Schools are teaching to the test during GCSE years rather than concentrating on improving their pupils' subject knowledge, a headteachers' leader warned today.
Kathryn James, director of policy at the National Association of Head Teachers, hit out at the "illogical situation" whereby schools are under pressure to improve their GCSE results at the same time as exams regulatory Ofqual is charged with the duty of ensuring the overall pass rates remain steady.
"The pressures within the system are distorting the ability of schools to stay focussed on teaching to the subject rather than test," she added.
"We have the illogical situation where every school is under pressure to increase results every year while the regulator is under pressure to hold results steady. This is not a sustainable situation."
Ministers have increased the minimum target for schools from 35 per cent of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes including maths and English to 40 per cent this year.
At the same time Ofqual is conducting a policy of "comparative outcomes" - insisting that exam boards should be working towards ensuring results are "broadly" the same as in the previous year.
Meanwhile, headteachers have warned pupils not to switch their chosen A-level options just because of a poor showing in the subject at GCSE.
"GCSE results don't always reflect students' potential in a subject," said Jane Gandee, head of St Swithun's School in Winchester and a member of the Girls' School Association. "Teachers' knowledge of their work over two years and their assessment of individual potential tends to be more reliable than public exam results.
"It is particularly important to stick with subjects that you enjoy rather than changing to one in which you achieved a higher grade but which you didn't really enjoy. I have seen numerous examples of this over the years and it never works because students simply don't apply themselves if they are not engaged."