Editorial: Time to relegate league tables


Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual, was "shocked" by the watchdog's investigation into what went wrong with the marking of this summer's GCSE English exam.

The regulator unearthed widespread abuse of the system by teachers seeking to ensure as many of their charges as possible managed a C-grade pass. A chunk of the English course is subject to controlled assessment by pupils' own teachers – that is, work observed by the teacher in the classroom and then marked. And it was possible for schools to decide that controlled assessments should be carried out last – by which time teachers knew students' marks in the written exam and were able to calculate the marks needed for the all-important C grade.

Many schools thereby proceeded to bump up students' marks, with the rationalisation that rival institutions were doing the same. The fiasco that saw exam boards hiking the marks needed for a C between the January and June exam sittings was, according to Ofqual, less a response to pressure from the Education Secretary to combat grade inflation, and more a response to teachers gaming the system.

Next year, Ms Stacey says, things will be different: grades will not be given until marks from both sittings have been awarded. The following year, modular GCSEs will be phased out.

But these measures alone will not solve the problem. The problem is league tables, and the insistence on measuring schools by the percentage of pupils obtaining five A* to C-grade passes including maths and English. Ofqual's report recommends a review of the system, and Michael Gove has indicated his broad willingness to consider the scheme.

It will not be easy to scrap league tables altogether, not least because they are popular with parents. One immediate improvement, though, would be to focus on the point score of all pupils in, say, their five best subjects. At least that would remove the near-obsession with C-grade passes that is both distorting the system and leaving it open to manipulation.