Pupils are more than just league-table modifiers

The new national disgrace is the rise in pupils being asked to leave – sometimes out of the blue – towards the end of their summer holidays when AS-Levels results come out

I can't recall a clearer sense of the seasons passing than this past week's transition. Perhaps it's because we did actually have a summer this year, but am I alone in feeling the unbearable heaviness of time passing as temperatures plummet and the nights draw in?

If the traditional signifiers were not pregnant enough with meaning, then there are unwelcome modern landmarks: the despicable but addictive football transfer-window deadline; and the return of The X-Factor.

For millions of households it's Back To School time. My two daughters are years past the stage of the crisp, new over-sized uniforms, but the emotional maelstrom persists: sorrow at the ending of summer's delicious languors mixed with optimism for the new year; renewing old friendships, making new ones.

That's how it should be. But my heart really goes out to the latest group of children our pernicious system is failing: A-level pupils forced unexpectedly to find a new school because their predicted grades might bring down their existing school's standing in those damn league tables.

It has long been the case now that after five years in one place post-GCSE schoolchildren can be forced out before A-levels if their GCSEs are not quite up to scratch. It has so become the norm that it is scarcely commented upon. Difficult as it must be for those who leave unwillingly, there is at least a certain natural break for 16-year-olds between years 11 and 12.

The new national disgrace is the rise in pupils being asked to leave – sometimes out of the blue – towards the end of their summer holidays when AS-Levels results come out. That's halfway through their sixth-form years, and despite AS-Levels being part of the final A-Level. Never mind that a rogue D could be turned around into a solid pass.

Why? Yes, it's those league tables again. Independent and grammar schools in particular being concerned by their standing. What was the point of those tables again? Weren't they sold to us all as a more empirical way of telling us one school was better than another?

Another way is surely for schools to excel at developing the skills and confidence of the children placed in their care. Instead of kicking them out, leaving them the daunting task of scrabbling around finding a school at short notice for one year at huge cost to their social equilibrium, friendships, learning and self-belief, how about working with them to improve on past disappointments and realise their full potential?

Surely the whole point of school is that pupils are not the finished article, and teachers work with them to become the best they can be? Sacrificing their needs before the league table altar? Well, that really is cause for winter blues.

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live

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