financial constraints. I am in favour of the moves towards a broader education which the Government is making but what universities want is specialisation and that is what we provide."

The average points score per candidate for the Anglo- European School at Ingatestone in Essex has been calculated according to a formula approved by the Office for Standards in Education.

Bob Reed, the school's head, said that it was clear from recent publicity that politicians and universities recognised the rigour and breadth of the IB. Some students at the school were combining the IB with A-levels.

The IB is an award requiring the compulsory study of native and non-native languages, maths, science and humanities.