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Headmaster’s Blog – GCSE league tables

January 30, 2015

GCSE league tables

Recent newspaper headlines are full of comment about the recently published ‘league tables’ for public exams. Many head teachers are being quoted and it seems that the majority are slamming the ‘tables’ and calling them misleading, inappropriate – and worse! I hesitate to add my pennyworth to the debate as so much has already been said but I do want to add something in defence of education and the children in our care.

League tables were devised 20 years ago in an attempt to give parents a better understanding and more information about a public service – schooling. Initially they were very rough and ready but aimed to help parents make school choices and, by the same token, to put pressure on underperforming schools. Sadly, successive governments seem to have used the tables as a political tool and, moreover, keep moving the ‘goal posts’ over exam reform at a whirlwind pace so that these ‘tables’ become at best confusing and at worst meaningless.

Ballard School and GCSEs

Our aim at Ballard, where GCSEs amount to our main leaving qualifications, is to ensure that young people are firmly grounded in all core areas (English, Maths, Science) but also have a spread of opportunity so as to excel in subjects of their choosing. We encourage breadth of study across Modern Languages, the Humanities, practical subjects and the Performing Arts but if a person has a strength and inclination in a particular area we try to facilitate this. It may mean an additional language, an extra humanity or two areas within Performing Arts. If this doesn’t fit the so-called English baccalaureate, then so be it. Moreover, if we feel that our pupils will get more out of a course by choosing an iGCSE (as opposed to the GCSE), even if the league tables don’t recognise the iGCSE, then we shall opt for education and the children over any external performance table. For example, we believe that the iGCSE English (language and literature) is a better all-round test and challenge for pupils than GCSE English –  not least because it has retained the speaking and listening component which was unceremoniously ditched by the government mid-stream two years ago. This will mean that in the future we shall score nothing for English in the league tables but this is of much lesser consideration than the educational welfare of our children.

In the ‘tables’ published today we find ourselves very highly rated in one indicator: the average capped points score for our cohort (points for each pupil’s best eight GCSEs) – an indicator some regard as a ‘value added score’. Whilst this is gratifying, these ‘tables’ fail to show how well individuals have done (some of whom came to Ballard with low expectations), take no account of early entry GCSEs (most of our pupils do Statistics in Y10, some of our brightest take Maths early and many do Science in Y10) and cannot cope with children who may be young or old for their cohort. (Once again, in the best interests of the child, he or she may have been kept back a year for emotional, maturity or health reasons. In these cases the ‘tables’, which work on precise birth dates, will show a child as having scored no GCSEs or very few!)

All that can be said, therefore, is that these exam league tables should come with a very prominent ‘government health warning’. No parent should decide on a school simply on the basis of the ‘tables’: a personal visit, a taster day and the recommendation of parents and staff are much more important indicators.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

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