League tables expose educational divide

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The Independent Online
OFFICIAL league tables of sixth forms, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges in England are published for the first time today, revealing wide gaps between different institutions in both performance and aims.

While school sixth forms and sixth-form colleges achieve the highest grades at A-level, further education colleges have a much wider range of courses on offer.

Among the top sixth-form colleges was Hills Road in Cambridge, where students gained an average of 21.4 A-level points on a scale which awards 10 points for an A and two points for an E. Others included Woodhouse College in London with an average of 19.2 points, Colchester in Essex with 17.2, and Solihull with 15.3.

The highest-achieving independent school sixth form was at King Edward's School, Birmingham, where pupils gained an average of 37.4 points. The top state grammar school was Chelmsford High School for Girls, Essex, with an average of 30 points, and the top comprehensive was Gryphon School in Dorset, with 23.2.

More than 230 schools and colleges achieved a 100 pass rate for Btec and City and Guilds vocational qualifications. The biggest of them was Bilston Community College, Wolverhampton, which had 315 entrants last year.

School sixth forms were accused of elitism last night by the Bilston College principal, Keith Wymer, who said they liked to keep the most academic pupils and direct the rest to further education colleges.

'The majority of school sixth forms are still elitist. They are creaming off the best students and therefore dominate league tables.' Sixth-form colleges, which have traditionally concentrated more heavily on A-level than the FE colleges, were critical of both the league tables and the A-level system. Most have already begun offering vocational courses alongside the academic 'gold standard'. Last night the principal of Solihull Sixth Form College, one of the biggest in the country, said she would like to see A-levels abolished.

Diana Lord said that next week the college's staff would meet to discuss the introduction of GNVQs, promoted by the government as the vocational equivalent of A-levels.

She said some students at the college were taking A-levels even though they were not really suited to the exam.

In last week's league tables, wrong information was given by the Department for Education for Shaw House School in Bradford, where 60 per cent of pupils gained five or more A-C grades at GCSE and where 100 per cent gained five or more grades A-G.

Radical A-level reform is needed to allow pupils to study both science and a modern foreign language in the sixth-form, Joan Jefferson, president of the Girls' Schools Association and head of St Swithun's School, Winchester, told the association's annual conference in Stratford-on-Avon.

(Table omitted)