Free school charity: top secondaries use A-level general studies to 'inflate' results

Almost 90 per cent of all entries for A-levels in general studies and critical thinking come from the 500 top-performing state schools, a study claims. 

The New Schools Network (NSN), a charity set up to promote free schools, commissioned the research, which finds that the top 500 state schools – defined as those whose students scored the highest numbers of A-level points – were responsible for 21,321 entries for the two subjects in the summer of 2014. This represents 88 per cent of the overall 24,275 entries in these subjects. 
 
The NSN claims that the figures suggest schools are using the subjects to “inflate their overall results”.
 
“The findings show that under the surface many of our best state schools are not providing the quality and rigour that students badly need,”  Nick Timothy, director of New Schools Network argued.
 
The Russell Group, which represents leading universities, doesn't include general studies and critical thinking in its list of “facilitating subjects”, which it says “open doors to more degrees and more professions than others”. 
 
The group's published advice to students says critical thinking and general studies are “better taken only as an ‘extra’, rather than as one of the advanced level subjects on which your university application will be relying”.
 
It is not clear how many of the entries covered by the NSN’s study were made in addition to, rather than instead of, other qualifications. 
 
Jill Stokoe, an assessment specialist at the ATL teaching union, said the figures would be “worrying” if students were taking critical thinking and general studies A-levels instead of other subjects, particularly “facilitating subjects”, but less so if they took them in addition to those subjects. 
 
“In themselves, they’re quite useful subjects, but they shouldn’t be done at the expense of facilitating subjects,” she added.

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