Turning the tables: Schools should focus on pupils first, and Whitehall second

 

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The Independent Online

There is some merit to the concern – expressed by Jon Coles – that exam league tables have become more of a ministerial plaything than a beneficial resource for pupils and parents.

Mr Coles, now chief executive of the United Learning academy chain, but formerly the senior civil servant in charge of the league tables, is on his strongest ground criticising the yo-yoing over recognition of the IGCSE – the international exam modelled on traditional O-levels.

Unrecognised until 2010, it was given the official seal of approval by the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, as capable of stretching pupils. This year recognition has been withdrawn as new, tougher GCSEs bed down. The result is that top-performing schools offering the IGCSE exam will have registered a 100 per cent pass rate last year and 0 per cent this year – and so plummet down the league tables.

Similarly, the introduction in 2011 of the English Baccalaureate (EB) led to some heads taking pupils off courses halfway through to switch them to subjects which registered for the EB.  So who is to blame for such sharp changes of tack? The answer is a mixture of factors. 

The farce of IGCSEs is down to the Government but, at the same time, its introduction of the EB led to an increase in pupils taking more academic subjects and ditching so-called “soft” options such as media studies.

Also, the planned move away from ranking schools on five A* to C grades, including maths and English, will stop schools concentrating on borderline C/D grade students to the detriment of those capable of higher grades. So some of the problems with league tables have been curbed.

The Government should think more carefully about the consequences of changes before introducing them.

Equally, however, headteachers should avoid panic reactions to the latest changes. They should heed Mr Coles’ parting shot – “focus on the needs of their pupils does require a reduced focus on the wishes of government”.

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