Richard Garner: Do new tables tell us more?

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The Independent Online

By all accounts these are the most sophisticated league tables ever produced. The trouble is they are in danger of becoming too sophisticated for the average parent (and education editor!) to understand.

By all accounts these are the most sophisticated league tables ever produced. The trouble is they are in danger of becoming too sophisticated for the average parent (and education editor!) to understand.

Let's start with the positives. For the first time, every school is given a "value-added" measure showing how much it has done to improve its pupils' performance from the age of 11 until they take their GCSEs.

In the past, ministers produced two separate measures - one showing how well each school had done with pupils between the ages of 11 and 14, and the other showing what they had achieved in the two years running up to GCSE.

These always confused the public: grammar schools usually topped the first table, but comprehensive schools traditionally did better in the second. The end result was that no one, least of all parents, was sure which system did the best.

This year's value added table showing the progress of pupils from 11 to GCSE level fails to end the argument. The top ten positions are taken by comprehensive schools - the top school is a Muslim girls' school in Bradford, followed by a mixed Sikh school in Hillingdon, west London. However, there are 38 grammar schools in the top 100, which is also impressive when you consider that fewer than five per cent of all state secondary schools are selective. The table comes up with a new way of awarding points to schools to rank the overall achievements of all GCSE-age pupils. Young people getting an intermediate GNVQ are entitled to 80 per cent of the maximum score, as opposed to the 20 per cent given for an A* to C grade pass at GCSE. This ensures that every qualification a pupil is awarded is worth something. The top two state schools in this league table are Thomas Telford, the award-winning City Technology College in Telford, and Brooke Weston, another CTC in Corby, Northamptonshire. The leading grammar school, Chelmsford High School for Girls, comes third.

The new system, though, is one in the eye for those who believe we should be concentrating on the core subjects of English and maths rather than boosting the profile of vocational qualifications.

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