Top Schools: Hertfordshire school takes top honours - by offering the baccalaureate alternative

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The Independent Online

A school that does not teach A-levels was celebrating yesterday after it ranked top of The Independent's exam tables because of its outstanding results in the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Pupils at Hockerill Anglo European College in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, scored on average the equivalent of more than four "A" grades at A-level, making it the highest achieving comprehensive school.

Dr Robert Guthrie, principal of the college - one of the few state boarding schools in the country - said that it showed that the "A-level is not the gold standard it is set up to be".

Dr Guthrie said he had chosen the baccalaureate over A-levels because of its international outlook and academic rigour, and because it offered "a more coherent education" than A-levels.

He added that the school's results had been outstanding in recent years, but that its success was only now being recognised nationally since the introduction of a new tariff to allow the IB to be compared with A-levels.

"We are delighted... the true worth of the IB diploma is finally being recognised," he said.

IB candidates must study six subjects, including a foreign language, maths and a science, to ensure that students gain a broad range of knowledge. They are also required to write a 4,000-word extended essay, take a course in the theory of knowledge, and fulfil the requirements of a component called "creativity, action and service''.

The IB has been growing in popularity among both state and private schools that have become increasingly disenchanted with A-levels. However, most offer it alongside traditional A-level courses. Hockerill is unusual in that it has never taught A-levels, and the IB is the only qualification on offer since its sixth form was created in 1998.

This summer is the first time that IB results can be accurately compared to A-level grades, as it has only just been included in a new points tariff from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).

The new tariff acknowledges the IB's academic rigour. It makes an IB score of 35 points (out of a maximum of 45) equivalent to four and a half "A" grades at A-level. An "A" grade at A-level is worth 120 points in the Ucas system; a B scores 100, and so on down to an E, worth 40 points.

Each pupil at Hockerill scored an average of 496 Ucas points, according to the new tariff. Two students achieved the maximum IB score of 45 - out of only 72 in the world this year.

Hockerill is also unusual in that history and geography is taught to pupils in French or German from the age of 12, with lessons only switching back to English in the final year of GCSE courses to prepare students to sit the exams in English.

"One of the usual things about Hockerill is that we are very strong on languages," Dr Guthrie said. "Our aspiration is really to produce well-rounded youngsters who are able to and want to operate across international boundaries."

Nearly one in three of the 720 pupils at Hockerill is a boarder. As a state comprehensive tuition is free, but boarders are charged up to £9,400 a year.

As a specialist school, Hockerill is allowed to select up to 10 per cent of its pupils on their aptitude for the specialist subject.

This year's second-ranked comprehensive was also a state boarding school. Wymondham College, a 1,000-pupil comprehensive in Norfolk, saw pupils achieve the equivalent of more than three A-level "A" grades, or 409 Ucas points.

This year's top grammar school was Colchester Royal Grammar School, where pupils scored an average of 536 points. The school's success is all the more remarkable as 10 years ago its results were mediocre, and it struggled to fill all its places. Today, there are six applications for every place.

Its bilingual teaching has proved particularly popular. Its brightest young linguists take their language GCSEs two years early, and 15-year-olds often do work experience with French and German firms to improve their fluency.