Winners, losers and wild cards at GCSE World Cup
Personally, my money's on the girls from Invicta Grammar School. To win the World Cup, that is. For when it comes to sheer GCSE Average Points Score, there are few in the same league as those young women from east Maidstone. They offer real quality in all aspects of the game. There is hardly a weak performer to be found in the entire exam hall. Admittedly, the Kent outfit do enjoy the rare benefit in education of being able to select who plays for their team, but no one ever said that the tournament was fair.
In fact, an overriding sense of injustice has again dogged this year's GCSE World Cup from the very outset. Accusations are rife again of curriculum-fixing by heads, of player-poaching, bribery and of excessive "Thierry Henry" assists from teachers in the coursework qualifying rounds. With many teams destined to face a catalogue of bizarre refereeing decisions from exam-markers, further controversy is inevitable.
Those maroon and majestic Invicta girls certainly won't find it a stroll in the park. Several exam pundits are predicting that the winner will come from the Midlands this time round - possibly the Lawrence Sheriff in Rugby or Wolverhampton High, both of which reached the top four in 2009. Rumour has it that both are bringing an even stronger squad this year. The girls from the independent Redland High in Bristol are reported to have done their homework, too. They may prove to be the form side. Indeed, never write off anyone from the top end of the private sector.
Many purists prefer to look beyond the usual big selective guns for a winner this time round. They cling to the idea that a powerhouse comprehensive in the form of Thomas Telford, Brooke Weston, Dixons City Academy or Arden - all of which had dazzling 2009 seasons - might further defy the odds this year. Meanwhile, romantics in the game dream that a school from one of the emerging counties might prevail, possibly in the shape of Wymondham College from Norfolk, which so captured everyone's hearts last year.
Cornwall's Treviglas Community College has a similarly strong local fan base. This school's fortunes in the cup - along with those of many other hopefuls such as Park Community School in Hampshire, Greenwood Dale in Nottingham and Phoenix High in Hammersmith - largely depend on whether or not the tournament embraces the "X factor", or as we know it, the "contextual value-added factor".
If the GCSE World Cup does go CVA, the entire Fischer Family are ready to take over the running of the tournament from the old raw-score hard-liners - though they may have to slug it out for spreadsheet supremacy with their arch rivals at RAISEonline. With AQA, OCR and Edexcel all similarly scrapping to take charge of the rules of the game, there are many who fear that the World Cup may go the way of boxing, with its confusing range of awarding bodies.
Although seemingly fairer, a contextual value-added World Cup could cause some discomfort. Just imagine if FIFA made a similar adjustment in football. England would no longer be able to claim legitimate victory in the 1966 World Cup. Only Nobby Stiles from that side is a rumoured recipient of a free school meal. This means England would have probably been eliminated after failing to beat Uruguay in the very first game.
Most observers predict, however, that the new Department for Education President will veto the value-added move. So for now, then, let's just enjoy the many mouth-watering encounters lined up in the group stages. How about picking a winner from the so-called "group of death"? The lottery balls put Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney into the same pool as Winchester College, The Blue Coat School Liverpool and the high-flying Ponteland Community High School in Newcastle.
And who will top the intriguing Group G? There the mischievous hand of fate has not only brought old rivals Eton and Harrow together but has also added a couple of those feared and fashionable Swedish schools into the mix. The latter have come into the competition on a "wild card" entry. "Wild" it certainly promises to be.
You can feel the excitement in the air. The twin car-flags are now out in force, displaying the school emblems and mottos of the local side. Playgrounds are buzzing with the sound of pupils haggling over Panini stickers featuring the star coaches and players. The great Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief coach at Mossbourne - and possibly the Sir Alex Ferguson of education - is reportedly the most exclusive sticker in the marketplace. Meanwhile, many of the best A* players all appear in a sensational new Nike TV advert, showing sequences of the world's most gifted making swift, deft movements of pen across exam booklets. "Write the future" it's called.
Whatever the final outcome, the most truly educated Year 11s probably won't "win". The tournament has certainly become a huge money-spinner for the organisers but many argue that the competition itself has encouraged an increasingly defensive and colourless version of the game, with little reward for going down the flanks any more. Our school's recent spell-binding assembly about autism, for example - presented by the children from our autistic unit - was probably the most educational few minutes of the whole year. But, of course, in terms of our cup rankings, it was (literally) pointless, and a waste of time.
Stephen Petty, Head of humanities, Lord Williams's School, Thame, Oxfordshire.