Girls schools dominate A-level table in independent sector

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Girls' schools almost swept the board in A-level results for independent schools published yesterday.

Eight out of the 10 top-performing schools were girls' only, with King Edward's School in Birmingham and Westminster being the only boys' schools to squeeze into the top 10.

The top-performing school was King Edward VI High School for Girls, also in Birmingham, where the 78 girls sitting A-levels managed a point score of 517.8 per pupil. That is the equivalent of more than four A-grade passes for every pupil.

The school, which has fees of £7,300 a year and has 540 girls aged between 11 and 18, prides itself on the balance and breadth of its curriculum - with girls being encouraged to pursue subjects as long as possible before specialising to give themselves maximum career options.

It was founded in 1883 and was a direct grant school before their status was abolished by Labour.

But an overall performance table combining independent and state schools shows that two non-fee- paying grammar schools have outperformed all the independent schools.

Top of the performance table is Colyton Grammar School in East Devon, which achieved a point score of 529 per pupil.

The school, which achieved the same feat last year in outperforming all the independent schools, dates back to the reign of Henry VIII - and takes a wider range of abilities than many of the country's 164 remaining grammar schools.

About 40 per cent of its intake are of just above average ability. It is the only grammar school for 50 miles and takes in boys and girls from a wide area of east Devon, west Dorset and parts of Somerset.

Colyton also has a policy of encouraging breadth into the sixth form with all sixth-formers taking four A-levels including general studies.

The second state grammar school to beat all the independents was Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex, with a point score of 522.

The march of the girls' schools in the independent sector mirrored the overall A-level results published last week. Overall, they were 1.6 per cent ahead of boys in a pass rate of 97 per cent. However, the gap had been narrowed with their overall performance going up by 0.2 per cent compared with 0.5 per cent for the boys.

This year's results showed that almost half of the independent school candidates were awarded A-grade passes this year - 46 per cent, compared with 43.4 per cent in 2004.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) warned that this would lead to a growing number of universities setting their own tests for would-be students, as A-levels failed to distinguish the brightest talent. Jonathan Shephard, ISC general secretary, described the level of achievement this year as "astonishingly high".

However, he added: "Leading universities do experience real difficulty in identifying the very best candidates. With relatively minor reform, A-levels can be made to do the job."

He said that independent schools welcomed government moves to set more challenging questions in A-levels - and backed the idea of a new A+ and A++ grade, as advocated by the former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson in his inquiry into exam reform but jettisoned by ministers.

Stephen Spurr, headmaster of Westminster School, also backed an overhaul of A-levels to make the examinations harder. "The future of the country depends on us teaching students to think," he said.

The top performers

King Edward VI for Girls Birmingham 78 517.8 pts

St Swithun's School Winchester 59 515.3

Withington Girls' School Manchester 67 512.7

Downe House Thatcham 73 497.3

King Edward's School Birmingham 121 490.7

Wycombe Abbey School High Wycombe 81 488.8

Westminster School London 172 484.4

Casterton School Kirkby Lonsdale 39 481.0

Lady Eleanor Holles London 94 480.9

Perse School for Girls Cambridge 41 477.8

Nottingham HS for Girls Nottingham 119 476.4

Tormead School Guildford 42 475.0

Merchant Taylors' School Northwood 123 470.8

Leicester HS for Girls Leicester 22 469.1

Loughborough Loughborough 83 468.6

Alleyn's School London 137 467.2

Hampton School Hampton 135 463.9

Sevenoaks Sevenoaks 215 463.1

Bootham School York 56 461.6

St Catherine's School Guildford 68 460.3

Table based on statistics supplied by the Independent Schools Council. Point score is based on 120 for an A grade, 100 for a B, 80 for a C, 60 for a D, 40 for an E. *=School does International Baccalaureate and supplied its own data.