Yorkshire head teacher says league tables should include pupils’ best grades

Christopher Walsh
Christopher Walsh
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A HEAD TEACHER has said that league tables should include pupils’ best results in exams rather than their just first attempt, if they are to be of use to parents.

Changes to the exam system meant that only student’s first attempt at GCSEs counted towards their school’s ranking in the Department for Education tables.

The DfE said this was one of the reasons the number of schools below exam floor targets has more than doubled this year to 330.

A school is below the floor if less than 40 per cent of its pupils achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, and those students also fail to keep pace with the average level of progress being made in the two core subjects between the ages of 11 and 16.

However a head teacher in Yorkshire – whose school finished above the floor target – said he did not think this system was in the best interests of parents.

Chris Walsh, the head at Boston Spa School, near Wetherby, said: “Parents, and teachers are not interested in how a pupils got a C in maths, they are only interested in the fact that they got there. We continued to enter some pupils early for exams and they sat them again because we felt that for them that was the right thing to do but our league table ranking has suffered as a result.” He added: “Only counting a pupil’s first entry for exams means that for the first time in my professional career you are put in a position where the school’s interest and the pupils’ interests are different. And it feels like schools are being punished for doing the right thing.”

Boston Spa School was not one of the worst hit in Leeds by any means. Its score for the level of pupils achieving five A* to C grades, including English and maths, was 46 per cent compared with 49 per cent a year earlier.

In Leeds alone more than ten schools experienced drops of more than ten per cent.

However Mr Walsh said Boston Spa’s league table ranking was not an accurate reflection of his pupils’ performance. He said: “The league table tells you where our year 11’s were in January it does not show what they achieved at the end of the school year. We actually had 60 per cent of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and maths. Some of those grades have not counted in the league tables but they certainly did count for the students who got them. I think that is the figure the parents want to know.”

He welcomed alternative league tables being produced by the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers which record school’s performance at GCSE based on the best grade a student achieved rather than their first attempt.

The decision to only include a pupils’ first attempt at GCSEs in league tables was announced during the 2013/14 academic year weeks before some schools were due to sit exams in November. It led to widespread exam cancellations. At the time a statement issued by the Department for Education said that then secretary of state Michael Gove believed the schools entering pupils early for exams was a damaging trend that was harming the interests of many pupils. It added: “The evidence shows that candidates who enter early perform worse overall than those who do not even after resits are taken into account.

“It seems likely that candidates are being entered early before they are ready and ‘banking’ a C grade where their performance at key stage two would suggest that if they had continued to study the subject and taken the GCSE at the of end of year 11 they could have achieved a top grade.”

When the latest league tables were published the Government said that this move was one of the reasons there had been an increase in the number of schools below the floor target.