Independent schools divided over A-levels

Headteachers condemn boycott of exam as league table is published

The publication of the independent sector's own A-level performance tables was met with mudslinging as leading headteachers attacked colleagues who have boycotted the league.

Today's table, shows that students at independent schools received twice as many A-grades as their counterparts in the state sector this summer. Some 52.3 per cent of all entries from independent schools gained an A-grade pass, up from 50.7 per cent last year. The national average this year was 26.7 per cent. On the overall pass rate, the independent sector scored 99.4 per cent, compared with a national average of 97.5 per cent.

But around 70 leading schools – including Eton, Winchester, St Paul's and Perse School for Girls in Cambridge, one of the top performing girls' schools in the country – have refused to take part in their sector's exam league tables.

Cynthia Hall, headmistress of Wycombe Abbey school in Buckinghamshire, which topped the table, led a staunch defence of A-levels and insisted that the exam was still demanding.

Mrs Hall, whose school had a point score of 497 – the equivalent of at least four A-grade passes for every pupil – added: "A-levels are still an appropriate challenge."

However, she acknowledged that students today had "much more information about what is expected of them", adding: "There is much more transparent information from exam boards, you can get sample work information about how examiners are marking."

Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton College, launched an attack on those heads in the independent sector who were ditching A-levels for alternatives such as the new Pre-U, which is along the lines of traditional A-levels but without coursework, and the International Baccalaureate. "A-levels have a currency in the workplace that other exams simply don't have," he said.

"It is the role of responsible independent schools to work to improve our national exam system, not abandon it for alternatives that either fail to insist upon a proper understanding of our own nation's literary or historical hinterland as the IB does, or, like the Pre-U, hark back to a golden age that never was."

He added: "A-levels are imperfect but so too is the IB and the Pre-U. If independent heads really cared about our nation's education, they would not abandon the A-level for flawed and faddish alternatives. Working well, the A-level is a world-beater."

Mr Cairns said of those boycotting the publication: "It is patronising to suggest that parents are confused by league tables and therefore they should not exist. Fee-paying parents have the right to know what results our pupils achieve. Good schools should have nothing to hide."

Those boycotting the tables say they do not give an accurate picture of what they offer, particularly now that sixth-formers are offered more alternatives to A-levels. Perse School for Girls, which is boycotting the tables for the first time this year, claimed the results were a "flawed beauty parade".

The improved grades are being seized on by leaders in the independent sector to mount a defence against threats such as the possible loss of charitable status for those not deemed to be fulfilling a "public good".

David Lyscom, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: "These results, in particular the increasing levels of achievement in crucial subjects such as maths, science and languages, further underline the wider benefits generated by independent schools for the public and society, and notably the huge positive contribution they make to the UK's future economic success."

Separately, independent schools that offer their pupils the IB are publishing their own results. King's College, Wimbledon, tops the table with a point score of 625 – well above that of any school just offering A-levels. In the results table for state schools, which was published last week, Hockerill Anglo-European College in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, which offers its pupils the IB, came top in the non- selective section.

Exams: A testing subject for schools

*Controversy over the independent school league tables has pitted headteachers against each other. Richard Cairns, the head of Brighton College, is the most vocal critic of those who have decided not to submit their school's results for publication. He believes strongly that parents are entitled to the information.

Martin Stephen, the high master of St Paul's boys' school in London, is one of the fiercest critics of the tables, believing they do not give parents a clue about what schools are offering.

The controversy over the separate Government league tables – to which independent schools do have to submit their results – is just as fierce. These tables do not include the results from exams such as the IGCSE (International GCSE), which many independent heads favour because it is based on the traditional O-level (without coursework).

As a result, Winchester, one of the leading fee-paying schools in the country but which does not offer the GCSE, comes bottom.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'