Schools use ‘soft’ subjects to meet targets

DOZENS of secondary schools across Yorkshire have relied on so-called “softer” equivalent qualifications to meet the Government’s minimum GCSE targets, new figures have revealed.

Detailed league tables have been published showing for the first time how many pupils at every school in the country achieved passes in each GCSE subject last summer.

The new figures from the Department for Education also show how many students at each secondary school achieved five A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, but without taking into account marks earned through alternative qualifications such as BTECs.

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The Government classes secondary schools as being below a minimum benchmark if less than 35 per cent of pupils achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths and they fail to keep progress with the national average level of improvement. Earlier this year 40 schools from the region failed to hit this floor target when the official league tables were published.

These figures, produced in January, do, however, include passes achieved in equivalent qualifications which sometimes can be worth up to four C grades at GCSE.

Now Ministers have published data showing how many pupils at each school achieved five A* to C grades at GCSE with no other qualification taken into account.

These shows another 40 secondary schools in Yorkshire relied on alternative courses to hit the Government’s 35 per cent target.

Nick Seaton, spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, based in York, said the new figures showed some schools had relied on softer subjects to demonstrate success to parents in their league table rankings.

“The key issue is that rising results might work for head teachers and politicians but are these qualifications working for the young people who get them?”

Mr Seaton called for schools to be measured against the new English Baccalaureate in future. This, a performance indicator which was introduced by the Department for Education this year, is awarded to pupils who achieve six good GCSEs including English, maths, two sciences, history or geography and a modern language.

Yesterday’s figures show that 175 state secondaries did not enter a single pupil for all of the subjects required to attain the English Baccalaureate.

Across the country just over a fifth of teenagers in England took the required subjects last summer, with one-in-six gaining the award.

Some 24,600 pupils were taking GCSEs last year at the 175 schools where no one gained the Baccalaureate, an analysis of the statistics suggests.

The extra detail provided in yesterday’s league tables follows concerns by Ministers that too much information on GCSE performance has previously been withheld, or hard to find, making it difficult for parents to rank and compare secondaries in their area. Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “Parents have been desperate for more information on schools but little has been available in the past. By publishing all this data we are giving parents the ability to choose the right school for their child.”

However the National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said; “This information is both misleading and unnecessary. Schools are being judged against criteria which were not even considered for this year’s cohort. As the Government goes down the route of championing vocational education they need to make their mind up as to whether all qualifications are of value, or if it is simply particular academic subjects which carry weight when judging a school.”