Independent school leaders have attacked official league tables as “a nonsense” after a rule change sent their GCSE scores plummeting.
According to government data released today, the proportion of private school pupils achieving the main five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, nearly halved from 54.4 per cent in 2013 to 28.4 per cent this summer.
But the Department for Education (DfE) has admitted that this “large change” is mainly down to its decision to stop counting IGCSEs that have not been regulated by Ofqual in the league tables.
Independent schools have made extensive use of the qualifications and say they were not warned properly about the change.
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said: “Many of the best, highest achieving schools in Britain are listed by the DfE as the worst performing.
“It is really up to the DfE to decide whether they wish to live with such nonsense.”
IGCSEs were originally introduced for the overseas market in 1988, but have also seen increasing use in England’s independent schools in more recent years.
In 2010 it was decided to bring in new versions, regulated by Ofqual and brought more into line with GCSEs, so that state schools could also use them. The government said the original unregulated IGCSE would also count in league tables – but only for two further years.
Mr Lenon said schools had been told about the change but because the email was sent during summer holidays only “about 5 per cent” of his members had seen it.
However, he said most independent schools would not be unduly worried about the league table change as they had been prepared to use IGCSEs before they first counted in performance measures.
“They are not in the least bit concerned about any of the data coming out of the data coming out the DfE that discounts the IGCSE,” the former head of Harrow School said. “We are very used to the notion that the DfE ignores IGCSEs as was the norm before 2011.”
He added that in many cases they were “more demanding” than their GCSE equivalents
William Richardson, general secretary of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference (HMC), which represents elite independent schools, said: “HMC members will always choose the right courses for their pupils above considerations such as presentation in government league tables. Parents know this and trust our schools to make the right choices.”
But he said the removal of some IGCSEs from government performance tables was “confusing for everybody”.
“This is not least because decisions by politicians as to which qualifications ‘count’ in any one year keep changing and this makes comparability between years meaningless,” Dr Richardson added.
Mr Lenon said there were a small number of independent schools who felt league tables were influential in their local areas and “therefore may be concerned” by the change.
But he said they would be able to convey the full information through newspaper league tables and their own websites.
“It is a complete nonsense, because universities are very keen to take the IGCSEs whether they are regulated or unregulated; they know that they are a good preparation for A-level and university courses,” Mr Lenon added.
GCSEs: five A*-C pass rate plummets October 2014