Private schools 'being turned into exam factories'

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The Independent Online

Leading independent schools are being turned into “exam factories” by the twin pressures of parental and university demands, said a report published yesterday.

They are being forced to cut down on sport and school expeditions and trips as a result.

The findings emerge in a study of the school curriculum for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 of the country’s leading traditionally boys’ only private schools.

Its author Ken Spours, from London University’s Institute of Education, said the squeeze on the timetable was being felt in the run-up to GCSEs as well as A-levels, adding: “You need seven A* grades (at GCSE) just to make the cut at Birmingham University.”

More than half the schools surveyed were offering alternatives to GCSEs and A-levels – such as the Internal Baccalaureate and the International GCSE (built along the lines of O-levels with more emphasis on end-of-term exams rather than coursework),. More were planning to follow suit.

Heads felt a switch away from constant coursework could give them time to develop extra curricular activities.

However, the report concluded: “Despite the desire to pursue broad educational aims and purposes, participants (teachers at independent schools) felt under considerable pressure from parents and students to deliver the best possible examination results in a competitive market.

“They perceived that this was exacerbated by the actions of the ‘top (most selective) universities’, who not only demand high grades at A-level but also use GCSE A* grades as selection tools for certain courses, such as medicine, dentistry and law.”