State schools 'falling behind'

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The Independent Online
Fresh evidence of the gap between state and independent schools will add fuel to the debate on class sizes and education standards.

Official figures published in a written parliamentary answer show average performance at GCSE has improved in private schools at nearly twice the rate for state schools. And for the bottom 15 per cent in state schools, average GCSE scores actually fell last year.

When this year's GCSE results are published in three weeks' time, attention will focus on the percentage of top-rate passes, at grades A to C. Some believe this yardstick, and publication of results in performance tables, encourages schools to "abandon" less bright children.

The figures, supplied in answer to a parliamentary question from Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, showed average GCSE scores in private schools went up between 1992 and 1994 by 4.6 points, compared with 2.5 points in state schools.

But, comparing the average performance of the bottom 15 per cent, their score went up last year by 1.6 points in private schools, but fell by 0.1 points in state schools.

Professor Michael Barber of Keele University, a leading expert on schools, pointed to the advantage for private schools in selecting pupils by ability, but he conceded that teaching methods and class sizes could also account for some of the difference in rates of improvement.

George Walden, page 13