Secondary school tables: Outbreak infects schools' positions

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The Independent Online

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has left its mark on this year's school league tables after 89 schools and colleges complained that the epidemic had a catastrophic effect on their national test, GCSE and A-level results.

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has left its mark on this year's school league tables after 89 schools and colleges complained that the epidemic had a catastrophic effect on their national test, GCSE and A-level results.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has accepted that many pupils in rural areas such as Cumbria and Devon – which were badly affected by the disease – may not have done themselves justice in their exams. The affected schools appear in the league tables, but they are marked as having been affected by the disease. The outbreak forced some schools to close and many more to cancel or disrupt field trips.

Another change is that the results of A-level and advanced vocational exams are combined for the first time. Ministers believe the change is needed to achieve parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications. Further education colleges, which enter students for greater numbers of vocational courses than schools or sixth-form colleges, complained that separate rankingsencouraged the public to look at A-level results alone and conclude that colleges were performing badly.

This year's tables show the results of sixth-formers who took the last set of old-style A-levels and Advanced GNVQs this summer. The results of the new-look AS, A and vocational A-levels will not appear in the tables until next year.

But in preparation for judging schools' success at the new exams in 2002, the tables have changed the way they judge sixth-formers' achievements – making comparisons with previous years impossible. The tables now give credit for all A-level, GNVQ and old-style AS exams achieved at any point of students' two years in the sixth form, rather than just those that were sat in their final summer. This approach will be particularly appropriate for the new-style A/AS exams, which encourage students to sit modular exams throughout their courses.

The long-awaited "value added" tables came a step closer today with the publication of a pilot of 200 schools. The value-added tables aim to measure how much a school boosts pupils' results, compared to their level of attainment when they joined the school.The pilot judges secondary schools according to improvement in pupils' results from the age of 11 to 14 and from 14 to 16. A national version of the pilot survey is planned for next year.

In another change, schools are no longer penalised for pupils who were expelled in the run-up to their GCSEs. Headteachers had protested that last year's tables penalised them by counting expelled pupils towards their exam results, but recording their achievements as zero because they had sat no exams at the school.This year's rankings have removed these students from the results of the schools that expelled them.

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