New exam league tables dismissed as worthless

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The Independent Online

New-style exam league tables which give more weight to vocational than academic qualifications were described as absurd today by independent school heads. The tables allow a D grade pass in vocational subjects such as health and beauty or leisure and tourism to gain a school 68 points compared to 58 for an A* pass in maths, English and science.

New-style exam league tables which give more weight to vocational than academic qualifications were described as absurd today by independent school heads. The tables allow a D grade pass in vocational subjects such as health and beauty or leisure and tourism to gain a school 68 points compared to 58 for an A* pass in maths, English and science.

The Independent Schools Council, which represents most private school heads, immediately dismissed them, saying: "They no longer have any value in reporting on meaningful qualifications. The new points score accords equivalent values to qualifications such as cake decoration, pattern-cutting and wired sugar flowers as to GCSEs in maths, English, science and modern languages. This is absurd.

"Not only can these tables not be compared with any previous published data about schools, they no longer tell parents anything valuable about the quality of a school's academic or vocational programme. This is not even a case of trying to compare apples and pears; it is comparing apples with candy floss."

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, called the tables deeply flawed, saying they "created perverse incentives for schools to change their examination entry policy - and even their curriculum - to improve their league table position".

League tables have always given more weight to vocational qualifications; since the mid-1990s they have been worth the equivalent of four GCSE passes. Research obtained by The Independent showed that of England's 10 most-improved schools last year, nine had relied heavily on GNVQ entries to bolster their position. Seven had failed to get even half of their pupils top-grade A* to C grade passes in maths and English.

But today's changes have accentuated the differences, with a maximum 220 points awarded to an intermediate GNVQ distinction pass compared with just 40 for a C grade pass in a traditional academic subject at GCSE.

But a spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, which devised the formula, said: "Recognising the full range of students' achievements is essential if we are to help them develop the skills needed for work and life. The points value for each qualification takes into account the length of time needed for candidates to master the required content and the level of skill and knowledge it demands."

Other changes in the league tables include publishing a "value-added" measure, showing how much schools have improved a pupil's performance between 11 and 16, and a shake-up to the A-level points score system, which will record how well pupils do in literacy, numeracy and communication.

The "value-added" table shows comprehensive schools taking nine of the top 10 places, with England's first state-supported, girls-only Muslim school, Feversham College in Bradford, coming top. But a total of 38 grammar schools are in the top 100.

The A-level changes could suggest how ministers will react to the inquiry into 14-to-19 education by the former chief schools inspector, Sir Mike Tomlinson. The decision to award points for qualifications in key skills could be followed by extra points for the 4,000-word extended essay, designed by Sir Mike to develop thinking skills.

He has said the present GCSE and A-level system should be replaced by a new diploma but Tony Blair has pledged to save the two exams.The points-score system would allow him to save A-levels and ensure some principles of the diploma were recognised by universities. The tables show Colyton grammar school in Devon is the top-performing A-level school, beating all independent ones with a score of 512.6, the equivalent of four grade A passes for every pupil. The top comprehensive is the Coopers' Company and Coborn school in Essex, with a score of 410.3. Overall, the percentage of pupils obtaining five A* to C grade passes at GCSE has increased by 0.8 per cent to 53.7 per cent. The Government's newly designated specialist schools have also improved at a faster rate than non-specialists, with 57.4 per cent getting five top grade passes compared with 48.2 per cent.

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