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Crammers won't heal the divide

GCSE exams have never fulfilled the purpose for which they were designed - to end the demoralising divide between pupils who took O-level and those who were relegated to CSE. Anything below a C grade doesn't count.

Employers dismiss the lower grades and the Government underlines the inadequacy of those who achieve Ds and Es by measuring schools on a performance indicator of A* to C grades.

So the decision of some schools to try to boost their pupils' results by paying private crammers for extra tuition is understandable. Many parents, too, are no doubt delighted that school budgets are funding help that is otherwise available only to the more affluent. C grades matter in life as well as in league tables.

For those pupils on the CD borderline, a spell at the local crammer is fine. The big picture is more complicated. As Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, has recognised, one of the biggest challenges for schools is the gap between high and low achievers. This is set against a society in which social mobility is worse for those born in 1970 than for those born in 1958. The money schools are spending on private tuition does nothing to tackle this. Nor does it help those who are heading for a B but might notch up an A or an A* with a little more effort.

Schools' use of private crammers is the latest in a series of schemes which reflect the concentration on the average at the expense of the strong and the weak. Mr Johnson, to his credit, has realised that this is dangerous and unfair. The Government is introducing new ways of measuring pupil progress and changes to league tables that give a broader view of achievement. Whether newspapers will be able to kick the A*-C habit is another question, but ministers are at least sending out a clear signal.

Meanwhile, do schools really need crammers? Most teachers have done a fantastic job in improving GCSE results during the past decade. They should have confidence in their own ability to make a difference.

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