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Picture improves on last year

This year's tables provide more information than last year, in an attempt to be fairer to schools. It is now possible, in the tables for England, to take account of the total number of pupils with special educational needs in assessing the exam results of a school rather than just the numbers with statements.

The Department for Education and Employment also appears to have bowed to pressure from one sector of the independent-school lobby by including a new category. Schools are now able to show their results in two ways: the proportion of 15-year-olds achieving five or more higher grade GCSEs and the proportion of all pupils in Year 11 doing so, regardless of age. The second figure, which is the new category, includes pupils older than 15 who are in the exam group.

The extra column will not have an impact on the ranking of schools because only a minority of schools have provided the information.

The tables show the exam success of schools in England, Scotland and Wales. There is still, however, no common format. There are no truancy figures for Scotland; they are published separately at a later date. The Welsh tables have the added sophistication of showing the rolling average over three years of the proportion of pupils gaining five or more higher grade GCSEs plus the rolling average on the A-level points score. In addition, the Welsh tables record the numbers achieving passes in short courses at GCSE and identify the schools that teach in Welsh.

More schools in England and Wales are doing vocational courses, but it remains difficult to compare results with GCSE success. The vocational results tables give only the number of candidates and the proportion achieving all qualifications or units attempted.

The GCSE results give three measures of performance: the proportion of 15-year-olds achieving five or more A* to Cs (equivalent to O-level); the proportion gaining five or more A to Gs; and the proportion gaining at least one A to G.

Schools tend to be judged against the proportion of fifth-formers gaining five or more higher- grade GCSEs, but attention this year is also focused on the proportion of fifth-formers that do not gain a single GCSE grade A to G.

There are also three measures given at A and AS-level. Results are converted to a points score based on 10 points for an A; eight points for a B; six points for a C; four points for a D and two points for an E. (An AS-level is worth half an A-level.) The tables give for each school an average point score per examination entry; an average point score for pupils for fewer than two A-levels or 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 any direct comparisons impossible. The results for advanced GNVQs, BTEC National, and City and Guilds diplomas are shown as numbers achieving the qualification.

The college tables have not changed since last year, other than to identify the winners of Charter Marks. A-level and AS results are recorded in the same way as for schools, with results converted to a points score. The recording of vocational qualifications also matches the format of the school table.

Despite calls from the FE sector for the inclusion of foundation and intermediate qualifications, results are only shown for advanced GNVQs, BTECs and City Guilds.

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