League tables under fire over increase in GCSE failures

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The Independent Online
MORE PUPILS are failing GCSE examinations this year, prompting accusations that schools are neglecting the slowest pupils because of league tables.

Figures released today show a fall in the pass rate for only the second time in a decade. The results are a blow for David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, who has repeatedly emphasised the need to cut the number of pupils leaving school without qualifications.

While the number of entries awarded grades A*-C is up just 0.3 percentage points, the overall pass rate (grades A*-G) fell by 0.8 per cent. The gap between the most and least able pupils appears to be widening: entries awarded grades A and A* increased by 0.7 per cent.

School heads and teachers called on the Government to change exam league tables which show the percentage of pupils getting five grades A*-C. They said the system meant that schools were concentrating on those pupils who were capable of higher grades to the detriment of those at the bottom of the heap.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that the A*-C indicator should go. "The Government must radically reform the performance tables so that they ... reflect the performance of all pupils, otherwise they will reinforce failure and increase an education underclass," he said.

Ministers have promised that this year's tables will include information which reflects the results of pupils of all abilities, but they made it clear yesterday that they believed the five top grades were a useful indicator for parents.

Government sources pointed out that today's figures gave the failure rate for subject entries, not candidates. "We are concerned about pupils leaving school without qualifications but we are waiting to see how many pupils are involved."

Another explanation for the increasing number of failures may be that for the first time 16-year-olds have been compelled by law to stay at school until they have taken exams in June, instead of leaving at Easter.