League tables discriminate against further education colleges and fail to represent their successes and complexity, according to the principal of a top performing sixth-form college.
The tables, published this week, show most colleges lagging behind the school sector, with students taking two or more A-levels averaging 14.7 points as against 19 for school pupils.
But a new formula could put colleges on an equal footing with the "Westminsters and Winchesters" of the school system. Judging pupils' A-level results in the context of their GCSE performance would be a much fairer representation of colleges' achievements and show them to be just as effective as sixth forms in selective schools, argues Kevin Conway, principal of Greenhead College in Huddersfield.
A system of banding, devised by Dr Conway, and adopted internally by several other colleges, could be the blueprint for a radical overhaul of the controversial league tables.
Students are assessed when they begin their course according to their GCSE points score - five for an A, three for a B and one for a C. They are put in one of eight bands, given a minimum A-level grade to aim for based on the previous years' results and backed by regular student counselling from their personal tutor.
The system has revealed the incredible successes at Greenhead which had the fifth highest A-level points average (25.1) of any FE and sixth-form college. "But 24 per cent of those youngsters didn't have one GCSE A grade between them - that's the significant thing," Dr Conway said.
"We push them and say to them every piece of work you do from day one has to be up to that standard. It's all about showing kids what people like them can acheive. It's a very positive message for students and for staff."
Adapting the system to performance tables - by using the top, middle and lower percentile figures - would reveal the true added value of colleges and expose the relative underperformance of table-topping selective schools, he argues.