Private schools boycott 'meaningless' league tables

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The Independent Online

Leading independent schools are boycotting A-level and GCSE examination league tables this year, claiming that they have become increasingly "meaningless".

Four schools which have topped the independent schools table in recent years are among nearly 50 that are refusing to supply their examination results. They are Winchester, St Paul's in London, Sevenoaks and world-renowned Eton College.

Representatives of the schools say they have led the boycott because they "have nothing to fear from the tables".

The Independent Schools Council, which represents the majority of fee-paying schools, is to publish A-level results on Saturday. The GCSE results will be published the following weekend.

The school which headed the independent schools' A-level exams league table is to boycott it this year. Sevenoaks, which is one of a handful of schools where all pupils do the International Baccalaureate, topped the A-level table last year. The exam is considered by many university admissions tutors to offer pupils a broader sixth-form curriculum and be more likely to stretch them than A-levels.

Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul's, said the tables did not compare "like with like". They encouraged teachers to "teach to the exam" and therefore ignore independent learning to inflate their position. "The league tables have rather subtly injected a kind of poison into the education system," he added.

The schools will still ensure prospective parents can access their results. Dr Stephen said that – once appeals against grades had been completed – they would be posted on its website in November and included in school literature.

Graham Lacey, deputy head (academic) at Sevenoaks, said the tables would be "misleading" because of the increasing spread of qualifications offered at both GCSE and A-level.

In addition, the early publication date of the independent schools' table meant that it could not take re-marks into account.

"In one subject at GCSE we believe we have had a rogue assessment – which means our results would be considerably less good than they will be in three or four weeks' time when they have been re-marked," he said. "In general, I think they are highly suspect and not comparing like with like. The league table era is on its way out."

The spread of qualifications has led to schools offering A-levels or the IB or a mixture of the two at present. From September, they could also offer the Government's new diplomas or the Cambridge Pre-U. At GCSE level, increasing numbers of schools are offering the International GCSE – which is devised along the lines of the old O-level with no coursework – because they believe that it will stretch their pupils and prepare them better for A-level work.

"The success and influence of league tables up to this point have depended on a largely uniform system of public exams and qualifications," Mr Lacey said. "Cracks are now appearing in that monolithic age."