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Principals draw up own league table

College principals, frustrated that last week's league tables do not reflect accurately the colleges' performance, are to send an alternative version to Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, writes Ngaio Crequer.

Tony Pitcher, the principal of South East Essex College of Arts and Technology, has looked at all colleges that entered 300 or more students for advanced (level 3) vocational qualifications.

"Any league table based on average pass rates or points scores does not take account of how many actual students are involved," he protested.

"It discriminates against colleges that deal with a large spread of the population. They cannot achieve the same ranking as a grammar school that picks up the top 50 Oxbridge students in its area.

"But National Training targets are correctly constructed in terms of the numbers of successful people. Here colleges are being very successful in comparison with secondary schools, which are making no contribution to the volume."

Looking at level 3 vocational qualifications he has multiplied the pass rate by the numbers of students entered. For the top 31 colleges it produces a range of successful students, from 607 to 122.

According to his table his college has, in England, the highest number of successful vocational level 3 students, the same for level 2 and the best pass rate, and good A-level results but small numbers.

"More attention should be paid to those institutions producing large numbers of successful students," he said. "It is vocational qualifications that are the key to success for most of the population. This is why these tables are going to Mrs Shephard."

But Jack Tasker, principal of Sir John Deane's College, in Northwich, Cheshire, says the league tables miss the point. They do not provide the information every parent wants: which college is best according to the ability of their child or student.

"Colleges at the top attract more able students and get good students, " he said. "They get a pat on the back. But there are others trying just as hard - with a different group of students - and they are getting no acclaim."

The point of the tables was to inform prospective students, and their parents, of the most appropriate place to study. It made sense to publish A-level exam results using more of the information readily available in every school and college.

"The basis of the publication should be each student's average GCSE score, simply calculated by the Department for Education and Employment method of allocating 8 points to A* (A star), 7 to an A, 6 to a B and so on, and dividing by the number of GCSEs taken.

"Schools and colleges would then publish their A-level results in four categories based on the students' average GCSE scores - for example, average GCSE score range, number of students, average points per A-level entry, and average A-level points per student.

"This information would allow the celebration of all students and their schools or colleges, not just the high-flying few," he said.

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