Grade-based school leagues are a distortion

Schools are gaming the system to ensure students get at least a C

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Once again, the most striking insight of GCSE results season is that into schools’ gaming of the system. There are children who take the same subject many times with different examining boards; there are children who take the same exam several times in a single year; and there are those who take one or more a year early, at 15.

It is the expansion of this last group that is responsible for this year’s dip in A*-to-C grade passes. Thanks to the league-table ranking which focuses on C and above results in five core subjects, it is no longer just the smartest students who take some GCSEs ahead of time; children on the C/D borderline are also being hustled in early, in the hope some will scrape through and add to the all-important tally.

Given that a school which fails to make the grade can be forcibly converted to academy status, in all likelihood losing its headteacher along the way, the strategy is, perhaps, understandable. But – as the results prove – it has not worked. Nor, more importantly, is it in the best interests of the children’s education.

All of this merely underlines the unforgivable distortions caused by league tables. The Education Secretary is not blind to the problem, and his plan for a revamped system where schools are ranked according to students’ progress is a good one. By retaining a requirement for a certain percentage of A* to C grades in maths and English, however, Michael Gove’s plan falls down halfway. Better to weight the progress measure in such a way that maths and English are given greater prominence and get rid of the iniquity of grade thresholds altogether.

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