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League tables: GCSE U-turn plunges schools into uncertainty

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Headteachers have accused the government of “plunging schools into disruption and uncertainty” by “shifting the goalposts” on GCSE reforms.

The ASCL heads’ union has criticised a U-turn by the government that means some unreformed GCSEs will be excluded from school league tables for 2018.  

Heads claim the change has forced schools to reconsider at the last minute plans to start teaching GCSEs in some subjects to Year 9 students from September 2015, for exams to be taken in summer 2017.

Many schools take this approach because it allows them to free up space for pupils to concentrate on GCSEs in core subjects when they reach Year 11. But under the new ruling the students' earlier exams would not count towards a school’s 2018 league table score.

Previously, all qualifications gained by a student by the end of Year 11 counted.

The U-turn will affect 13 subjects in which reformed GCSEs will be available to teach from September 2016. These include drama, geography, history, PE, religious studies and science.

Peter Kent, president of the ASCL and headteacher of Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, said the move left schools with an “invidious dilemma” at the end of the school year, with decisions having to be taken in time for September.

“They must either change decisions already made with students and parents, and rip up existing timetables, to make sure everybody takes the new reformed GCSEs, or press on with the plans they already had in place and accept that their performance tables will suffer because they will include unreformed GCSEs,” Dr Kent said.

“This has plunged schools, students and parents into disruption and uncertainty.

“In my school we have decided to take the hit on performance tables, but there is no right answer. It is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

The decision is a reversal of an announcement by ministers last year that unreformed GCSEs would continue to count towards league tables.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Our new world-class GCSEs are raising the bar so more young people have access to the world-class education they deserve, equipping them with the skills they need to get on and succeed in life. We want pupils to be taught these new gold standard GCSE courses as soon as possible.”
She said schools should help students choose courses that “are best for them, not the league tables”.

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