Comprehensives match grammars with average grades of 'C' or better

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The Independent Online

High-performing comprehensive schools and colleges are producing results alongside some of England's best remaining grammar schools, according to The Independent's annual survey of A-level excellence.

High-performing comprehensive schools and colleges are producing results alongside some of England's best remaining grammar schools, according to The Independent's annual survey of A-level excellence.

A new measure showing the average grades achieved for each A-level entry reveals the true performance of some previously overlooked high-achievers.

They show that many comprehensives are gaining average scores of C or better across their A-level entries, the result of across-the-board improvements in teaching and increasing effort by students determined to secure scarce and coveted university places.

Thousands of students gained record A-level results yesterday, which showed a higher-than-ever pass rate for the 250,000 candidates taking exams.

Overall the pass rate was up 0.6 percentage points to 89.1 per cent, the 18th successive rise. Also rising marginally were A grades.

Our snapshot survey of some of the best performing schools at A-level measures both the average number of points scored by each candidate, and the number of points gained for each A-level entry at the school or college. They are not scientific, but are based on the official Government performance tables published last autumn, and give a good guide to the top schools.

The tables are based on the points system developed 30 years ago by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service as a shorthand for A-level achievement. Under the system, A represents 10 points and E scores two points.

The tables show that the top-performing state grammar school was, not surprisingly, Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Barnet, north London, where students averaged 8.6 points for each A-level taken - close to an A-grade apiece.

The top-ranked comprehensive, Watford Grammar School for Girls, scored an average 8.0 points per entry - ie, a B-grade each.

Once again, Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge topped the colleges league, re-asserting its dominance as the best exam factory in the sixth form college world.

The new points per candidate measure overcomes the problems with the more familiar league table rating, which measures how many points each candidate scores across all their exams.

The traditional points-per-candidate measure roughly shows performance on the classic university entrance hurdle of three A-levels.

But many schools complain that the 30-plus points racked up by the highest achievers gives the false impression that students are all getting straight As - when in fact many are simply amassing points by taking four, five or even more subjects.

The fact that some schools also gain points by insisting that all students take general studies - a subject discounted by almost all universities when allocating places - also tends to skew the rankings.

By contrast the new points-per-entry measure shows exactly what grades students achieved, a point of increasing concern to parents and sixth-formers given spiralling demand for places at the leading universities and on popular degree courses.

Watford Grammar School for Girls, founded in 1704 along with the Watford boys' grammar, is not a run-of-the-mill comprehensive, despite its official classification.

Half of the school's 180 places go to pupils who pass maths and verbal reasoning tests, while another percentage of places go to students with special abilities in music.

Hasmonean High comes in second in the comprehensives. The Orthodox Jewish school in north London does not select by academic ability, but does insist on interviews to establish religious credentials.

Hills Road Sixth Form is academically selective, taking the cream of Cambridge's school-leavers.

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