The growing complexity of league tables as they become more and more loaded with information, serving to make them less and less comprehensible to parents, is now well established.

As more private schools opt for different qualifications responding to parental demand and the requirements of the best universities, many are dropping down the league tables. Why? Because the Government does not recognise the International GCSE regarded by many as equivalent to the old , and more demanding and academically robust, O level. (remember  the O level, it was dumped, back when. because it was… err.. too demanding- but not it transpires  for pupils in top of the league  Singapore,  who seem to relish its challenge, even now)

 Many schools offer the International GCSE (IGCSE) in maths, English and science, alongside GCSEs in other subjects. (There is also growing interest in the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate too . 87 schools currently taking the full IB))

 Pupils who take IGCSEs for the purposes of the league table are regarded either as not having taken these subjects, or to have failed them. The Government claims that International GCSEs are not accredited qualifications, as the IGCSE does not meet the requirements of the statutory national curriculum and so no maintained schools should enter their pupils for this qualification. This at a time when many state schools are  alleged to be gaming,  in other words choosing to enter their  pupils  for  so called  ‘soft’  vocationally- oriented qualifications  which have ‘equivalence’  apparentlyto several GGSEs. If schools are choosing subjects for their  pupils,to secure  a better  league table position, rather than  based on what is best for the pupil , we are in a very sorry state indeed.

 The Government  view is, moreover, that the IGCSE is designed primarily as a qualification for overseas candidates and so it is not aligned to the national curriculum programmes of study at Key Stage 4. With a 25%  year on year  increase  in  demand for this qualification in the UK, this claim is beginning to look  bogus.

This doesn’t of course stop  public sector recruiters recognising and rating very highly this  qualification when it recruits its  managers.

 Since the Government’s principal measure of academic success is the proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A-C, including maths and English, the exclusion of IGCSEs means that the league table figures tell nothing like the whole truth. Typically a majority of private schools would expect to have 90%, or over, of their pupils meeting this good GCSE benchmark. But League tables suggest that some of our best schools have less than 5% reaching the benchmark.

 But it is not just at GCSE level that there is a problem. They are trying to produce  meaningful league tables with A level schools, International Baccalaureate (IB) schools and schools which offer the new Pre-U exam.(Teaching for the Pre-U began in 2008). And they are trying to club them together ,which, as Eton’s Head has pointed out is “like comparing apples with pears,” How to rate the IB ,in particular, in the comparability stakes just seems to be beyond the authorities.

Inevitably, the result of all these shenanigans is that some of the countries best schools look to be very mediocre indeed, based on the latest league tables. Tony Little, Eton’s Head, has gone on record as describing the tables, which are based on provisional results before the appeals process has even been completed, as a “circus of misinformation”.

 Eton, along with St Paul’s School in west London and Winchester College, decided not to submit A-Level and GCSE results for inclusion in the ratings system compiled by the ISC, though they are obliged to provide information for the Government league tables. Little has also spoken of the “corrosive effect” the tables can have on teaching, as staff concentrate on examinations rather than education, a view shared by many and not just in the private sector.

The Tories will allow all state schools to opt out of GCSEs and do IGCSEs (or the IB or Cambridge’s new ‘pre-U’ exams) or O levels  should they wish.. They believe that along with their broader school reform agenda, liberating the supply side, creating New Academies and so on, this will be key to creating a more meritocratic education system in Britain, enabling greater social mobility.They also acknowledge that confidence in the current system has been badly eroded. 

 The whole point about league tables is that they are supposed  to be part of an accountability framework, giving  a rough  if imperfect guide to parents about the performance of schools so that they can help them to  make informed choices. Do they fulfil this task? Are they fit for purpose? What do you think?


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