A division that makes sense

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The Independent Online

The Government is insisting that GCSE results in English and maths are published separately in exam league tables this year. We believe that it is right to focus on English and maths standards in secondary schools.

The Government is insisting that GCSE results in English and maths are published separately in exam league tables this year. We believe that it is right to focus on English and maths standards in secondary schools.

It is taking this action because schools have been able to do well in league tables by putting pupils in for vocational exams such as GNVQs. These pupils have performed well, and, as a result, the schools have done well, too. Yet research obtained by The Independent shows that, in seven out of the 10 most improved schools in the country, more than half the pupils had failed to gain A*- to C- grade passes in either English or maths. The schools had achieved their exalted positions largely by boosting the take-up of GNVQs - which count for the equivalent of four GCSE passes - among pupils. Their pupils had been able to obtain five top-grade GCSE passes - the measure by which schools are mainly held to account - by getting through, say, a GNVQ in information technology and a GCSE in religious studies. These students did not have to perform well in English and maths.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging pupils to take vocational qualifications, but there is something wrong with a system that gives so much more weight to them than traditional academic qualifications. Therefore, we applaud the decision by ministers to pilot the publishing of maths and English results separately this year, with a view to compelling all secondary schools to publish the data the following year.

But there also needs to be a thorough inquiry into the point-score system for GCSEs. Many schools claim, with some justification, that it takes more work to complete a GNVQ course than a GCSE. However, the fact that so many schools are giving top priority to making their pupils study for vocational qualifications at the expense of subjects such as maths and English is proof that something needs to be done to at least even up the point scores.

Meanwhile, the effect of the new measures on the performance tables will be interesting to see. Ministers will, in future, be able to publish a table showing, say, the 100 schools that have made the greatest strides in improving standards in the three Rs. But it could well be that some schools - whose successes have been heralded by the Government - will suddenly be missing from these tables.

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