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New twist to August exam tale

August is a wicked month for teenagers. Not only do they have to cope with spots and the latest Oasis crisis, but also politicians telling them that the best exam results ever are not because they have worked hard but are due to sloppy marking or a lowering of standards.

This year, the GCSE story was given a new twist with an "exclusive" in the Independent saying that thousands of 16-year-olds had been withdrawn from the exam because schools believed they would depress their league-table performance.

The Daily Mirror took up the tale: "A disturbing number of Britain's youngsters are being dumped on the educational scrap heap", it opined, blaming the Government's league tables for tempting heads not to enter the less able.

And, while more sober papers, such as The TES, reported that the drop in the average number of exams per pupil was more likely to be due to the high cost of GCSE entries, blaming league tables made a better story.

Surprisingly, the Sunday Telegraph turned on the "Jeremiahs" lamenting the devaluation of the gold standard of education: "Pupils should be allowed to bask in their first flush of success. Their results are not a confidence trick, but something that may teach them the trick of confidence."

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, spoilt the mood by using the occasion to stick the knife into Tony Blair and Harriet Harman for their choice of school, singling out the excellent results of the London Oratory and St Olave's (both grant-maintained) and comparing them with the poor marks achieved by the local comprehensive schools nearest to the Labour politicians' homes. "The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming," the Guardian reported him saying.

The Sun told the rest of the Labour party to follow their leader and choose GM schools.

Hard on the heels of GCSE results came the news in The Sunday Times that "the first tests of 11-year-olds reveal national failure". Research by Dr John Marks for the Social Market Foundation claimed to show that the average gap between the best and the worst schools in the same authority was found to be nearly four years in English and five and a half years in maths.

The Sunday Telegraph studied the A-level results of independent schools and ranked them according to value for money. The Duke of York's Royal Military School in Dover was the best value at Pounds 97 per A-level point, and Yehudi Menuhin School in Cobham, Surrey, was the least at Pounds 3,309.

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