Many of the country's top independent schools are to pull out of GCSE and A-level exam league tables for their sector because they have lost confidence in the reliability of examination boards.
The revolt has prompted the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents all the top boys independent schools, to make participation in the league tables voluntary. The decision was taken at a private policy-making meeting of the HMC, at which one of the schools most vociferous in its opposition to the tables was Eton College.
A vote taken at the meeting revealed that two thirds of the HMC, which represents 244 schools, were in favour of abolishing the league tables in the long term. Geoff Lucas, secretary of HMC, said: "In the last couple of years there has been a growing worry about the quality of marking."
One of the concerned schools is King's, Canterbury, a £15,000-a-year boarding school that is usually highly placed in the league tables. It found its position was affected when 66 A-level exam results were not included in the Government's league tables. It lost four points from its A-level score, giving it a rating of 23.5 points – two points behind a nearby secondary modern school.
Peter Brodie, a spokesman for the school, said: "We share the concerns expressed nationally about the difficulty in recruiting examiners. We have made a series of applications for results to be looked at again in recent years.
"There was a feeling at the meeting that it wasn't fair to have to be included in something with flaws," he added.
A revolt by leading independent schools will seriously damage the credibility of the league tables, academics say. The tables were first published a decade ago.
The boycott follows evidence of blunders by exam boards struggling to hire enough teachers to cope with the rise in the number of papers to be marked. The Edexcel exam board, subjected to an inquiry earlier this year after a series of errors including an unanswerable question in a maths exam, says it expects to award 10 million marks this year, up from 4.1 million in 2000.
The Government has announced plans to increase the powers of its watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. An amendment is being tabled to legislation going through Parliament allowing it to intervene directly and order exam boards to correct faults without having to wait to be asked to hold an inquiry by ministers.
The size of the revolt by independent school is not yet known. Eton College said it had not made a final decision. Compilers of the tables say they will only know the extent of the rebellion when the results are, or are not, supplied in August.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "People have recognised that the tables are flawed and inaccurate and take a simplistic view of schools."Reuse content