Dozens of public schools to pull out of league tables

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Up to 40 of the country's top fee-paying schools will pull out of A-level league tables to be published by the independent sector later this week.

Up to 40 of the country's top fee-paying schools will pull out of A-level league tables to be published by the independent sector later this week.

Twelve have already told the Independent Schools Council's information service they will not be submitting their results for publication.

Thirty others have failed to declare what they will be doing. The results of slightly more than 500 schools are usually included in the league tables.

A decision to make participation in the tables voluntary was taken earlier in the year at a private policy-making meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents independent schools such as Eton and Harrow. The main reason was a lack of confidence in the reliability of exam boards' marking.

The independent schools' league tables will be published on Friday on the basis of provisional results given out last week – before the results of any appeals against grades are known – by the Joint Council for General Qualifications, the umbrella body representing the exam boards.

Geoff Lucas, the secretary of the conference, said heads' concerns over the quality of marking had been growing in the past two years.

Since the 12 made their decision, controversy over marking standards has resurfaced.

On the day that this year's A-level results were announced, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, said it was investigating why the country's biggest exam board, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, had failed to mark the scripts of 2,000 candidates. Most of the unmarked work is understood to have been part of the authority's English exam and all the candidates have been given estimated grades.

The school that led the concern over marking standards is King's School, Canterbury, a £15,000-a-year boarding school in Kent. Its exam results were affected when 66 A-level results were not included in the Government's exam league tables two years ago – reducing its point score in A-level tables by four and putting it behind the local secondary modern school.

Originally, Eton was said to have been one of the schools that led opposition to the league tables but it is not one of the 12.

Meanwhile, a dispute broke out yesterday over universities offering places to state school pupils from deprived areas with lower A-grades.

Damian Green, the Conservative education spokesman, said: "Underhand discrimination against individual pupils is unfair and undermines confidence in the whole exam system."

The practice, pioneered by Nottingham and Bristol universities but growing, has angered independent schools, which claim it places an obstacle in the way of their pupils trying to secure places at coveted universities.

Bristol says research shows pupils from disadvantaged areas with lower A-level grades often get higher degree passes than those with higher grades from more affluent homes.

Universities are under pressure to recruit more children from deprived backgrounds as part of the Government's drive to widen participation and encourage 50 per cent of pupils into higher education by the end of the decade.

Youngsters who fail their A-levels are still being offered university places because some of the newer universities, struggling to fill their courses, are recruiting students who have only AS-level passes.