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`Distortion' ignores vocational element

The performance tables distort what further education and sixth-form colleges are about, say the heads of some of the colleges judged first-division by the Government.

A whole swathe of vocational courses is excluded because these are not available in schools, and some colleges are placed as high academic achievers even though they may have entered only a few students for A-levels.

Colin Flint, principal of Solihull College, which was near top of the league for both, said: "It is time we paid proper attention to the achievements of all students."

He listed a vast range of successes including 100 per cent in HNC travel and tourism, 95 per cent in HND engineering, 100 per cent in access courses for adults seeking a place at university, and an overall 82 per cent success for 343 students across the range of vocational courses.

None of these appear on the tables, which only deal with A-level, level 3 GNVQ, BTEC and City and Guilds' qualifications. The more stress there is on achievement related to school exam certificates, the more parents will see colleges as second-best, he said.

High-flying colleges have done well alongside the best schools. Solihull and Colchester sixth-form colleges entered 700 students for A-level this summer, and scored over 16 - above the national average of 15.3.

The sixth-form colleges were disproportionately highly-represented at the top of the league compared with the FE colleges. This is, however, no surprise as many are seen as A-level factories. But many which were marked down have been moving into more traditional FE areas such as adult and higher education. However successful, they will appear to be dropping down the league.

Madeleine Craft, secretary of the Sixth Form Colleges' Association, said: "These tables are of little value to individual colleges this year. Colleges will design their own marketing information, depending on what is in their best interest at the time. Information has to be fair, open and honest. League tables can give only part of the picture."

Similar sentiments were expressed within the FE colleges. Ruth Gee, chief executive of the Association for Colleges, said: "League tables can only properly measure 16 to 18 year-olds' achievements. We have a lot of students over 18. A better test of quality is what the Further Education Funding Council inspectorate reports.

"Why go through all this bureaucratic nonsense and agony when it is so unnecessary and of limited value?" An alternative colleges-only league table might be compiled from the inspectors' reports. Many principals have suggested this, but it could pose problems, say the principals' organisations, since the range of colleges in the sector is so diverse.

But comparisons will be made. The best colleges have wiped the floor with schools on the academic side. Top of the college league - Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge - is surpassed by only a handful of schools. The placing of colleges overall is little different from last year.

Selby, which came top last year, is seventh this year, though barely three points separate the top 10 colleges.

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