Education: In a league of their own - or selective on the sly?

The 10 state comprehensives to come top in the GCSE and

A-level league tables published

on Tuesday have every reason

to bask in the glow of

well-earned success. But just how comprehensive are they?

Judith Judd and Lucy Ward report.

What is a comprehensive school? An analysis of the schools which come top suggests that the answer is complicated.

Teachers criticise the tables because they pit independent and state selective schools against comprehensives which, in theory, take pupils of all abilities. In practice, high-flying schools classified as comprehensives by the Government in its performance tables are often scarcely comparable with those which do badly.

Most of the schools in the top 10 comprehensives identified by this week's exam league tables have some form of selection procedure. None has as a first criterion for admission for all pupils the proximity of a child's home to the school.

The list includes two state boarding schools, three schools which chose many of the pupils in this year's GCSE cohort on the basis of parental letters stating their child's case for admission, two county schools which used interviews, a city technology college which tests applicants to ensure that it has pupils of all abilities, a Roman Catholic girls' school which interviews to assess families' religious commitment, and a school which now selects all pupils by interview but says it was comprehensive at the time this year's GCSE students were admitted.

To add to the confusion, the policy of five schools has changed in recent years in favour of increased formal selection.

The Coopers and Coborn Company School in Upminster continues to interview pupils to assess suitability for its particularly wide range of extra- curricular activities. They are looking for pupils who expect to do more than school hours.

Dr Davina Lloyd, the head, says: "We have a very distinctive ethos. We are looking for children who can best fit into the sort of school we are."

Since 1993 when the school went grant-maintained, pupils have also done tests in English and maths which count for 30 per cent of the assessment. "You can fail the test and you would still get in. This is not a grammar school by any stretch of the imagination," says Dr Lloyd.

Four of the schools in the top 10 list are in Hertfordshire, and, though three have now become grant-maintained, all were under county control at the time the latest GCSE cohort were admitted. The local authority's seven-stage admissions policy, still used by St Albans Girls' School, allows schools to select a significant proportion of pupils on the basis of a suitable match with a child's educational and other interests, expressed in a letter from parents.

The policy prompted protests earlier this year from some parents concerned that the system favoured middle-class parents able to fight for their children's interests.

Helen Hyde of heavily over-subscribed Watford Girls' Grammar School in Hertfordshire, which became partially selective two years ago and now sets admissions tests, takes issue with the labelling of schools as comprehensive or grammar.

Asked whether the school was fully comprehensive before introducing selection, she said: "That is not my label. This is Watford Grammar School for Girls and it has always been a traditionally academic girls' school." She points out that the vast majority of girls live locally.

Watford Grammar School for Boys chose pupils by interview until 1994 when the governors decided that it would be fairer to introduce official selection tests.

Hertfordshire and Essex High, which now selects 15 per cent of pupils according to aptitude for sport, drama and music, was not selective but operated under the Hertfordshire local education authority policy of parental letters.

The two mainly boarding schools on the top 10 list, Old Swinford Hospital in Stourbridge and Sexey's School in Bruton, Somerset, both insist that they are fully comprehensive and interview pupils simply to assess suitability for boarding, while Coloma Convent Girls' School in Croydon chooses pupils primarily according to church commitment "without reference to ability or aptitude".

Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Penrith now selects all its pupils using interviews, but at the time of entry of the latest GCSE cohort it was comprehensive, and followed Cumbria County Council's admissions criteria.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel College, in Gateshead, is different again. Like all City Technology Colleges, it is required by its funding agreement to use selection methods in order to admit pupils right across the ability range. Critics have suggested CTCs, founded by the Conservatives to boost achievement in inner city areas, manipulate the system to attract brighter pupils, a charge which is denied by Emmanuel principal John Burn.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teaching Assistant required in ...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam