Performance tables are a travesty of exam reality

4th October 1996 at 01:00
Secondary heads have recently received this year's GCSE performance figures for their own schools ahead of publication later this year. I, and no doubt many other heads of independent schools, have discovered that, once again, while the figures may be accurate they actually report a fictitious situation which is a travesty of a school's real performance in the GCSEs.

The reason for this anomaly is the DFEE's insistence on reporting only on pupils who are 15 years old in the January immediately before GCSE exams are taken. This means that Year 11 pupils deemed to be too "old" are excluded from the figures (in our case, five pupils), while Year 10 pupils who have not sat their GCSEs, yet have reached the age of 15, are included in the figures (in our case, eight pupils).

Can anyone make sense of figures purporting to record a school's performance in these examinations which include pupils who have not yet even performed in the examinations? And how is a school to react to figures which show that, for example, 29 per cent of pupils were not entered for the GCSEs, as in our case, when we know for a fact that all our candidates are entered in Year 11 each year. (It is not unusual in independent schools to find pupils who for one reason or another have "lost" a year somewhere along the line before coming into the English educational system.) Are heads not entitled to be angry when they know that 92 per cent of their candidates achieved five or more A-C grades but their school is reported in Government figures as having only 64 per cent of their candidates achieving this distinction, as again will happen to us. We would hardly have made The Times's listing of the top 600 schools with this figure! Imagine also the damage that such a figure could do to a school's reputation for academic excellence!

The glaringly obvious solution which would enable the DFEE to report fact rather than fiction is to report on the actual performance of candidates who are simply in Year 11. The DFEE shuns this proposal because apparently it fears that schools, especially state schools, will force students to take a longer time over their GCSE courses, in the hope of gaining eventual success, in order to improve their school's performance rating. So what? Why shouldn't schools, who succeed in persuading some of their pupils to delay taking their GCSEs (no easy task, surely) to the benefit of those pupils, reap a reward?

The time has come for the DFEE to advance convincing justification for continuing to publish figures on their present basis with no regard to the anomalies and damage they create, or to admit that they are reporting fictions and change the basis of their figures to a more sensible and realistic one.

THE REV A J FOLKS

Head

Ballard College

New Milton

Hampshire

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