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A more sophisticated class of benchmark

How to read the tables

This year's tables provide benchmarks for the exam performance of all schools and colleges in England and Wales and at GCSE and A-level. There is information on the proportion of students achieving qualifications in advanced and intermediate GNVQ; BTEC national and first and City and Guilds intermediate diploma.

In addition, the tables provide a guide to truancy rates in schools with figures for authorised and unauthorised absence.

Since the first comparative information on schools in 1992, the tables have become more sophisticated. Schools have to show the exam success of 15-year-olds, but they can also use a column that shows the success of the exam set, which could include students older than 15. The extra column tends only to be used by the independent sector, which originally complained that the concentration on 15-year-olds distorted results.

The main indicators have remained the proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C and the A-level point scores. Attention is also focusing on the figures that show the proportion of pupilsthat leave a school without asingle GCSE on the range A* to G.

The Welsh tables differ from the English in giving the rolling average over three years for GCSE benchmarks and A-level scores. They also provide information on the numbers entered on GCSE short courses.

In the English tables, three measures are given at A- and AS-level. Results are converted to a points score based on 10 points for an A grade, eight for a B, six for a C, four for a D and two for an E. (An AS level is worth half an A-level).

The tables give for each school an average point score per exam entry; an average point score for pupils entered for fewer than two GCE A-levels or the AS equivalent and the average point score for candidates taking two or more A- levels. However, the results of vocational exams are not converted to a points score, making direct comparisons impossible.

Scottish results will be published next week.

A change in government next year could mean a wider range of information if Labour is able to fulfil its commitment to value-added tables.

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