New tables threaten quality

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Heads fear reforms could see academic standards fall. Nicholas Pyke reports

SCHOOLS are set to enter pupils for a record number of GCSE subjects thanks to the Government's plans for revamped league tables.

The new tables, to be published next autumn, will reward schools for the number of GCSE grades achieved. This, say headteachers, is bound to lead to more exam entries.

But the Secondary Heads Association has warned that academic quality could be sacrificed in the rush, which will also put students under unfair pressure.

The change to the league tables was announced last month by education minister Estelle Morris.

The decision to publish schools' overall GCSE performance in terms of points for the eight possible grades (starred A grade scores 8 and G scores 1) rather than grades, is intended to reward achievement across the ability range.

Until now, performance tables have been heavily criticised for emphasising five good passes - grades A* to C. Lower-performing pupils have been ignored in the tables and, it is claimed, neglected in the classroom.

"It's inevitable that schools will present their performance in the best light possible," said John Dunford, general secretary-elect of the Secondary Heads Association.

"We recognise that there may be issues around quantity and quality. You have to be very careful if you go down the quantity route; it's not doing pupils any favours. It could put them under pressure. But the problem is the fault of the league tables, not the fault of the schools."

Listing pupils' points score, he said, is better than a ranking based on A* to C grades. But the SHA remains opposed to league tables in the first place.

In constructing the new tables, the Government has chosen to credit schools for the average of the total number of points per child, rather than for the average grade per child.

Choosing to list the average grades would have been politically difficult. It could, for example, have pressured schools into preventing some weaker students from sitting subjects they were likely to fail. It would also have brought about the strange position in which a pupil with one A-grade scored higher than one with nine B-grades.

The revamped performance tables will also include a new progress measure, comparing pupils' key stage 3 test results with their GCSEGNVQ achievements.

The number of examination entries per pupil has risen sharply during the 1990s, although the total has dropped slightly with the declining number of secondary pupils.

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